“A love letter to the football shirt”: The book commemorating 50 years of Admiral replica jerseys

A new publication looks into the impact and legacy of Admiral, the brand that pioneered fan football shirts in the UK.

17 April 2024

50 years ago, the sports brand Admiral signed a historic deal with Leeds United. They’d won the rights to make replica shirts to mark the clubs 1973/4 season, giving people the chance to wear their beloved team on their chest – and so, the fan football shirt was born. Prior to this, people would have to go to the lengths of sewing a club badge onto their own shirts to show their support. “Admiral saw an opportunity and kickstarted what is now a multi-billion pound industry,” says Lee Nash, co-founder and creative director of Glory Magazine.

Admiral reached out the Glory team and Halcyon Publishing to see if they were interested in creating a book that memorialised the historical deal; safe to say, “we didn’t need asking twice”, says Lee. For Lee, one of the most important things was for the book to be “a love letter to the football shirt”, showing all of the designs in the best possible light. “Admiral truly pioneered many fabrics and patterns that are still being used and inspiring kits today, so we wanted to ensure each shirt was beautifully represented,” says Lee. To ensure this, Lee enlisted the help of photographer James Hendley, “something of a shirt specialist” who’s collaborated with numerous big sports brands.


Admiral 50 (Copyright © Admiral, 2024)

The aim was to find 100 shirts, old and new, to feature in the book, and sourcing them took a varied approach. Many came from Admiral’s own archive, while some came from sites dedicated to rare kits, like Classic Football Shirts and Cult kits, and others were sourced from avid independent collectors across the UK and Europe. Shot across three locations, close attention was paid to the details that made each shirt so unique, such as the material, collars, stitching and typography of the names and numbers. Dedicated to the shirts even translated to the book’s cover, as Lee explains that they tried to replicate the feel of a jersey, with white cloth over board, and a “jacquard-esque” clear foil embossed pattern.

The book is a real hive of history. It includes original sketches from Lindsay Jelley, one of the original Admiral shirt designers, and stories behind iconic shirts, like how comedian Eric Morecambe influenced Luton’s orange home shirt. But it also delves into more recent designs, like how Admiral has maintained throughout the years with new collaborations; like the Walthamstow FC William Morris kit, in partnership with the William Morris Gallery. Two shirts are adorned with two of the famous print designers’ iconic floral patterns, highlighting Morris’ connection to the borough, his place of birth.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a football book without some commentary, and the likes of Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, Sue Smith, Peter Shilton, Viv Anderson and Mark Hateley have contributed their memories of Admiral shirts. “As a complete football obsessive, getting some of the leading names in football to contribute to the book has been amazing,” says Lee. But it also features original pieces from more left-field superfans, like comedians Maisie Adam and Mark Watson, as well as articles from leading football writers and academics.

Admiral is close to Lee’s heart. A cult brand he grew up with, the England shirt he bought and wore in 1982 is still getting its run around, being proudly worn at the last World Cup. It’s this brand dedication and resonance that the book is trying to capture, the millions of football fans for whom the brand offered a first chance to officially don their team’s crest and colours. But it also wants to show how the brand exists today, “bridging generations”, Lee says, creating new kits to continue capturing the hearts of football romantics across the UK, young and old.

GalleryAdmiral 50 (Copyright © Admiral, 2024)

Hero Header

Admiral 50 (Copyright © Admiral, 2024)

Share Article

About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English Literature and History, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.