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Word of the week: Umbro

Umbro is a company that manufactures sportswear. I occasionally wear their products: short-sleeved shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies. As noted in this piece, I am not committed to any single sportswear brand, though I am rather partial to a bit of Adidas. All of the Umbro clothing in what we can laughingly call my wardrobe was inexpensive, and most of it came from Lillywhites on Piccadilly Circus, before it became a branch of Sports Direct.

Two recent quiz questions prompted me to look up some facts about Umbro. The first came in a 20th anniversary edition of “Who wants to be a millionaire?” last month, and asked: “Which of the following brands was named after the Greek goddess of victory?” Options: Umbro / Reebok / Adidas / Nike. The contestant went for Umbro, rather than Nike, the correct answer. He still went home with £1,000 but would have won a whole lot more if he hadn’t answered the question.

In the 30 May edition of “The 100k Drop” (still available on All 4 if you want to see for yourself) the opening question for the third couple was: “Which of these sportswear manufacturers was founded in the UK?” Options: Lacoste / Umbro / Adidas / Nike. If this question had come up three months earlier I wouldn’t have been certain, but could probably have worked it out by elimination. Lacoste is French, named after Rene Lacoste, one of the “Four Musketeers”, the dominant French tennis players of the inter-war years. Adidas was founded in Germany and Nike is an American company. The couple split their money but still put 80% of it on Umbro which, Davina McCall told us, was founded in Cheshire.

This Wikipedia piece tells us more. The company was founded in Wilmslow, Cheshire in 1924, and the name came about as a contraction of “Humphrey Brothers”, the Humphreys being the family who set up the firm. Umbro have been the official kit supplier to the England national football team for more years than any other, though not since 2013. The years that the England team have worn Umbro are as follows: 1954-61, 1965-74, 1984-2013

You will note that these years include 1966, the year that England won the World Cup, their sole victory in the competition. The events of 30 July 1966 (Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick, the Russian linesman awarding an England goal long before the advent of goal-line technology, “They think it’s all over…”) are Universal Knowledge for anyone who follows sport in this country. 16 nations competed in that tournament. 15 of them wore Umbro kit. The only exception was the USSR (or CCCP as the iconic lettering on their shirts had it). Even North Korea wore Umbro shirts in 1966.

Currently England are kitted out by Nike, and I am typing these words within an hour of a pleasing and deserved 2-1 win against Tunisia in their opening game in this year’s competition in Russia. I now have 48 years’ worth of memories of Football World Cups and could offer you several thousand words covering all the tournaments going back to 1970. Maybe I will in the weeks leading up to the final on Sunday 15 July.

In the four years since the last tournament (Brazil 2014, Germany beat Argentina 1-0 in the final) my daughter has become much more interested in football. At the start of tonight’s game I read out the England XI from the BBC website. It only listed surnames and she was able to give me every player’s first name, and the teams they play for. I then tested her on the surnames of the 12 substitutes, and again she named them all, and their clubs, with just a little hesitation on the last name, Pope. That’s Nick Pope, the Burnley goalkeeper. By the end of the tournament his name might be more familiar, though as he’s a reserve keeper it seems unlikely. We’re more likely to recognize Trippier (Kieran, Tottenham), Maguire (Harry, Leicester City) and Loftus-Cheek (Reuben, Crystal Palace), all of whom played tonight, and none of whom I would have been able to identify with any confidence this time yesterday.

As far as I can tell, Umbro is the official supplier to just one team in this year’s World Cup, Peru, and after their performance against Denmark on Saturday (a 1-0 defeat) they look unlikely to make much progress. I confirmed that score-line by checking the wall chart that I have been updating since last Thursday. Now it’s time to update it with the England result.



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