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Adidas and Manchester United: a complicated history

The sports manufacturer was a long-term supplier for the club throughout the 1980s.

MANCHESTER UNITED’S RELATIONSHIP with Adidas began more than thirty years ago. Having replaced Admiral as the club’s kit provider in 1980, the company’s fresh approach echoed that of the team’s. United were competitive under Ron Atkinson and played with flair and panache. The shirts were an extension of that and when a sponsorship agreement was signed with Sharp Electronics in 1982, things got a little more daring in the design department.

Home jersey -1980

Soccer - League Division One - Birmingham City v Manchester United - St Andrews Source: Peter Robinson/EMPICS Sport

Big white collars, a v-neck and the three-stripes running down the arms (and shorts)…this was a blistering start by Adidas. Bit of a throwback to a couple of 1970s shirts but with a modern spin. It hinted at good things.

Home jersey – 1982

When Sharp came on-board, Adidas upped their game. The collars went and a deep-V was introduced. Complementing the dark socks, Adidas decided on incorporating a black and white combination for the sponsors’ name. But, thankfully, this wouldn’t remain for too long.

3rd jersey – 1983

Soccer - Canon League Division One - Stoke City v Manchester United Source: EMPICS Sports Photo Agency

Traditionally, United’s ‘other’ shirt was always blue but this design was particularly eye-catching. The ‘Electronics’ reference was removed for the start of the 1983/84 campaign and it gave it a sleeker and classic vibe. Usually worn with blue shorts and socks.

Away jersey – 1983

Soccer - Milk Cup Final - Liverpool v Manchester United Source: Peter Robinson/EMPICS Sport

For Cup and European games, the sponsors’ name was removed so this particular version was a purists’ dream. The Adidas stripes were used on a white shirt for the first time (a previous version with collars rather than a v-neck was used between 1980 and 1982). The long-sleeve option, as worn by Arthur Albiston above, added to the hipster-chic of this effort.

Goalkeeper’s jersey – 1983

 

Soccer - Canon League Division One - Manchester United v Newcastle United Source: EMPICS Sports Photo Agency

Adidas loved the v-neck look for the outfield shirt but had some fun with the goalkeepers. They stayed with the traditional bright-green colour but kept the 70s-retro feel by incorporating the big collars.

Home jersey – 1985

Soccer - Milk Cup - 3rd Round - Manchester United v Everton Source: Duncan Raban/Duncan Raban/EMPICS Entertainment

Best-known as the kit Manchester United wore when they won the 1985 FA Cup, this was a radical departure. The white stripes on the shoulders and the crest’s new position in the middle of the shirt were the big talking points.

Away jersey – 1990

Soccer - FA Cup Final 1990 - Manchester United v Crystal Palace Source: Peter Robinson/EMPICS Sport

Over the years, Adidas moved away from black and white as the main colours in United’s away strip. From the mid-eighties, they introduced more red piping into the design and it culminated in this version – as worn in the 1990 FA Cup final against Crystal Palace. There was a slightly different ‘cross-over’ collar on this shirt while the crest returned to its more traditional position.

Goalkeeper’s jersey – 1992

Soccer - Barclays League Division One - Manchester United v Leeds United Source: Neal Simpson/EMPICS Sport

The relationship between Adidas and Manchester United was coming to an end, with Umbro set to take on the kit design responsibilities from the summer of 1992 onwards. They certainly went out with a couple of ‘memorable’ offerings. Perhaps inspired by the thriving ‘Madchester’ scene of the early nineties, Peter Schmeichel was forced to wear this dreadful shirt, complete with a black ‘zig-zag’ effect throughout. Made worse by the regular outfield shorts that accompanied it, it would be a while before United could boast of an impressive goalkeeper’s jersey.

Away jersey – 1992

 

GiggsyBlue Source: EMPICS Sports Photo Agency

It was a rough end to Adidas’ spell as United’s kit manufacturer. This effort is particularly despised and for good reason. Again, tapping into the ‘baggy’ music scene, this was supposed to be a shirt that could be worn as just another item of clothing, the mini-Adidas logos that feature throughout the jersey testament to a kind of ‘urban/street’ feel. But the bottom line was that no-one would even wear it to a game, nevermind the local pub. It was an embarrassing way for Adidas to go, especially after all their sterling work right across the previous decade.

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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