Club Classics: The Manchester United Zip Kit

Great football kits are often associated with fantastic football teams.

Memories play a huge factor in why our brains hold certain shirts in high regard and why they stir that little knot of nostalgia in your gut when you think of them.

Love them or loathe them, Sir Alex Ferguson’s all-conquering Manchester United had a fearsome quality to them and Umbro’s kits were the perfect accompaniment to that team’s era of dominance.

Manchester United, Umbro, 1999, kit, zip
You don’t get many zip collars to the dozen

It’s difficult to believe that more than 2 decades have passed since this ground-breaking Umbro shirt, heavily associated with the most successful season in the club’s history, was released.

The Red Devils wore this classic for the 1998-99 & 1999-2000 seasons when Fergie’s boys were arguably at the peak of their powers and the names of that United side just tripped off the tongue.

Giggs, Keane, Cole, Sheringham, Scholes, Solskjaer, Beckham, Yorke, Stam, Irwin and the Neville brothers.

In recognition of his leadership in that Treble winning season, Alex Ferguson became Sir Alex Ferguson in the Queen’s birthday honours of 1999.

It’s also worth remembering that the 1998-99 season saw the beginning of David Beckham’s redemption from England’s vilified scapegoat of France ’98 towards the “national treasure” status he enjoys today.

Manchester United, Umbro, 1999, kit, zip
Just look at that double diamond taping

Off the field, their Treble success meant the Old Trafford club’s revenue grew to the point they were lauded as the “World’s Richest Club” and even saw a takeover attempt by BSkyB blocked by the competition commission.

The football industry was then, and is still now, an area of the economy that tabloid newspapers delighted in taking a pop at, with the revenue United achieved from replica kit sales a key target for the press.

Their faux horror at the expense involved in kitting out kids in their club’s latest garb was a regular little money spinner for the “red top” press and Manchester United were right in their cross hairs.

This particular kit release made headlines when the club updated their badge, removing the words “Football” and “Club” from the crest, leaving “Manchester United” on the scrolls.

Manchester United, Umbro, 1999, kit, zip
United’s updated badge

Traditionalists saw this as an abandonment of club principles, reasoning that if not a football club, then United were now merely a corporate money-grabbing machine.

In reality, this presented a less cluttered badge and it was never in doubt who or what the Red Devils were.

The crest was still instantly recognisable and the world didn’t need to be told it belonged to a football club.

Manchester United, Umbro, 1999, kit, zip
Umbro’s design became synonymous with United’s most successful season

Umbro (founded by the Humphrey Brothers in nearby Wilmslow, Cheshire) and electronics giant Sharp from down the road in Newton Heath, provided the kind of local backing that always makes a football shirt sing, but the real devil was in the details.

The part that delighted us the most on release was the smart double diamond taping across the shoulders and down the sleeves, but the stand-out feature came with the collar.

As if answering previous retro-statements like the famous drawstring neck from the 1992-93 Premier League title winning kit, Umbro broke the mould supplying a modern zip-up collar that has never really caught on.

Manchester United, Umbro, 1999, kit, zip
That taping again, breathe it in

Umbro’s own logo deviated from the standard representation, with the word mark written large next to a miniature double diamond motif.

United wore a special kit for European competition, meaning their miraculous comeback at the Camp Nou to complete the fabled Treble was an entirely different number.

This shirt is therefore purely associated with the domestic aspects of the Treble, so the exploits of that Premier League winning side and United’s Wembley victory over Newcastle United in the 1999 FA Cup Final are the memories fans hold of this shirt.

Manchester United, Umbro, 1999, kit, zip
United secure the 1999 Champions League title in a European edition of their home shirt

Dominic from Kitkingdom told us;

“It all felt very different to the previous seasons offering, the slight change to the Umbro logo, the material and zip felt really modern and the shoulders were just incredible and flashy at that time.

The fact United were, at times, completely unplayable was a bonus!

The first player I think of is Beckham, my mum wouldn’t let me dye my hair, so when he had a skinhead in that shirt and scored a free kick against Leicester, his celebration was quality and I always think of that.

And now it makes me think of my little lad. He’s seen my collection and we talk about shirts, but this was the first time he said he wanted one the same as mine and he actually haggled to get himself one for just a tenner!

Manchester United, Umbro, 1999, kit, zip, Kitkingdom
Dominic, aka @Kitkingdom83 and his son in matching zip kits at Old Trafford

Obviously the Treble was dominated by memories of Giggs against Arsenal in the away shirt and Solskjaer in the European one, but still this shirt means a lot.

This writer’s outstanding memory of the zipped-up shirt is seeing a beaming United fan proudly wearing one just days after that Champions League resurrection, striding confidently along New York City’s Fifth Avenue with “Treble 99” on the back. Now there’s a man who knows how to celebrate a victory!

This individual home top would probably not even feature at the top of a list of the Reds’ all-time favourite shirts, but for it’s part in that Treble winning season, and all those little design features; this unique United zip-collared jersey richly deserves its status as a Club Classic on Sartorial Soccer.

What are your memories of this Manchester United shirt and which would you say is your favourite Red Devils kit?

Please let us know in the comments section below!

Manchester United, Umbro, Zip, Kit
Local sponsors, global appeal

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