It may seem a little indulgent to review a
book in which you've been heavily involved, but this was a team effort
and I wanted to let you know how it all came about. What led me to join
the contributors to this website back in 2004 was a random search for an
England kit history during an idle moment at work. Like a lot of
football fans who grew up in the seventies, I was seduced by the
revolution sparked by the new Admiral designs that infiltrated the top
levels of the game, culminating in a startling new England kit in 1974.
I, sort of, lost interest in the design elements of football kits in the
eighties as they became ever more complex, but not forgetting the decade
that had preceded it.
When I discovered that England Football
Online had documented what was worn from the late eighties onwards, with
some information about the fifties, I thought that I could plug some of
the gaps, probably back to 1970, as before that, they all looked the
same, didn't they?
That's when Pandora's box began to open.
Visitors to the website began to write in with additional bits of
information and a more complete record of what was worn in which games
began to emerge. Selwyn Rowley wrote to point out that England had worn
a slightly different style of red shirt against West Germany in the 1982
World Cup. What? How could that be? I began to realise that the
Admiral era had lots of strange inconsistencies and I listed them on the
Mysteries). Most of these are answered by the traumas that
befell this small sportswear company as it struggled to maintain
the elevated position that its owner's ambition had given it. The book
has a whole section on the 'Admiral Revolution'.
discovered that people were starting to use the site as a reference to
authenticate match-worn England shirts that they were selling on ebay.
Unfortunately, this also included a growing number of people trying to
sell their replica shirts at an inflated price, because a famous player
might have worn it. To this day, people still ask if their
obviously replica shirts are 'originals'. What does that even mean?
We've only ever been interested in what the players wore during matches.
As the years progressed, the internet became a much richer source of
historical information. More and more photographs of old games appeared
and it suddenly became possible to go right back to the beginning in
1872. A trip to the FA's library at Wembley revealed the first purchase
of shirts for the team in 1879. Prior to that, the players had to
provide their own kit.
Another breakthrough came from studying
newsreels from the 1950s. We knew that Umbro had provided the kits from
1966-74 (when Admiral stepped in), that they wore Bukta for a while in
the sixties before then, and there was a big leap in 1954 from the old
heavy dress shirts to what were effectively, short-sleeved t-shirts. Why
didn't Umbro and Bukta advertise the fact that they were supplying the
national team with its kits during these periods?
discovery came when I spotted that the number fonts on the back of the
shirts were different for Umbro to what they were for Bukta kits, and I
knew this because those two companies were still using the same fonts
throughout the seventies when their logos began to appear on club
shirts. So now we could pinpoint whose shirts were worn going right back
through the fifties. Then, despite all of the evidence being in black
and white, I discovered that the colour of the numbers matched the
colour of the socks during this period, sometimes black, sometimes red.
Wow! Did any club side ever do that?
At this stage, some of these
observations were just theories, but joining Facebook in 2010 presented
me with another dimension. Simon Shakeshaft had pictures of loads of
matchworn England shirts from the forties up to the present day. Not
only did Shakey confirm my theories about the fonts relating to the
manufacturers of the shirts (in every case), but he also revealed
stories about how some of the changes came about. There was so much more
to add to the story, the stuff that you can't get from pictures or
videos. Different materials, distributors' names in collar labels,
different branding in collar labels revealing new versions of the shirt,
behind-the-scenes deals as the industry progressed from teams buying the
kit via distributors, to manufacturers paying millions of pounds for the
team to wear it.
Shakey's the curator of Neville Evans' National
Football Shirt Collection and whenever he came across an ex-England
international's shirt collection we were able to combine our notes and
work out exactly when the shirts were worn. Of course, this was long
before match details were printed onto the shirt. As an example, we were
able to use shirts worn by Roger Hunt and Alan Mullery to prove that
England actually wore Airtex shirts in 1968, when I had previously
thought that they were first taken on tour in 1969 in preparation for
the World Cup in Mexico, the following year. It's a magical feeling when
the actual shirts provide that irrefutable evidence.
what Shakey wanted was to get the shirts into a book and tell the whole
story. It had not been done before, because the information had never
been available, and it takes years to gather it from so many different
sources, but we now had all of the ingredients. Shakey's expertise and
research into the whole industry enabled him to prove the concept with
Vision Sports Publishing, first with 'The Arsenal Shirt' in 2014 (second
edition in 2020), and then ' The Spurs Shirt' in 2018. These are both
great volumes, conjuring up the amazing image of Arsenal wearing
sleeveless pullovers over their white away shirts in 1933 to create a
hugely significant moment in that club's history, and the rich detail in
the Spurs book, including the incredible chain of events that led to the
infamous unsponsored shirts at the 1987 FA Cup Final.
which finally brings us to the long-awaited 'Three Lions On A Shirt'.
Combining the collections of Neville Evans and Daren Burney, we have an
unrivalled range of shirts, each one worn by one of the most famous post-war England players,
and all beautifully photographed in glorious close-up. For every
shirt, there are the details and stories that make that particular shirt
unique, and then there are the stories of the manufacturers. From
unknown oufitters to long-forgotten retail stores before the war, to
Hope Brothers and St Blaize, two manufacturers, based where modern day
local residents are blissfully unaware of their contributions to English
football history. There's a shirt from every major tournament that
England have played in since 1958.
We learn about the secret
advertising on Umbro shirts that was way ahead of its time, the events
that led to Umbro securing the World Cup shirts in 1966, thanks to
adidas (who have never supplied England kit), and what happened to the
shirts worn in the final. There's the astonishing catalogue of changes
to the Admiral England kits that hardly anybody noticed at the time, and
not forgetting the iconic shirts of the past forty years, including
Italia '90, Euro '96 and the more recent Nike shirts with their subtle
tributes to previous designs, culminating in the shirts produced for the
2022 World Cup.
With separate chapters on how Nike go about
designing the shirts, interviews with the England kit men, separate
histories on England's goalkeeping outfits and how the women's shirt has
changed over the past fifty years, it's a comprehensive account of
everything that was ever adorned with Three Lions on a Shirt.
course, I'm biased, because I wrote lots of it, but it's certainly a
story that deserves to be heard. On this website we continue to build
the history of the kit. There's still a lot that we don't know and we
need those family heirlooms to be dusted off and brought down from the
attic to give us a more complete picture of what exactly was worn before
the war and in those very early days. We owe it to ourselves to document
this unwritten history of our national team to the level that we would
all expect as a matter of course.
Three Lions on a Shirt is a
beautiful, high quality coffee-table book containing an incredible
collection of historic match worn England football shirts.
This official book contains more than 200 shirts, including almost
every variation of home and away shirt ever worn by our national
team - dating back to the very first international football match in
1872 - and all are match worn or match prepared for legends of the
game from Nat Lofthouse to Geoff Hurst, from Kevin Keegan to David
Beckham and from Stanley Matthews to Harry Kane.
All beautifully photographed, many of the shirts have not been seen
in colour since they were played-in. Some are still stained with
mud. They are a stunning, tangible link to England's football past,
transporting us instantly back to a glorious victory, a breathtaking
goal or a heartbreaking defeat or agonising miss. They bring the
history of our national team to life.
"It is a wonderful way to capture
and preserve our great history."
from the foreword by Gareth Southgate, England Manager
- VSP synopsis
To buy: Vision