When designing football shirts you're dealing with a property which is culturally important to so many people world-wide.'
The fashion world may be awash with famous labels, but when it comes to world-wide exposure, the likes of Hugo Boss and Paul Smith have nothing on 33 year old Manchester City supporter, Darran Medley. Ultra-trendy David Beckham, for example, wears Darran's creations all the time. Indeed he wouldn't be seen on the pitch without them.
Unsung creator Darran is International Apparel Director at Umbro, the Cheshire-based kit manufacturers who currently supply Manchester United and England. Even if you don't recall the name Umbro - coined by founder Harold Humphreys in 1924 from the words Humphrey Brothers - you'll recognise the company's double-diamond logo. It currently adorns the shirts of some 30-40 national and club teams, among them Norway, Chile, Ireland, Chelsea and Celtic. During the 1966 World Cup, 15 of the 16 entrants wore Umbro, including England, whose red shirts in the final have since attained iconic status. Another classic is the yellow and green shirt worn by Brazil from 1954-1994. As Umbro are quick to note, all Brazil's World Cup triumphs were achieved in Umbro shirts.
So how does a new kit design come about?
Darran leads a team of four designers. Typically, they draw up ten designs for each new shirt. 'In the 1990s there was a tendency to appeal to the fashion market, to design shirts that would go well with jeans,' explains Darran. 'Now we try more to retain the traditional format, but interpret it in a contemporary way without alienating fans. For ideas we look at all areas of the design spectrum; cars, household items, menswear and sports fashions. But the difference when designing football shirts is that you're dealing with a property which is culturally important to so many people world-wide.'
Choice of material is also significant. Manchester United's current shirts are made from a newly invented textile called Sportwool, consisting of polyester and Marino wool. This was chosen in response to the two main concerns of players; that the shirt feels lightweight and does not absorb moisture.
From ten initial prototypes, Darran's team selects two or three to be made up by Umbro's garment technologists. Once the players have tried out the options - wearing the material in training is a major test - a final choice can be made. Darran's team works on 30-40 designs per year, resulting in the manufacture of around two million strips every season, mostly in the Far East.
Darran's favourite shirts?
Not surprisingly he opts for one of Manchester City's, from the early 1970s (a sky-blue shirt with a white crew neck and cuffs). Despite his allegiance, he also loved the controversial all-black away kit designed for Manchester United in 1993-95 (which forced referees to don green shirts). Another favourite is the new Umbro England shirt, which introduces a red stripe down the left, backing the familiar three lions crest.
Undoubtedly the printed Arsenal away strip of the early 1990s. 'A mess!' exclaims Darran.
As to the future, he points to an innovative reversible shirt, now sported by Manchester United away from home. White on one side, gold on the other, it offers two kits for the price of one. He also believes we could soon see all-in-one kits, based on the figure-hugging Lycra suits now common in athletics. These might not catch on amongst fans, but they would cut out shirt-tugging at a stroke.
Most fans fancy themselves as a kit designer. When Umbro ran a competition with the Sunday Mirror newspaper for a new Manchester United design, they were swamped by 50,000 entries.
So does Darran have any tips for any would-be designers?
'Above all, some colours just don't work in football,' he advises. 'Silver is difficult, pastels are
tough, but brown is a shocker! The best shirt is one that is striking, modern and refreshing.'