The mid-1980s saw Umbro employ blocky panels in various formats.
Leeds United, Celtic (third), Portsmouth (away) and Sheffield United (away) were all beneficiaries to various degrees, but our favourite is the chestband split diagonally into two different colours. The summer of 1985 saw its first exposure, with Watford and Dundee having it on their new home shirts.
While the Hornets had slipped from their second-placed finish of 1982-83, they were still a good mid-table first-division side, with John Barnes their star turn, ensuring the kit is still fondly remembered today. North of the border, Dundee’s kit was worn as they denied Hearts the league title on the final day of 1985-86.
Perhaps surprisingly, nobody else had the design for their first kit and there were in fact more change strips in the style. As well as that, Scottish teams outnumbered English sides, with Motherwell and Rangers (with the only collared version) having it along with Newcastle United.
Both Rangers and Newcastle had three different sponsors’ markings (the lager-less McEwan’s version was for the unofficial ‘British championship’ game against Everton in Dubai, thanks to Gregor Smith for reminding us). However, as attractive as the Newcastle one was, silver wasn’t always suitable against teams in white, meaning a one-off blue kit had to be made for a game against Luton Town.
For 1985-86, Watford had retained their previous white away but for 1986-87 Umbro issued them a change strip to match the home, with shorts in a similar style. These were worn with the home shirt away to Liverpool, but otherwise this kit is a unique example. Shorts in that style were worn by Partick Thistle, who had a similar design to Leeds, while Chelsea wore a white set away to Tottenham Hotspur – the last time they have worn blue shirts and white shorts.
As an aside, red or black Watford shirts in this template would have looked marvellous, though the latter was prohibited at the time. There was one last addition to the canon in 1988 in the colours of Northern Irish side Glentoran. Introduced with an unsponsored version as they won the 1988 Irish Cup final to complete a domestic double, it was worn for the next two seasons.
Despite the sparing use among professional teams, this design was popular as teamwear. Perhaps our nostalgia is stronger than most but there does appear to be a fondness for the style and it is therefore mildly surprising that, given manufacturers’ crazes for retro inspiration, Umbro have not bestowed us with a modern interpretation.
In fact, two of Umbro’s rivals have had designs that were not dissimilar. Around the turn of the millennium, adidas had a goalkeeper template, used by Yugoslavia and Feyenoord among others, which wasn’t a million miles away, although still distinctive enough in its own right. Then, in 2010, Barcelona’s change kit was close to being a modern facsimile, though the split was central, as on the adidas version.