Tag Archives: History of Umbro

Taking umbrage: a stripped down history of Umbro

Umbro became the leading soccer brand in the world.

The Humphreys brothers establish the Umbro brand
Harold Charles Humphreys (1902 – 1974) was born at Mobberley in Cheshire, the son of a house painter. He found work as a salesman for Bukta, a football kit manufacturer.

Predicting that football kit sales would continue to grow, Humphreys entered into the sportswear retail business for himself from 1920. He was joined by his brother, Wallace James Humphreys (1900 -1950), and the firm traded as Humphreys Brothers.

Harold Humphreys (1902 – 1974). Image courtesy of Umbro

Harold Humphreys initially operated the business from rooms above a pub that his parents managed in Mobberley.

The Umbro brand was introduced from 1924, with the name derived from a portmanteau of Humphreys Brothers. Clothing manufacture was originally subcontracted, but growing sales saw an Umbro factory established from 1930.

Wallace Humphreys (1900 – 1950). Image courtesy of Umbro

Umbro kits were worn by both teams at the Wembley finals in 1934.

Umbro manufactured military uniforms and Lancaster Bomber aircraft interiors during the Second World War.

Umbro manufactured the England international kit from 1952.

Roger Bannister (1929 – 2018) wore Umbro clothing when he ran the first ever sub-four minute mile in 1954.

Umbro began to outfit overseas international teams from 1958. When Brazil won the World Cup that year, they were kitted out in Umbro clothing.

The second generation takeover the business
Umbro was being managed by the two sons of Harold Humphreys by the early 1960s: John Humphreys (1929 – 1979) and Stuart Humphreys (1931 – 2005). John Humphreys took the managerial lead at the business.

Umbro won a 25-year contract as sole distributor of Adidas products in Britain in 1961. Adidas was the largest manufacturer of soccer boots in the world, but this was its only manufacture, so there was no conflict of interest.

Umbro entered its peak in 1966, when it kitted out 15 out of 16 teams in the World Cup Finals.

A factory had been established at Wilmslow, Cheshire, by 1967.

Distribution of Adidas footwear and clothing had become the largest source of income for Umbro by the early 1970s.

Umbro supplied the football kits to all 16 teams in the World Cup Finals in 1974.

The England international football team switched their kit manufacturer to Admiral, who had made a superior cash offer, in 1974.

John Humphreys died in 1979. His unexpected death affected corporate development. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy, with short-time working, redundancies and factory closures.

Arnold Copley, a former partner at Price Waterhouse, the accountancy firm, was appointed chief executive of Umbro from 1982. He initiated a corporate revival by entering the leisurewear market and boosting the marketing budget.

A new factory was established at Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, in 1984.

Umbro regained sponsorship of the England international football team kit from 1984.

Copley retired in 1985.

Meanwhile, Adidas had entered the leisurewear market, which resulted in increasing conflicts of interest with Umbro, so the distribution contract was ended in 1986. The termination of the contract gave Umbro free reign to enter into the footwear market.

Umbro employed 650 people at factories in Macclesfield, Ellesmere Port and Wilmslow by 1985. Umbro was the largest sportswear manufacturer in Britain.

Umbro was the market leader in football kits in the United States by 1990.

Umbro produced kits for half of the Premier League teams by 1992.

Umbro is acquired by Stone Manufacturing
Umbro was acquired by Stone Manufacturing, its United States franchise holder, for £2.9 million in 1992. The increasing cost of club sponsorship saw Umbro abandon its interests in squash and rugby in order to focus solely on football.

A slump in sales saw Umbro enter into cash flow problems. It sold its factories at Macclesfield and Stockport, with the loss of 146 jobs, in 1992.

Umbro employed nearly 700 people across two factories in South Carolina by 1994.

The death of Eugene Stone in 1997 left the remaining family members conflicted regarding the future direction for Umbro. Phenomenal growth left capital stretched.

Several cost-saving measures were introduced in order to stave off bankruptcy in 1998. Most of the United States workforce were made redundant. The remaining English factories at Wythenshawe, Ellesmere Port and Biddulph were closed, with production relocated to the Far East and Europe. Headquarters were relocated to Cheadle in Greater Manchester.

Subsequent ownership
Umbro was sold to Doughty Hanson, a private equity group, for £90 million in 1999.

Under new ownership, Umbro underwent a remarkable turnaround. The Wythenshawe factory was closed in 1999, and manufacturing was outsourced to China and Hong Kong. The Umbro brand was repositioned to focus solely on football.

Umbro was acquired by Nike for a generous £285 million in 2008 in order to build its presence in the football market. At the time Umbro was the leading supplier of soccer clothing in the world, and the third largest supplier of branded athletic apparel in the United Kingdom.

Nike unsuccessfully attempted to impose its own manufacturing and sales logistics onto Umbro. Nike executives struggled to understand the niche company, and the business was sold to Iconix Brand Group for £137 million in 2012.

England football kit sponsorship was switched to Nike from 2013.