It all started a few weeks ago. Footballshirtculture posted up a picture of a kit that was rumoured to be the new England football shirt. We ran the story on here, too. It was a pretty revolting shirt, as it goes, and it started to become apparent pretty soon afterwards that this shirt was either one from the cutting room floor or, and this would be a considerably more interesting, a fake that was “put out there” by Umbro, the manufacturers, to throw the football shirt geeks off the scent. If the latter happened to be true (and I should point out that this is my own crackpot theory), it would lend a little meat to something a bit strange that has been going on recently.

Ten years or so ago, Umbro were the biggest cheeses in British football kit manufacturing. Over the last decade, however, they have lost some of their biggest contracts, including Manchester United and Chelsea. Whilst they retain the England shirt franchise, however, they retain a position of strength within the industry. The England shirt remains one of the best selling in the world and, no matter what the relative weaknesses of the actual team, the white shirt remains one of the most iconic in world football. It means a lot to Umbro, and losing that contract (which they have held – with a small hiatus between 1974 and 1983, when the contract was handed to Admiral – since roughly the beginning of time) would be a massive loss. The last England shirt was one of the least inspiring of all time, so this time they had to get it right.

It is due to be unveiled on Saturday for the home friendly against Slovakia and, as one might suspect, the actual shirt itself is a closely guarded secret. Reading the Umbro website gives away much about the process that they are going through without actually telling anyone what it actually looks like. They have brought in a Savile Row tailor, Charles Allen, to assist with the design with a focus that is said to centre on heritage and tailoring. Presumably this attention to detail is the reason why the shirt will be selling at £50 a go, which some have commented is a somewhat unsavoury price rise, all things considered.

More intriguingly still, a second “leaked” picture appeared on a couple of blogs, including EPL Talk, this week, but were hastily taken down after requests from the publishers of FourFourTwo magazine, who apparently have first call on showing it in public. For the benefit of people that didn’t get to see it when it was available to see, it’s a plain white shirt with white collars, no unnecessary adornments and no trimmings. The England badge is embroidered and will have the name of each country that they play put immediately underneath it. It’s a very nice looking shirt, about as much as one could expect, though some have commented that it looks a little too much like a white polo shirt. The photo suggests that they may be wearing white shorts with it, though this remains unconfirmed. Something of a preview of it is available here.

Quite why everybody is getting in such a tizz about this new shirt is a matter of some mystery. If all of this kerfuffle has been manufactured by Umbro, then one has to doff ones cap to their marketing department. They have created quite a mountain from this partcular molehill. Ultimately, what really matters is what is in the shirt, and the fact of the matter is that most people wouldnt give two damns what they’re wearing if they surpass everybody’s expectations, qualify for the 2010 World Cup finals and make a decent go of it once they’re there.