How did Mitre become one of the largest football manufacturers in the world?
Benjamin Crook (1764 – 1834) traded as a currier, a worker in the leather industry who applies the finishing techniques to tans, in Huddersfield, Yorkshire. Crook established his own tannery in Huddersfield from 1817.
His son, Benjamin Crook Jr (1809 – 1883), was a currier at Bradleys Buildings, Huddersfield by 1841. Benjamin Crook Jr relocated his currying business to Fitzwilliam Street and employed three men by 1851. Footballs were produced from 1862.
Benjamin Crook Jr died in 1883, and the business was continued by his sons, George Henry Crook (1842 – 1901), and Frederick Crook (1852 – 1912).
Following the death of Frederick Crook in 1912 it appears that William Clifford Crook (1884 – 1959), the son of George Henry Crook, took control of the business.
During the First World War Benjamin Crook & Sons produced leather ammunition pouches for the British army, and haversacks for the French army.
Benjamin Crook & Sons held perhaps ten to 20 percent of the British football market by 1922. One of its major competitors was Sykes of Horbury.
Benjamin Crook & Sons had become a limited company by 1926. About 140 people were employed at the factory. Tens of thousands of footballs were produced every year, and three footballs a minute were produced during the working day.
Demand boomed during the post-war period. The Mitre brand was introduced for footballs from 1949.
William Clifford Crook died in 1959.
Sale of the company
Grampian Holdings, a Glasgow-based conglomerate, acquired Benjamin Crook & Sons for nearly £195,000 in 1962.
Mitre provided the official ball for the England national team from 1962.
Mitre entered the football boot market from 1966.
Mitre relocated to the Bay Hall Works in Birkby, Huddersfield from the late 1960s.
Mitre became the official football of the English Football League from the 1970s.
Mitre enters the United States market and is acquired by Genesco
Mitre began to develop the United States market from 1975.
Genesco, a Tennessee-based manufacturer of footwear and clothing, acquired the licence to sell Mitre clothing and equipment throughout North America from 1981.
Mitre closed two factories due to economic recession in 1981, one in Northampton with 80 employees, and one in Kettering with 38 workers. A reduction of orders saw the Huddersfield site staff downsized from 300 to 213.
United States sales of Mitre products increased from $1 million to $25 million between 1984 and 1989. Mitre became the leading supplier of football boots in the United States, with a 35 percent market share in 1989.
Genesco acquired Mitre for £17 million in 1992. Genesco hoped to capitalise on the increasing popularity of football in America during the 1994 World Cup.
Mitre was one of the leading suppliers of footballs and football boots in the world by 1995, and the leading football and football boot supplier in the UK. Mitre was also a leading supplier of rugby and cricket footwear.
The Sunday Times reported in May 1995 that Mitre footballs were being stitched by children as young as six in Pakistan, at a rate of 10p per hour. The newspaper described the work as “a modern form of slave labour”.
Duncan Bembridge of Mitre responded swiftly:
Mitre Sports International do not condone in any form the use of child labour. Agreements with our factories in Pakistan clearly state our policy and we have written assurances that child labour is not being used to stitch Mitre balls.
As a father, and a director of a highly principled international company, I am totally committed to stamping out child slavery.
Acquisition by Pentland Group
Genesco entered into financial difficulty, and sold Mitre Sports to Pentland Group for $11.4 million (£7.2 million) in 1995. Pentland announced plans to increase marketing spend behind the brand and improve international distribution.
Mitre lost the prestigious contract to supply the Premier League football to Nike in 2000.
After 44 years, the England football team switched from Mitre to Umbro footballs from 2006.
Mitre has continuously provided the official match balls for the English Football League since 1962. Its is currently contracted to continue to do so until at least 2019.
Mitre ranked among the largest football manufacturers in the world as of 2019. Its major rivals in this field are Adidas, Nike, Puma, Asics, Mizuno and Umbro.