International Classics – England, 1984-88

After the FA’s deal with Admiral came to an end in 1983, fans were glad to see a return to Umbro, with a new shirt premiered in the 2-0 friendly loss to France in Paris on Leap Year’s Day, 1984.

England-1984-Umbro-goalkeeper-yellow-01England-1984-Umbro-shirtSince the Lancashire firm had last produced the national team’s kit, shirt design had moved on at pace but their offerings were fairly restrained. Navy returned in place of the royal blue used by Admiral and it and red had more of a role on the shirt, which also had pinstripes running through the fabric.

The shorts featured fine striping, while the Umbro trim on the socks, generally a single colour on club kits, was rendered in navy and white. Initially, a yellow goalkeeper kit with black raglan sleeves, shorts and socks was favoured.

The trip to South America in the summer of 1984 saw some new kit combinations used. Against Brazil on June 10, the white shirts were worn with the white shorts and red socks from the change kit, which would get its first full outing against Uruguay three days later. It followed the same design as the home in red, white and navy, though there neck and cuffs were non-contrasting. Against Brazil, Peter Shilton had to change into a grey version of the goalkeeper shirt, with silver shorts and the same red socks as the rest of the team, and that kit was used against Uruguay, too.

Shilton was back in yellow for the game against Chile, when the outfielders again wore white-white-red – apparently this mashup was the inspiration for the Nike kits launched in 2016.

There was another summer tour in 1985, with England taking part in the Azteca 2000 tournament in Mexico with the hosts and West Germany before playing Italy and the USA in Los Angeles.

In order to try to deal with the heat, shirts made from Umbro’s Airtex fabric were used – the default home kit against Mexico and Italy, all-white against the US and the away kit against West Germany.

It’s probably hard to make out from the illustrations, but essentially the shirts lost the shadow pinstripes and now had a teabag effect with perforations.

The grey goalkeeper shirt had appeared againin May 1985 against the yellow-shirted Romania, this time used with the navy outfield shorts and white socks, and it would get a run of five straight games that summer into autumn, generally with the same shorts and socks as the rest of the team – the exception was the West Germany game, when Shilton wore navy shorts with the outfielders in white.

In September, for the return game against Romania, Shilton wore the navy-trimmed padded shorts and socks that would become part of the new first-choice kit for the following summer’s World Cup.

England-1985-Umbro-away-shirt-navy-shorts-TurkeyOctober 1985 saw a new variation as the navy shorts appeared with the red shirt and socks at home to Turkey, who played in white – the previous year, in the 8-0 win in Istanbul, Turkey had worn a red and white halved shirt but England’s home strip was allowed to be worn.

Given the lack of countries wearing home shirts that had large amounts of both red and white – Croatia were half-a-decade away from coming back into existence, for example – it’s not surprising that England didn’t have a third shirt to hand, but that would change for the 1986 World Cup.

Perhaps the most surprising this is that the third shirt was red as the FA decided to repeat the 1970 tactic of going with sky-blue as the second choice. In the event, the change shirt wasn’t needed but the shorts and socks were worn with the white shirts against Argentina in their quarter-final defeat. The more breatheable shirts also differed from the normal set and the 1985 Airtex in that they had a different fabric pattern and no cuffs.

There was special text under the crest while shorts numbers were added, too – the shirt appeared without these details in warm-up games against Mexico and Canada in May. The new silver goalkeeper shirt had navy rather than black as the secondary colour while there were navy pinstripes overlaid on diagonal shadow stripes. A yellow version was available but was never worn.


England-1986-Umbro-third-Aylesbury-01In 1970, England had had to fly out red shirts for the quarter-final against West Germany after the sky-blue kit used against Czechoslovakia had failed to provide sufficient differentiation on black-and-white television. In 1986, they brought the red kit as a third option but it wasn’t used.

However, the shirts, featuring the World Cup inscription, did appear in a pre-Euro 88 friendly against non-league side Aylesbury – a 7-0 win, with Peter Beardsley scoring a hat-trick – despite the fact that a new red shirt had been worn against Colombia a couple of weeks beforehand.

England-1987-Umbro-shirt-white-shorts-Spain-01The away had lasted slightly longer than the home, which had been replaced in October 1987 after coming back into use after the World Cup.

The only other mashup in its latter period of usage was all-white against Spain in February 1987, when Gary Lineker scored all four goals in a 4-2 triumph.

The silver/grey goalkeeper shirt would overlap with the new home kit launched in 1987 and would continue to be used all the way up to 1988. One of its last outings is worthy of a post of its own, which will be coming soon.

4 comments on “International Classics – England, 1984-88

  1. David Breach

    As always, Denis, thanks for the extra information. Much as I think of myself as a bit of a kit nerd, your research has helped give that much more detail – I have seen England games from WC86 hundreds of times, and although knowing about the airtex/teabag material, I hadn’t twigged the lack of coloured cuffs until now. I remember not liking the kit at the time, it seemed so boring compared to the yoked Admiral shirts, but now realise there was elegance in its simplicity – especially the away kit. I also thought that the yellow and black keepers’ kit was much better than the silver one, and loved it when it came out. Whenever I see any football shirt, I can almost picture a player in it – either from an iconic photo or whatever. Strangely for that yellow keepers’ kit, I can only ever picture Gary Bailey wearing it – never Shilton, even though Shilton must have worn it many more times.

  2. Lee Hermitage

    Great piece as always Denis. The early Umbro England kits were great, and at the time were seen as a welcome switch. The irony of it all is that the Admiral kits have attained cult status. I’d also doubt Nike having the nous to use any previous kit as an ‘inspiration’ with regard to a white/white/red combo, just them sticking to their third rate templates

  3. Andy Rockall

    Bailey wore the shirt once, v Ireland at Wembley in 1985, Shilton wore it just the 19 times! Chris Woods just three, each time as a sub for Shilton.

    1. Saint Dave

      Hi Andy. As hinted at, my ‘picture a certain player in a certain shirt’ had no logic. I think it was because Bailey was pictured wearing that shirt on a Shoot! Annual around that time, and because I was at that age where you just read, re-read and re-read again anything to do with football, the image left an impression, even though others would’ve worn it many more times.


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