Outfitters for the victorious Lions

When the British & Irish Lions rugby squad set off to tour New Zealand in May of 1971, they turned to us for a durable new rugby shirt. The team’s previous visit, in 1966, was an unsuccessful one, losing all four tests, so they had a real point to prove.

Adorned in Admiral, they took the fight to the All Blacks and went into the final game 2-1 up, needing a draw or another win to secure victory. New Zealand brought the scores level in the final moments of the game, 14-14, but it was too little, too late. The Lions got the glory.

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Factory #2 opens

As demand for our products grew in the early 1970s, we soon needed to open an additional factory, so we chose a site in Market Harborough, 13 miles south of Wigston.

This coincided with a redefining moment in the sportswear industry: the advent of visibly branded, copyrighted kits – spearheaded by Admiral.


Admiral meets Don Revie of Leeds United

In 1973, a group of Admiral employees attended a meeting near Elland Road, home of Leeds United, one of the world’s premier teams at the time.

Watching the Leeds players train after the meeting, our employees got talking to Don Revie, the team’s legendary manager. After learning who we were, Revie enlisted our help in designing a new away kit and tracksuit for his side – the home kit being out of bounds at this point.


Admiral’s Leeds kit is a hit

Our first Leeds kit was revolutionary in that the shirt included several colours, rather than just one block colour. Replica versions of it and the tracksuit were put on sale to the general public, proving a huge success and thus kickstarting the replica-kit market.

It wasn’t long until Revie sought our input for a new home kit.


Colour TV moves the goalposts

Television’s transition from black-and-white to full colour was pretty much complete by the early 1970s.

This vivid new spectacle offered football clubs a new way to market themselves and earn additional revenue: by wearing radically redesigned kits on the pitch, and then selling replicas to fans.


Admiral lands the England job

When England failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, the FA sacked longtime manager Sir Alf Ramsey and appointed Don Revie, who immediately set about making changes big and small, including the kit.

Our new shirt design was like nothing the national team had worn before: white, with a pointed collar, and bold red and blue lines going down the sleeves. It was also the first England kit to feature any manufacturer’s logo – a controversial move at the time.


More teams switch to Admiral kits

In the summer of 1975, we secured the kit contract for Manchester United, who had just been promoted back to the First Division after a season below. United soared to third place in the ensuing season, and reached the FA Cup Final – all decked out in Admiral.

The following season, several more top-flight clubs followed suit and signed with Admiral, including Leicester City, Norwich City, West Ham United and Sheffield United.


The Admiral FA Cup Final

United’s ’76 Cup Final opponents were Southampton – another Admiral client. However, the BBC told Bert Patrick that both teams walking out with ‘ADMIRAL’ across the fronts of their tracksuits was an impossibility, due to the BBC’s non-advertising policy.

Patrick arranged for one-off redesigns, putting the Admiral logo on the backs of the tracksuits instead – a stroke of genius, because that’s what the cameras captured as they followed the players out onto the Wembley pitch.


Other kit-makers follow Admiral’s lead

By this point, other brands were still using plain designs for the most part, with small and subtle branding if any. But our outlandish outputs meant that kits were now marketing tools for clubs – and marketable products in themselves, especially among children.

As such, the other kit-makers began to experiment with bolder designs and make the branding more prominent – not just on shirts, but also on shorts, socks, tracksuits and more.


Soccer across the pond

Football’s transatlantic explosion gave our soccerwear yet more exposure, as many teams in the North American Soccer League (NASL) donned Admiral kits. One such team was the Los Angeles Aztecs, for whom George Best played; another was New York Cosmos, whose kit was designed by Ralph Lauren and manufactured by us.

At the NASL’s peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s, matches were televised and the average attendance was almost 15,000 – putting us in front of a whole new audience once again.


Outfitting the Tour de France winners

The 1980 TI-Raleigh-Creda team, which won that year’s Tour de France race, pedalled to glory in Admiral jerseys. This was a welcome bit of non-football representation for our brand, helping to combat pigeon-holing and raise our profile among a totally different sports audience.

In addition to TI-Raleigh-Creda, we provided the jerseys for another team that year: Splendor-Admiral, who ended up finishing in 6th place out of the total 13.


That England ’82 World Cup kit

Despite having been the England kitmaker for eight years, Admiral had not yet outfitted England for a World Cup. Thanks to a Paul Mariner goal against Hungary in a tight 1-0 qualifier, the Three Lions just about clinched their place and headed for Spain in June 1982.

Although England’s performance didn’t pan out as the nation had hoped, the shirt we designed is now one of the side’s most iconic – and was the first England replica shirt to be sold in adult sizes.


Enlarging our British club base

Following the big-stage exposure at the 1982 World Cup, we started to compound our British club base, signing up clubs from all over the country over the coming years.

Between 1983 and 1988, these included Hull City, Notts County, hometown club Leicester City once again, Derby County, Bradford City again, Cardiff City again, Swansea City, Crystal Palace again, Stoke City again and Charlton Athletic.