- Thanks as ever to Leeds oracle Andrew Dalton for his assistance
As mentioned at the end of our piece looking at Leeds United’s last set of Umbro kits, in 1991 the club signed a five-year deal with Admiral to begin in the 1992-93 season
According to Daniel Chapman’s book Do You Want To Win?, Leeds chairman Bill Fotherby preferred to call it a “business partnership”. Leeds’ sponsorship deal with Burton/Top Man ended in 1991 and their agreement with Umbro set to expire at the end of 1991-92. The Yorkshire Evening Post would step in as sponsors for a season which would end with Leeds as champions before Admiral took over as kit-maker and main sponsor.
While Admiral had faded after the heady days of the 1970s, when a link-up with Don Revie’s Leeds brought the company to prominence, they were keen to make an impact again. The deal, worth £1.4m annually, was one of the biggest in English football and the company’s chairman Simon Gidney was very excited.
“What the club has achieved over the last three seasons is really quite remarkable, and going into the 1990s I think the club is poised for a very successful future,” he said, while acknowledging that the reputation of the club’s supporters had improved in the recent past.
Admiral’s offerings were of the philosophy that was beginning to become common – have a fairly classy home shirt and then allow the designers to flex their creative muscles with the change kits. In Leeds’ case, both the second and third shirts were reversals of each other, though yellow, so often the away choice, was now third with blue as the main back-up.
All three shirts featured the Yorkshire rose and LUFC monogram in their fabric, while plainer shorts were used for the third kit, compared to the blue set which matched the shirt design.
Leeds began the season with victory over Liverpool in the Charity Shield, with Eric Cantona scoring a hat-trick, but even before that they had appeared in a mashup of the new kits. Hosting the Makita Tournament, which featured Nottingham Forest, Stuttgart and Sampdoria, they changed to blue socks with the home shirts and shorts against the Italian side – with David Batty on a one-man destruction mission.
It was the first of four different mixes of the kits and each alternative combination would only be worn once. The Coca-Cola Cup draw saw Leeds up against Scunthorpe United, whose home kit that season featured a mainly blue shirt with white shorts and socks, and so Howard Wilkinson’s side played in the home shirts with away shorts and socks.
Then, at the end of November, Leeds were away to Chelsea, who had reverted back to white socks at home. On this occasion, they opted for the yellow socks from the third kit, which had been worn in the Champions League first-round replay against Stuttgart in Barcelona.
The Chelsea match was a 1-0 loss, another disappointing result on the road in a season which would end without an away league win. The blue kit was considered particularly unlucky – the only victory in it a friendly against Japanese side Grampus Eight – and it wasn’t seen again after a 4-0 loss away to Tottenham Hotspur in February 1993.
While the new Premier League dispensed with the ‘shorts-clash’ rule that the Football League had, Leeds opted for another mashup at White Hart Lane, changing shorts to the yellow set but retaining the blue socks.
Thereafter, the yellow kit was used when a clash arose and Leeds finished in 17th of 22 teams, just two points above the relegation spots.
The campaign proved to be the only one with Admiral in the Premier League as the five-year deal was prematurely cut short – though the club would partner with the brand (under different ownership) again from 2005-08.
From 1993-96, Leeds joined up with Asics and the Japanese company would also bring a strong level of interchangeability.