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Three Lions On A Shirt
(Vision Sports Publishing, 2022)


Reviewed by Glen Isherwood
7 November 2022

Released 7 November 2022

It may seem a little indulgent to review a book in which you've been heavily involved, but this was a team effort and I wanted to let you know how it all came about. What led me to join the contributors to this website back in 2004 was a random search for an England kit history during an idle moment at work. Like a lot of football fans who grew up in the seventies, I was seduced by the revolution sparked by the new Admiral designs that infiltrated the top levels of the game, culminating in a startling new England kit in 1974. I, sort of, lost interest in the design elements of football kits in the eighties as they became ever more complex, but not forgetting the decade that had preceded it.

When I discovered that England Football Online had documented what was worn from the late eighties onwards, with some information about the fifties, I thought that I could plug some of the gaps, probably back to 1970, as before that, they all looked the same, didn't they?

That's when Pandora's box began to open. Visitors to the website began to write in with additional bits of information and a more complete record of what was worn in which games began to emerge. Selwyn Rowley wrote to point out that England had worn a slightly different style of red shirt against West Germany in the 1982 World Cup. What? How could that be? I began to realise that the Admiral era had lots of strange inconsistencies and I listed them on the website (Admiral Mysteries). Most of these are answered by the traumas that befell this small sportswear company as it struggled to maintain the elevated position that its owner's ambition had given it. The book has a whole section on the 'Admiral Revolution'.

We also discovered that people were starting to use the site as a reference to authenticate match-worn England shirts that they were selling on ebay. Unfortunately, this also included a growing number of people trying to sell their replica shirts at an inflated price, because a famous player might have worn it. To this day, people still ask if their obviously replica shirts are 'originals'. What does that even mean? We've only ever been interested in what the players wore during matches.

As the years progressed, the internet became a much richer source of historical information. More and more photographs of old games appeared and it suddenly became possible to go right back to the beginning in 1872. A trip to the FA's library at Wembley revealed the first purchase of shirts for the team in 1879. Prior to that, the players had to provide their own kit.

Another breakthrough came from studying newsreels from the 1950s. We knew that Umbro had provided the kits from 1966-74 (when Admiral stepped in), that they wore Bukta for a while in the sixties before then, and there was a big leap in 1954 from the old heavy dress shirts to what were effectively, short-sleeved t-shirts. Why didn't Umbro and Bukta advertise the fact that they were supplying the national team with its kits during these periods?

One startling discovery came when I spotted that the number fonts on the back of the shirts were different for Umbro to what they were for Bukta kits, and I knew this because those two companies were still using the same fonts throughout the seventies when their logos began to appear on club shirts. So now we could pinpoint whose shirts were worn going right back through the fifties. Then, despite all of the evidence being in black and white, I discovered that the colour of the numbers matched the colour of the socks during this period, sometimes black, sometimes red. Wow! Did any club side ever do that?

At this stage, some of these observations were just theories, but joining Facebook in 2010 presented me with another dimension. Simon Shakeshaft had pictures of loads of matchworn England shirts from the forties up to the present day. Not only did Shakey confirm my theories about the fonts relating to the manufacturers of the shirts (in every case), but he also revealed stories about how some of the changes came about. There was so much more to add to the story, the stuff that you can't get from pictures or videos. Different materials, distributors' names in collar labels, different branding in collar labels revealing new versions of the shirt, behind-the-scenes deals as the industry progressed from teams buying the kit via distributors, to manufacturers paying millions of pounds for the team to wear it.

Shakey's the curator of Neville Evans' National Football Shirt Collection and whenever he came across an ex-England international's shirt collection we were able to combine our notes and work out exactly when the shirts were worn. Of course, this was long before match details were printed onto the shirt. As an example, we were able to use shirts worn by Roger Hunt and Alan Mullery to prove that England actually wore Airtex shirts in 1968, when I had previously thought that they were first taken on tour in 1969 in preparation for the World Cup in Mexico, the following year. It's a magical feeling when the actual shirts provide that irrefutable evidence.

Of course, what Shakey wanted was to get the shirts into a book and tell the whole story. It had not been done before, because the information had never been available, and it takes years to gather it from so many different sources, but we now had all of the ingredients. Shakey's expertise and research into the whole industry enabled him to prove the concept with Vision Sports Publishing, first with 'The Arsenal Shirt' in 2014 (second edition in 2020), and then ' The Spurs Shirt' in 2018. These are both great volumes, conjuring up the amazing image of Arsenal wearing sleeveless pullovers over their white away shirts in 1933 to create a hugely significant moment in that club's history, and the rich detail in the Spurs book, including the incredible chain of events that led to the infamous unsponsored shirts at the 1987 FA Cup Final.

All of which finally brings us to the long-awaited 'Three Lions On A Shirt'. Combining the collections of Neville Evans and Daren Burney, we have an unrivalled range of shirts, each one worn by one of the most famous post-war England players, and all beautifully photographed in glorious close-up. For every shirt, there are the details and stories that make that particular shirt unique, and then there are the stories of the manufacturers. From unknown oufitters to long-forgotten retail stores before the war, to Hope Brothers and St Blaize, two manufacturers, based where modern day local residents are blissfully unaware of their contributions to English football history. There's a shirt from every major tournament that England have played in since 1958.

We learn about the secret advertising on Umbro shirts that was way ahead of its time, the events that led to Umbro securing the World Cup shirts in 1966, thanks to adidas (who have never supplied England kit), and what happened to the shirts worn in the final. There's the astonishing catalogue of changes to the Admiral England kits that hardly anybody noticed at the time, and not forgetting the iconic shirts of the past forty years, including Italia '90, Euro '96 and the more recent Nike shirts with their subtle tributes to previous designs, culminating in the shirts produced for the 2022 World Cup.

With separate chapters on how Nike go about designing the shirts, interviews with the England kit men, separate histories on England's goalkeeping outfits and how the women's shirt has changed over the past fifty years, it's a comprehensive account of everything that was ever adorned with Three Lions on a Shirt.

Of course, I'm biased, because I wrote lots of it, but it's certainly a story that deserves to be heard. On this website we continue to build the history of the kit. There's still a lot that we don't know and we need those family heirlooms to be dusted off and brought down from the attic to give us a more complete picture of what exactly was worn before the war and in those very early days. We owe it to ourselves to document this unwritten history of our national team to the level that we would all expect as a matter of course.


Three Lions on a Shirt is a beautiful, high quality coffee-table book containing an incredible collection of historic match worn England football shirts.

This official book contains more than 200 shirts, including almost every variation of home and away shirt ever worn by our national team - dating back to the very first international football match in 1872 - and all are match worn or match prepared for legends of the game from Nat Lofthouse to Geoff Hurst, from Kevin Keegan to David Beckham and from Stanley Matthews to Harry Kane.

All beautifully photographed, many of the shirts have not been seen in colour since they were played-in. Some are still stained with mud. They are a stunning, tangible link to England's football past, transporting us instantly back to a glorious victory, a breathtaking goal or a heartbreaking defeat or agonising miss. They bring the history of our national team to life.

"It is a wonderful way to capture and preserve our great history."
from the foreword by Gareth Southgate, England Manager

 -  VSP synopsis

To buy: Vision Sports Publishing 

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