One of the world’s most iconic sportswear items started small in a sleepy Cheshire village. To be more exact, in an upstairs cupboard of one of Mobberley’s popular pubs.
The Bull’s Head on Mill Lane is the birthplace of Umbro, the brand that has outfitted great football teams for their finest hours on the pitch. The gastropub, now famous for its “steak and wobbly ale pie”, was once owned by the parents of Harold and Wallace Humphreys.
Harold, who was born in 1902, left school aged 13 to clean at a textile company in Manchester and quickly rose through the ranks to the haberdashery department. He then got a job as a salesman at Stockport, the sportswear brand Messrs Bucks – later known as Bukta.
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In 1922, Harold started his own sportswear retail business, initially out of a cupboard in the back room of his parents’ pub – The Bull’s Head. With the help of his brother Wallace, the couple formed Humphreys Brothers Ltd in 1924 and moved to a workshop in Wilmslow.
The name was shortened to Umbro – taking the ‘um’ from Humphreys and the ‘bro’ from the brothers. In the decades since, the brand has supplied kits to some of the world’s biggest teams and was once dubbed the “Dior of the world of football”.
Ten years after the company was founded, Umbro supplied kits to both teams in the FA Cup final, played in front of 93,000 spectators, CheshireLive reports. Portsmouth, in a black and white kit, would lose 2-1 to Manchester City, who wore maroon.
In 1966, the vast majority of English teams played in their jerseys. When the World Cup arrived that year, 15 of the 16 teams competed in Umbro kits, including North Korea – only the USSR snubbing the supplier.
When Manchester United completed the treble in 1999, they did so in two Umbro home kits, with a special kit reserved for European matches.
Brazil have also lifted the World Cup trophy twice in Umbro kits, first in 1958 when Pelé and co lifted the Jules Rimet in blue shirts; and again in 1994, beating Italy in the final in Los Angeles in yellow.
A year after the 1994 World Cup, Ajax won the Champions League in Umbro shirts. The star-studded team included Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert wearing the white and red made famous by Cruyff a generation before.
When an equally star-studded Scottish side reached the World Cup final in 1978, Liverpool stars Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness wore Umbro kits, just as they did with their club.
Meanwhile, away from football, Umbro supplied the British Olympic team’s kits for twenty years between 1952 and 1972. In 1954, Roger Bannister was the first man to complete the four-minute mile while wearing the mark of clothes.
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