United's Kit Suppliers & Manufacturers
For most of the period before the Second World War clubs, and players, generally bought their kit from local sports outfitters.
The kits were often locally made by the outfitters or small garment manufacturers. Bukta, founded in 1879, were the first mass manufacturer of football kits, and remained so until Humphrey Brothers Clothing were formed in 1920 in Wilmslow, Cheshire. In 1924 they became Umbro. Although these two Companies came to dominate the market they relied upon distributors and the local sports outfitters rather than supplying clubs direct. There are several pre-war shirts in the United museum, supplied by Alec Watson sports outfitters and Billy Meredith's sports shops, although we cannot be sure of the manufacturer.
Early Newton Heath Kits
The earliest contemporary evidence of Newton Heath's kit suppliers comes from an advertisement placed in the December 31st 1887 issue of 'The Football Field', a weekly newspaper. The advert for the sports outfitters H W Hill in Nottingham includes a reference to the company supplying several hundred clubs for the 1887/88 season, including Newton Heath.
Unfortunately, neither the manufacturer nor the team's colours were not included,. At a time when skilled workers in engineering earned around £1.50 per week, the shirts were not patricularly expensive at 3 shillings (15p). There is nothing to suggest that H W Hill were the exclusive suppliers to the club, and it is entirely possible Newton Heath, and individual players, may also have purchased kits from more local suppliers.
Many thnaks to Charbel Boujaoude for sending us a copy of the advert.
By studying press photographs of United players from the mid-Thirties onwards, we have discovered that United wore Umbro shirts from 1946, and perhaps even earlier. For the 1933 F.A. Cup Final, the company produced a new style of shirt, known as the "Tangeru". This shirt can be easily identified by the large re-enforcement piece at base of the placket (marked in red on the photo).
The photographs confirm that from the start of the 1946/47 season, United wore the Tangeru shirt. It is entirely possible, of course, that United wore Umbro shirts prior to this, although the lack of easily identifiable elements such as the re-inforced patch seen on the Tangeru, make it almost impossible to determine.
Many thanks to Tony Sealey, who is researching the history of the kits worn by Tottenham Hotspur, for contacting us with information on the Tangeru shirt.
Clothes rationing, introduced in June 1941, would have meant that United would have certainly continued to wear Umbro shirts throughout the War.
Clothes rationing continued in Britain until March 15th 1949, creating problems for several League clubs. United had few problems replacing their playing kits, and at one point they had to resort to a public appeal to fans to donate ration coupons for their training kit.
The 'Fifties were a decade of experimentation and innovation in football. Following England's defeat by Hungary, Umbro, who had formed a close relationship with United's manager Matt Busby, introduced new more lightweight shirts, similiar to those worn on the continent. Twards the end of the decade they produced a special 'reflective' kit especially for the ever-increasing number of games played under floodlights.
The decade also saw manufacturers promoting their kits through retail stores, although they remained generic rather than specific team kits.
The Umbro brochure reproduced here dates from late 1958 and advertises kits "styled by Matt Busby" available at Reg Regis's Sports Shop in Lowestoft. Similiar brochures were produced for sports shops the length and breadth of the country.
The back cover features United as well as Wolves, the League Champions, Clyde and Hibernian, both Scottish Cup finalists, and Wigan, the Rugby League Cup winners.
By the end of the 'Sixties advances in material allowed Umbro to produce a special ventilated shirt from aertex, worn by United on their Australian tour in the summer of 1967 and in the Charity Shield game against Tottenham.
Admiral 1975 - 1980
Admiral were the first manufacturer to recognise and exploit the market potential for replica kits. The Company had close ties with Leeds United, and in 1973/74 launched the UK's first replica strip. The Leeds kit carried an embroidered Admiral logo on the shirt and the shorts, as well as being made not of cotton - as had been traditional - but a lighter nylon material . The kit will probably be best remembered for the numbered tags on the socks.
United were the second League club to sign up Admiral, and their replica kit appeared from the start of the 1975/76 season. Under the arrangement United were guaranteed a minimum £15,000 annual income for each of the three years of the contract plus 5% royalties and bonuses, e.g. Admiral would pay United £10,000 for reaching the FA Cup Final, and a further £6,000 if the team won the Cup. Meanwhile the replica shirts went on sale to United supporters at £15 each (almost three times the cost of a generic red shirt with white trim).
An Admiral advert from 1978 featuring Joe Jordan and Lou Macari is reproduced (left).
United signed a further 2 year contract with Admiral in 1978 and had agreed a further four years to commence in 1980/81. This latter contract was never fulfilled as Admiral were declared bankrupt in 1980.
adidas 1980 - 1992
The German sports and leisure clothing manufacturer were one of the first foreign companies to enter the UK replica market and in 1977 reached agreements with Birmingham, Ipswich and Middlesbrough. Following Admiral's demise in the summer of 1980, adidas agreed a four year deal with United to supply their kits from the start of the 1980/81 season.
We have reproduced an adidas advert showing the prices for the United replica kits (right) in 1982/83.
Despite competition from fellow German manufacturers Hummel, who had originally offered United a better deal, adidas renewed the contract in 1983 (despite the initial contract still having a year to run), agreeing to pay United £1.6m over the four years of the contract. A third contract between United and adidas, signed in 1987, was worth a guaranteed £1.75 million over five years, with an extra 10% royalty bonus in each year that sales exceed £750,000.
Umbro 1992 - 2002
Umbro had reacted quickly to the changing market by negotiating agreements with the major English clubs in the late 1970's (including Arsenal, Everton Liverpool, and Manchester City). In 1992 they agreed a four year deal with United, which was extended in 1996 for a further 6 years and was reported to be worth £60 million over that period. In August 2003 the Office of Fair Trading imposed fines on United (£1.6 million) and Umbro (£6.4 million), as well as several UK retailers, after an investigation between spring 2001 and autumn 2002 into price fixing .
Nike 2002 - 2015
United announced a world record sponsorship deal with the American sports equipment manufacturer Nike on September 27th 2000 worth £302.9 million over the thirteen year term, with extra income from a profit share agreement from merchandise sold worldwide. The agreement started on 1 August 2002 and as part of the agreement United granted Nike exclusive rights to sponsor its gear, manufacture and sell its merchandise and operate the existing retail operations. As a consequence Nike, who had an option to cancel the agreement in 2008, formed a wholly-owned subsidiary to control Manchester United's global licensing and retail operations.
Nike had a six month exclusive window from February 2013 to negotiate an extension to the original deal as well as the first option to match any offer from a rival supplier. On Tuesday July 8th 2014 Nike announced that the contract with United would not be renewed and explained in a compamy statement, "Manchester United is a great club with passionate fans. We are proud to have partnered with them for the last 12 years and will continue to sponsor the club until the end of the 2014/15 season. Any partnership with a club or federation has to be mutually beneficial and the terms that were on offer for a renewed contract did not represent good value for Nike's shareholders".
On July 14th 2014, less than a week after the Nike announcement, United confirmed a new ten year deal with German kit manufacturer adidas for "global technical sponsorship and dual branded licensing". The contract was reported to be worth a minimum £75 million per season (a new world record total of £750 million) and dwarfed the recent agreement between Arsenal and Puma thought to be worth £30 million a year. The new deal commenced on August 1st 2015.