Following on from the interview with Umbro UK , Jonathan Courtenay, Managing Director of Umbro Ireland also very kindly agreed to talk to Jay from Designfootball.com about the brand's direction across the Irish Sea .
Jonathan, thank you for taking time out to speak to us. Umbro Ireland seems distinct from the rest of the company in that stores and web prominence are geared towards football in the Republic of Ireland , rather than worldwide. Is this also the thinking that goes into the design of the kits, as whilst the designs share traits with UK strips there seem to be specific features such as Irish tricolours?
Well Umbro is a licensee network so all partners can design their own kits for local clubs. The kits do follow a certain Umbro DNA and you can spot these elements in each and every kit if you study it closely, but touches like the Irish tri-colour on certain kits are either requested by the club or can come from Umbro’s unique insight into football.
An example is on Shamrock Rovers' current home kit we paid respect to their old stadium with a reference on the back as this was their first season in a new stadium; it read “Glenmalure Park – Gone but not forgotten”.
Teamwear is a very strong part of our business in Ireland . Umbro.ie is currently being updated and will be live in a few weeks with a full new range of product for clubs, schools and colleges.
We have also just entered a 3 year deal with Dunmanway Town AFC which is great news considering the amount of publicity that they generated around the Liverpool game down in Cork. A great coup for a small club in these commercial days.
So continuing and galvanising this influence on Irish football from professional down to grass-roots, you find using Irish - and Irish-based - designers is beneficial?
Yes we have a few designers here in Dublin but we have one very talented guy called Paul Fitzgerald who can turn his hand to anything from advertising to kit design. Personally I still design and look after all of the League of Ireland kits. I also talk to the fans of various clubs on their forums, taking inspiration for the fans requests for colours for kits etc.
Obviously I cant keep everyone happy all the time but I think the majority of fans appreciate that Umbro take the time to take their thoughts into consideration. I believe interacting with the fans gives you a greater insight of what “their club means to them” and we can hopefully build that into the kits.
With this in mind, there seems to be a move in the design of the Irish club team kits (notably Shamrock Rovers and Bohemian) towards simpler, more classic design. Was this conscious decision and something that the fans were calling for?
Well, the fantastic tailored approach that Umbro International have - so far - used for England and Manchester City does influence your thoughts.
We have just launched the new Bohemian FC and Shamrock Rovers away kits and I don’t think either of them would be considered traditional but both clubs have quite classic home kits. Again Shamrock Rovers home kit was deliberately designed with a classic approach in mind due to the fact that it was their first season in their new stadium after 22 years without a base so there was a legitimate reason to pay homage to the past.
There is a new Bohemian FC home kit due next season. I am currently nearing the end of that process and I think the kit is excellent and hopefully the fans will feel the same.
As you say, less traditional are the Bohemian and Shamrock Rovers away kits (the latter recently featured against Real Madrid) but this pales in comparison with their pink strips. How did these come about and what made you run with an idea that had famously been used with Everton in England ?
Well I saw what Everton had done and I thought what a fantastic effort they had made for a brilliant cause. I got in touch with Jim O'Malley from the Irish Cancer Society and he agreed that we had the basis of a great idea to help raise awareness for the charity; the fact that we were able to raise €10,000 in the process was fantastic.
The 500 Shamrock Rovers Pink kits sold out in 2 days and although there are some Bohemian kits left they too have sold really well. If anyone is interested in getting one of these kits they are available from the FAI web store and the Irish Cancer society website.
As an extension of the deal, we are currently producing a range of ladies Umbro product with the Action breast Cancer ribbon which will be available from sports retailers from November.
I'm sure they'll be big sellers for a massively important cause. Another big seller on both sides of the Irish Sea has always been the national team shirt. What considerations go into the development of, for example, the recent, warmly-received, away strip?
Well we look to give every strip some individual elements. For the new Ireland Away we thought changing from emerald green trims to dark green would be a nice touch with the addition on the dark green pinstripes. The kit was received really well by the players and the fans so that’s a win-win. The fact that Ireland wore it for the first time against Italy in Bari and became the first team to ever secure a point there help make that kit one that could become much loved in the future.
Actually, I can also say that the Republic of Ireland ’s next home kit will be tailored and the internal reaction to the prototype has been phenomenal. Let's hope it gets worn in South Africa next year!
There's a lot people who share that hope and that kit sounds very interesting. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing that. But, of course, football in Ireland can also refer to the Gaelic variety. Is the GAA football and hurling market one that Umbro ventures into at all?
Most certainly. We supply the boots' and gloves of the likes of Darren Magee, David Henry, Peader Andrews and some of the legends of the last 15 years Dessie Farrell, Jim Gavin, Paul Curran.
Very recently many of our players wore the new Speciali for the first time. The reaction to the boot has been brilliant, so much so that most of the guys we sponsor are asking for boots for their teammates.
We are very careful about who we target with our footwear in Ireland and we were delighted to have had, back in soccer, 7 of the 11 players in the 2008 League of Ireland Premier division team of the season.
Pretty impressive. Some very interesting stuff. Thanks very much for talking to us, Jonathan. We very much look forward to future kits and - I think I speak for a lot of people when I say this - particularly the Tailored By Republic of Ireland kit. Thanks again.