As November greets us and 2024 beckons I'm starting to feel a little retrospective on the year past. It's hard to evaluate an entire year of shirts, given the sheer volume of new releases, but I always enjoy trying to step back and assess a year as best as possible from the perspective of brands.
Football shirt manufacturers exist in a fiercely competitive landscape, and though the big names have a relative level of security there is a chasing pack doing all they can to usurp the throne.
In today's Collectors Club I want to shine a light on the companies whose stock rose in 2023, starting with the undoubted overall winners in my eyes: Umbro.
A triumphant return for Umbro
Back in 2019 I confidently declared that Umbro were the "clubhouse leaders" across all football shirt brands. A strong 2018/19 had been followed up by an equally strong 2019/20, and at the time it seemed like the Double Diamond could do no wrong.
Predictably we've seen a degree of regression in the years since, but 2023 has signalled something of a triumphant return for Umbro as a leading player in the pack. We've seen a number of wins across the board, most notably in the lower leagues of England where the brand have played to their strengths by leaning on a broadly retro aesthetic to great effect.
Just take a look at the Boston United 2023/24 away shirt (above). People have been talking about it as a kit of the year contender, and I don't think they're far off in their evaluation. Everything from the pattern to the colours to the details are singing in harmony, and it's far from an isolated example. Another kit of the year contender can be found north of the border in the form of the Hearts third kit. The full ensemble with the hooped socks set the community ablaze, and the design serves as a reminder that classic style never goes out of fashion.
I could spend a lot more time talking about other great Umbro shirts of 2023; the AFC Wimbledon kits alone deserve a whole editorial alone, but for the sake of time we’ll move on. All credit to Umbro for dominating across a number of areas though, and here's hoping they repeat their own trick and follow up a good year with another on the bounce.
Mizuno: a classic brand with plenty of history continuing a rebirth
Though they received considerably less fanfare, I want to talk next about Mizuno. Like Umbro, Mizuno are a classic brand with plenty of history in the shirt game. Despite spending more than a decade in relative obscurity, they've quietly been regaining some of their market share over recent months. I especially liked what I saw from the brand in 2023, and they are poised to continue their rebirth heading into the new year.
What I especially like about Mizuno is that they are majoring heavily on embossed patterns and details. From a quality perspective it's hard to match embossing, and designs for the likes of Lazio and FC Augsburg really showcase the strength of the technique. Typically 'smaller' brands will opt for prints and sublimation in order to create designs with the most immediate visual impact, but embossed details are a cut above.
Jumping back to Lazio, just look at how the pattern on their third kit (below) completely lifts what would be quite an average shirt were the design sublimated or simply printed onto the shirt. This is one of the most underrated shirts of the year, and excitingly for Mizuno fans it comes on their most high-profile team at the moment. More positive exposure will only help them snap up new contracts, and providing we don't see a drop-off in quality I'm all for seeing more of the Japanese manufacturer.
Adidas, ahead of the pack again
I can't finish my top 3 without mentioning a little brand called adidas. Though it seems like a long time ago now, the Three Stripes effectively solidified their place in this top 3 back in March with the collection of designs for the Women's World Cup which drew deserved widespread praise. We did a full write-up back on the 30th March (check your inboxes!) so I won't do a full breakdown here, but in short the collection was one of the most exciting we've seen in a long time.
Like any big brand it's virtually impossible to see full consistency across the board, but recent months have seen adidas pull ahead of their primary rivals Nike. Again, when we're dealing with literally hundreds of kits on either side it's difficult to get a handle on exactly how a brand is 'performing', but the highs of adidas have really helped separate them at the top of the pile. Who can forget the wonderful Scotland anniversary shirt, which like the previously mentioned Hearts shirt was a crowd pleaser in every sense. I would even want to put forward my opinion that this was a sneakily good year for MLS kits. For all the negatives of the league-wide deal adidas have, they've been making the most of said deal in my eyes.
In the interests of balance, we'll look at the other side of the coin for next week's Collectors Club (barring any major stories that break and need addressing!) with 3 brands who have work to do heading into 2024. No prizes for guessing who one of the 3 names will be...
Collection of retro and vintage football shirts from the early nineties to the present day. All 100% original and shipped from the UK. Browse our shirts from Premier League clubs, Serie A, International and more.