New book explains how Don Revie and Leeds United played a role in the football kit revolution

In this extract from Admiral: 50 Years of the Replica Shirt, contributor Rob Bagchi tells of Don Revie’s Leeds United revamp – with a little help from the away kit.

As spring crawled towards summer in 1973, Leeds United were finished. At Second Division Sunderland's homecoming after beating Don Revie's side in the FA Cup final, six of their supporters carried a coffin on to the Roker Park pitch with 'Leeds died 1973' crowingly daubed on the side.

The remains of Europe's most consistently strong side over the past nine years were laid to rest in the centre-circle. A few days later Leeds were swizzed out of the Cup Winners' Cup by a refereeing performance of such baroque partiality in the final against AC Milan that it seemed to symbolise the nadir of all the lousy luck they had endured over the preceding decade.

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At the start of the following season, Revie had rallied his players to summon their defiance. "You lads are good enough to ram the criticism back down the throats of all those who have denied you the respect you deserve," he told them.

Football - 1973 - 1974  Queens Park Rangers v Leeds United, 27/04/1974. 

Terry Venables (QPR) Billy Bremner (Leeds United)

Credit: ColorsportFootball - 1973 - 1974  Queens Park Rangers v Leeds United, 27/04/1974. 

Terry Venables (QPR) Billy Bremner (Leeds United)

Credit: Colorsport
Football - 1973 - 1974 Queens Park Rangers v Leeds United, 27/04/1974. Terry Venables (QPR) Billy Bremner (Leeds United) Credit: Colorsport

"You must go out to show them all what you can do, what good footballers you are. I want the title. I think you're more than good enough to do that. I also think you could go through the season without losing."

This quest for an invincible year did not last, but they set a record of 29 games unbeaten. They would also, unwittingly, change football beyond recognition.

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Admiral Sports' managing director John Griffin's meeting with Don Revie in October 1973 was pure happenstance. The Leicester-based firm had been attempting to get their range into Kay's Catalogue and had driven to its Holbeck HQ for an early morning meeting.

The new book which features Don Revie's Leeds UnitedThe new book which features Don Revie's Leeds United
The new book which features Don Revie's Leeds United

The mail order giant rejected their pitch in less than an hour and they went to console themselves in Sheila's Café on Elland Road before heading home.

As they ate in the venerable establishment named for and run by Terry Yorath's mother-in-law, the Leeds United squad, who had started the season with seven successive victories and were still undefeated at the top of the table in the autumn, climbed the concrete steps from the West Stand car park through the wire and on to Fullerton Park for a training session.

Griffin, intrigued, went over to watch and approached Revie afterwards to introduce himself.

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He could not have picked a more amenable top-flight manager. Within weeks of taking the job Don had ditched more than 40 years of tradition to change the colour of the kit, had riffled through club crests and was now sending his team out with the modernist, egg yolk 'smiley badge', occasionally, the eagle-eyed noted, attached upside-down.

Terry Venables (QPR) and Billy Bremner (Leeds United) in the Admiral away kit on April 27, 1974. Credit: Colorsport.Terry Venables (QPR) and Billy Bremner (Leeds United) in the Admiral away kit on April 27, 1974. Credit: Colorsport.
Terry Venables (QPR) and Billy Bremner (Leeds United) in the Admiral away kit on April 27, 1974. Credit: Colorsport.

Little wonder, then, that he was receptive to Griffin's off the cuff proposal to make Leeds a new strip and actually pay them to wear it. Revie told him the home kit was sacrosanct, but Admiral could do what it liked with the away strip and tracksuits and Griffin shook hands on a £7,000 fee for the club. He knew his company could copyright the new design and become the sole legal source of replica kits.

Naturally parents, induced by its exclusiveness and their children's desire for the genuine article, would strive to purchase the legitimate one and trade up from the standard version of the past. Admiral had cottoned on to the appeal of individuality.

The first Admiral kits were in the same colours as the ones they replaced: plain white for home and yellow for away, the stiffer nylon of the change-strip shorts a more vibrant custard shade than the lemon of the shirts.

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By December 22, when Leeds had stretched their unbeaten run to 21 matches by beating Norwich 1-0, Admiral's top brass were guests in the directors' box at Elland Road and their shirts, with the logo based on the Royal Navy gold braid insignia, were flying off the shelves. And not just in West Yorkshire, but throughout the country. If your child wanted a shirt 'just like the players wore', the runaway Division One leaders were the only choice.

The new Admiral book is available to pre-order.The new Admiral book is available to pre-order.
The new Admiral book is available to pre-order.

On March 30, they made the trip to West Ham and, although Leeds lost 3-1, their third consecutive defeat, the match stands out for the first appearance of Admiral's classic away kit. For the first few weeks of their deal, preoccupied naturally by Christmas, they had stuck to basic, primary colours.

Now, with three months to work on the project, Admiral produced a yellow kit with blue and white stripes down the sleeves, the sides of the shorts and hooped around the tops of the socks. At last, something truly unique.

The Daily Telegraph would sneer about 'hot piping, redolent of Ruritanian bandsmen' but it was a huge hit in the replica market and Admiral sold tens of thousands over the seven years they maintained the core elements of its design.

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Leeds won the title, sitting at home, with a match to spare when Arsenal won at Anfield on April 24, the same night Revie's This Is Your Life was broadcast on ITV. “I feel as though someone has come along and lifted six tons of coal off my back,” the manager said.

They had never been hip, and to their critics' eyes never would be. Revie, with his mohair suits, side-parting, sideburns creeping towards his earlobes and what Arthur Hopcraft memorably called his “outdoors face as if he lives permanently in a keen wind”, was forced to grow up far too young on the loss of his mother to cancer when he was 12.

It made him cautious and conservative about appearance and etiquette. But in his link-up with Admiral, once again he proved himself a pioneer with an enterprising sense as keen as the company's. Leeds United were the first of the modern, truly commercial English football clubs.

Written off in the summer, they finished the following spring more stylish and formidable than ever. Dead and buried? Yesterday's men? They settled instead for “the greatest in the land”.

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Admiral: 50 Years of the Replica Shirt – which celebrates shirts including Leeds United's pioneering away strip and their Premier League kit of 1992 – is available for pre-order now from:

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