How Umbro silently influenced the career of one Professional Footballer in the United States.
Perhaps the most underrated incubator of American footballers in the past thirty years has been the suburban backyard. In the 1990s, my personal, secluded patch of heaven in Littleton, Colorado was transformed by my imagination into colossal stadiums with thousands of screaming supporters. The backyard became the scene of childlike reenactments of the prolific accomplishments of my football idols.
The stage was set. A narrow, grassed corridor lined by a fence on one side (the #7 on the pitch) and interrupted by an imposing tree and large flower pot acting as stolid defenders attempting to steal my glory. My makeshift, duct-taped metal goal stood battered at the end of the yard with holes throughout the mangled net rendering it useless. In the end, all I needed for backyard fame was the frame.
What I didn’t realize at the time was the regular, yet hidden presence of Umbro in my backyard fantasies. Before it was an asinine thing to do in the hallways of high schools across America, popping the shirt collar was revolutionized and made swanky by the radical Eric Cantona. Lifting my Manchester United collar with both hands and muttering in broken French, “au revoir” I would blast the ball into the net as if the devil himself were trying to keep it out.
Friends came over to play creating more game-like scenarios. Throwing in a Chumbawamba CD in the Boombox, we invented our own stadium ambience. Sometimes the girls from the neighborhood came to watch from the porch while us pubescent boys pretended they were our Spice Girl sweethearts. I jumped in goal with a flashy, neon XL jersey and pretended to be the great Jorge Campos playing the role of Sweeper-Keeper.
This was the pre-Beckhamian era when jersey sponsors were just as notorious and important as boot sponsors. Boys in the backyard celebrated by ripping off their shirts like Ryan Giggs in the ‘99 FA Cup Final while aspiring to someday have the woolly chest hair of our favorite Welshman. My personal favorite was Michael Owen’s “rubbing of the hands” celebration, which he famously debuted while wearing Umbro boots.
Now, as a sponsored Umbro athlete, I play in stadiums filled with thousands of actual supporters. My beloved wife (who I knew in those backyard days) is now in the stands and the goal nets aren’t frayed. And yet it remains, the classic, ever-present Umbro brand has been one of the quiet influences throughout my football career.