Vintage England: Three Big Lions on a Shirt

With football’s tectonic-plates shifting all around them, Umbro released England’s last ever third shirt back in 1992.

Nineteen-ninety two was the year UEFA re-branded the European Cup as the Champions League and a whole new ball game was kicking off with the advent of the Premier League.

A time when fans got their first glimpses of new football kits in the window of their local sports shop or in the pages of a magazine like Shoot! or Match.

The year Graham Taylor was preparing for Euro ’92 as Gary Lineker chased down Bobby Charlton’s all-time England goal-scoring record.

Long before Baddiel, Skinner and the Lightning Seeds, the Three Lions on England’s shirt had been used by managers and coaches to motivate players to give their all for their country.

In 1992 Umbro took those Lions and drew them large across the shoulders and chest of a pale-blue shirt, worn just twice in friendlies against Spain and Czechoslovakia.

England, Three Lions, Umbro, Blue
England’s last 3rd shirt was pale blue and more than a little comic book

Following on from the graphic design triumph of the World In Motion blue classic of 1990, the comic book style alternative shirts featured all the hallmarks of the age, including shiny jacquard print fabric and an overly complex collar.

The Three Big Lions shirt debuted in a European Championship warm-up in Prague, as Arsenal team-mates Paul Merson and Martin Keown each forced Ludek Miklosko to pick the ball out of his net in a 2-2 draw.

England, 1992, blue, Umbro, 3rd, Kit
The Three Big Lions were only worn twice

The shirts’ second outing came at the beginning of England’s post-Lineker era after their early Euro ’92 exit in Sweden, and at the start of an ill-fated World Cup qualification campaign for USA ’94.

Taylor’s England lost 1-0 to Spain in Santander with Lee Dixon, Stuart Pearce, Paul Ince, Des Walker, Mark Wright, David White, David Platt, Nigel Clough, Alan Shearer and Andy Sinton wearing the all blue kit.

On the bench that evening were David Bardsley, Carlton Palmer, Paul Merson and Brian Deane.

England, 1992, blue, Umbro
Just look at that shiny jacquard fabric detail

England have since worn grey and navy blue (between 2011-12 and again in 2017) as alternatives to red, but the national team’s shirts have become ever more plain since the turn of the 21st century.

Clean-cut block colours for international shirts may be FIFA’s preference at major tournaments, although it’s a shame we haven’t seen a little more expression on the England shirt in recent years.

Whilst any number of designs can be worn by a club during a season, the lack of a 3rd shirt at international level can lead to far from ideal kit clashes.

Umbro, Three Lions, England
The Three Big Lions Shirt by Umbro

If you believe the whispers, England’s next away kit by Nike is set to return to a darker shade of blue for Euro 2020 and perhaps that works better than red in European football where clashes with the likes of Croatia are more likely.

We feel a lighter blue could and should return to England’s pallette along with the traditional red away kit.

It passes the “looks good with jeans test” as much as navy and whilst we’d really like to see an all-black England away kit at some stage, a return to light blue would be welcome here.

The purists among England fans might not have too many fond footbaling memories of this shirt but it certainly holds a particular pull for those nostalgic for brash 1990s kit design.

What do you remember of the Three Big Lions shirt?

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