- Thanks to the ever-knowledgeable Andrew Dalton (@lufcstats) for his assistance
- This period is covered in depth in the book Do You Want To Win? by Daniel Chapman – a documentary by the same name can be found on Amazon Prime
It’s probably showing a sign of our age that we consider three decades ago to be ‘modern’, but the Leeds United change kit launched in 1989 is unique in recent times in that it was used for title victories in both the second and top tiers of English football.
The kit’s introduction coincided with Leeds’ sponsors Burton opting to promote their Top Man brand, meaning the 1988-90 home shirt would carry two different logos over its lifespan, something its successor would also do.
That new first-choice kit arrived in the summer of 1990, as United were celebrating a return to the top flight.
You’ll notice that the Top Man logo is heavier than on the initial release – it was updated during the 1989-90 season, presumably due to legibility issues, and the away shirt also had to undergo changes on the back.
Initially, a new Umbro number font had been used but after two games, the FA asked Leeds to use something with more clarity. For 1990-91, the same classic style as on the home was used, albeit without the Umbro logo, but that appeared on the shirts for 1991-92 – it meant four numbering styles over the three seasons of the kit’s lifespan.
The 1990-91 season was the last in which the Umbro Hampden goalkeeper shirt design was widely used. As at most clubs, Leeds goalkeepers wore green, though John Lukic did wear the blue version away to Norwich (but not at home to the Canaries). In a friendly against Irish club Shelbourne in the summer of 1991, Mervyn Day also wore that shirt, matching up well with the away shorts and socks.
Leeds finished a creditable fourth in 1990-91 and the sponsorship deal with Burton expired at the end of that campaign. With the Umbro partnership having one more year to run, the club agreed a five-year deal with Admiral Sportswear that would commence in the summer of 1992, with the firm – which made its big entrance in English football with Leeds in the 1970s – acting as kit manufacturer and shirt sponsor.
It meant a stop-gap sponsor had to be found for the 1991-92 season and into the gap stepped local newspaper the Yorkshire Evening Post. If Leeds were staying with Umbro, then it’s likely that a new away kit would have been released, but instead the 1988 shirt was retained for a third year, with the new sponsor. In addition, there was a new Umbro goalkeeper style.
It was a season to remember for Howard Wilkinson’s side, which was largely settled – fans can still reel off the ‘first’ 11 of John Lukic; Mel Sterland, Chris Fairclough, Chris Whyte, Tony Dorigo; Gordon Strachan, David Batty, Gary McAllister, Gary Speed; Rod Wallace and Lee Chapman. Of the 462 starting spots over the 42-game season, those players accounted for 409.
However, they only played together on five occasions – Sterland missed a lot of the campaign through injury and John McClelland played 16 times while mid-season signing Eric Cantona also made his presence felt.
Leeds pipped Manchester United to the title, ensuring victory with a 3-2 win away to Sheffield United while their trans-Pennine rivals lost at Liverpool on the same day. At Bramall Lane, as in most away games apart from Chelsea and Liverpool, Leeds wore the yellow kit. At no stage over the two seasons was a mashup used, while the lack of any cup tie away to Torquay United negated the need for a third strip.
When Leeds lifted the league championship trophy after a 1-0 win at home to Norwich City, the matchday squad wore Umbro drill tops, while non-playing members were in either the club tracksuit (left) or shellsuit (right).
That game against Norwich was the last time that Leeds wore Umbro in a competitive match. They began the following season, the first of the new Premier League, in Admiral and, when that intended five-year deal ended after just one, they switched to Asics and later Puma, Nike, Diadora, Admiral again, Macron and Kappa and this summer will see a link-up with adidas.
The double-diamond certainly went out on a high, though.