Saturday, 19 July 2014

Review: 'Admiral: Kit Man' by Bert Patrick

These days it seems perfectly acceptable to discuss football kit design without having any knowledge of its bounteous history. The trouble is, few people can speak with any authority about the production of football kits in Britain, which is why the release of Bert Patrick's new book has caused such a ripple of excitement.

'Admiral: Kit man' is a rare chance to find out how one of the great football brands rose to prominence in the 1970's and disappeared almost completely thereafter, as described by its figurehead and managing director. What you'll gain from reading the title depends largely on your prior knowledge of football kit design, but even a self-imposed expert will find something of note to take away from this pleasant paperback.

The story of Admiral, the Leicester-based football kit makers, begins in the 1960's when Patrick became the owner of a local underwear manufacturer, Cook & Hurst. Sensing a need to diversify in order to generate greater profits, the company rightly gauged an increase in football fanaticism after the 1966 World Cup and began making plans to produce and supply kit independently for teams far and wide.

What follows is a remarkable story of success forged through the amiable nature and astute dealings of the author. Starting off with the securing of a kit contract to supply Don Revie's Leeds United team in the early 70's, we learn of Patrick's impressive ability to gain further business with many other clubs thereafter. National team contracts also followed as England and Wales jumped on the Admiral bandwagon.

Two of the many photos seen in 'Admiral: Kit Man'
As Bert Patrick added more and more domestic signings to his portfolio, he started looking further afield and soon teams in Europe, the Middle East and the USA were adopting the Admiral brand. Yet just as business was truly booming for Patrick and his company, the growing market for cheap foreign imported merchandise started to impact greatly on Admiral's once bulging revenues. Within a few short years, Patrick was forced to sell Admiral to a Dutch Oil company and by the early 1980's, their name had become a virtual non-entity in British football.

The tale is an interesting one and well worth telling. We hear of Patrick's many meetings with important figures from British football history and his occasional dealings with the BBC and the Football Association, to say nothing of the many business trips he made around the world. All very fascinating, but after reading the book I was still left with a hunger to get a bit more detail. What of the kit designs that were never adopted or the fine details of some of the contracts he helped to rubber-stamp? What were Bert Patrick's favourite kit designs and what did he think of the work of Admiral's competitors?

Unfortunately these are watered down by the copious colour photographs showing off all too many Admiral kits. On average, there's a photo on every third pages of this book, and that's too much given that most readers will already know what the great Admiral kits looked like. John Devlin's excellent kit illustrations also make an appearance to expand on the imagery further still, but I'd have kept those and cut the photographs by at least half in return for more of Bert Patrick's dialogue.

John Devlin's kit illustrations, as featured in the book
Though the text is fine, in and of itself, it's sadly let down by the obvious misspelling of the names of players and managers. With references to Keith Bircumshaw, John Lyle and Franz Bechenbauer, the book loses a little of its credibility - something that could have been easily avoided if someone had bothered to double-check the details. The flow of the narrative is also vague at times, not always following a chronological order and liable to diversion at odd tangents.

For all that, though, it's still a very nice book, and it leaves you feeling an undeniable admiration for the author and the way he brought so much colour and interest to British soccer throughout the 1970's. Many happy memories of Admiral's fine kit designs are brought to mind as you turn every page, and you can't help wishing the company was still as prominent today as it was all those years ago. Perhaps one day it will be, but for now it's nice to know that Bert Patrick's achievements have been proudly recorded for future generations to read.

'Admiral: Kit Man' by Bert Patrick is available via Amazon UK, Waterstones and all good book stores. RRP: £10.99


  1. Odd how one of the brands that eclipsed Admiral in the 80s was called Patrick

    1. It is, isn't it Steve?!! He might as well have been born 'Bert Umbro'... :)