Those of you that live in Britain will probably be familiar with the concept of the town centre sports barn. These giant stores have several distinguishing features – walls so high that one can barely see what is being sold on the top third of them, a cardboard box full of suspiciously cheap looking footballs and a massive wall of trainers, ninety-five per cent of which are so awful that no-one in their right mind would ever consider buying them. Perhaps the biggest area of these stores, however, is the “leisure wear” section. In these areas, you can find a bewildering array of sweatshop produced polo shirts, hooded tops and tracksuit trousers. Often, they are made by sportswear companies that you had started to think had ceased to exist (“Patrick” – briefly kings of football shirt design in the early 1980s – springs immediately to mind).

Without wishing to pour too much disrespect upon these stores, their merchandise or their clientele, the new England football team shirt looks as if you might find it in the bargain bin of one of these stores, with a series of prices crossed out from £59.99 to £1.99, unwanted by the general public, and destined to eventually be returned to a warehouse where they will, in the full course of time, be recycled to be sent to charity shops or to off to a landfill site to be buried until they are unearthed by a future generation as a symbol of the folly of our consumerist age. We hope amongst hopes that this leak turns out to be wrong but the source, the excellent Football Shirt Culture, is usually right on these things, so we may have to brace ourselves for the England football team (assuming they get there) playing at the 2010 World Cup in not only the worst team kit of the tournament, but also in the worst England shirt ever designed.

By any stretch of the imagination, designing the England football kit shouldn’t be a massively challenging task. They wear white shirts, navy blue shorts and white socks. Anything else is, frankly, superfluous. Where, then, have Umbro got this so horribly wrong? Firstly (and most obviously), there are the big, red blotchy stripes on the sleeves. Where on earth did these come from? What was their inspiration? Perhaps the idea was based on the concept of John Terry suffering a facial injury and wiping his nose on his sleeve. It’s difficult to say. Umbro have decided to undo decades of tradition in favour of a red embellishment, but it’s not even a very nice shade of red. This red is the colour of a clowns nose rather than the rich, deep red of the St Georges Flag. In addition to this, they have placed their own logo on top of the Three Lions badge, making it look like an abstract halo and leaving the design of the front of the shirt looking hopelessly lopsided.

The star we can just about forgive, as well as the tiny St Georges Flag on the back of the neck. We have to make certain allowances for the vagaries of modern fashion, and I’m told that young people still like their “bling”. However, it is difficult to escape the idea that a plain white shirt with a badge upon it, plain navy blue shorts and white socks will, you know, do just fine. This is no particular impassioned plea. I am, I have to say, probably too old to be going out and buying football shirts. Umbro could have made the most sartorially elegent design imaginable and I wouldn’t have been queuing up to buy one. What is somewhat infuriating, however, is that people seem to have been paid to mess up something that should really be more or less unmessupable. England haven’t always had such a terrible concontion of designs (there’s an enjoyable trawl through their kit history on Historical Kits, starting here). This number, however, looks like it could turn out to be an absolute disaster, especially considering that the England kit is one of the most sold in the world.

The question at this point is whether, after twenty-five years (and many more back in the days when no-one even knew who was making the kits), Umbro should be replaced as the England kit manufacturer. Over the last few years, they have lost the Chelsea and Manchester United contracts, amongst many others. They receive international attention through this contract and, as the reaction on FSC above show, a major mistake could prove to be a costly one.

Update: Don’t think I can’t see you all reading this. There is an upate to this story here.