Castore is facing a fight to stop more football clubs deserting the under-fire firm amid mounting complaints about its kits and other merchandise.
The sportswear manufacturer, previously feted as one of the biggest recent success stories in British business, has been engulfed this week by an unprecedented uproar over the Aston Villa ‘wet-look’ shirt fiasco.
Now, a Telegraph Sport investigation has uncovered complaints about varying issues across clubs in England with kit deals with Castore.
The findings include:
Wolverhampton Wanderers had similar problems with their Castore kit last season to those now faced by Villa
Charlton Athletic have held talks about their own partnership with the firm amid fan complaints
Varying issues at clubs with the quality of match or replica shirts, the late delivery of training gear for players, or of official merchandise for supporters.
Villa are set to wear their wet-look shirts again this weekend amid expert warnings that the problem with them could take “weeks” to fix
Castore has spoken to its other clubs this week to check they are happy with their own jerseys
The Villa shirt debacle is merely the latest controversy to hit Castore since its move into football kit design.
From the very start, the firm launched only eight years ago by two brothers from Liverpool, Tom and Phil Beahon, had problems with their first club, Rangers.
It was forced to apologise shortly after the release of its maiden kit three years ago following fans complaints ranging from poor quality products to bad customer service, which it pledged to resolve.
The issues continued after Wolves and Newcastle became Castore’s first Premier League customers the following summer.
Telegraph Sport has been told there were similar problems with the former’s kit last season to those now faced by Villa, raising questions about the lessons learnt.
Pictures also emerged earlier this year of Nelson Semedo wearing a Wolves shirt with an upside-down crest and then later one that had been ripped down the front.
This season, meanwhile, has seen players for Villa – who joined the Castore stable last year – and Newcastle photographed more than once sporting badly-ripped shirts.
The latter club recently invoked an exit clause in their own kit deal to defect to Adidas next season amid multiple complaints from their fans about the standard of merchandise, although they stressed on Thursday they themselves had found the quality of the firm’s products to be “extremely high”.
Villa are now expected to agree an early termination of their own contract.
Charlton have held talks over their partnership with Castore following issues raised by their supporters, although Telegraph Sport has been told the League One side is currently sticking with the firm.
According to fan forum minutes, complaints centre on the club shop, which Castore operates, and those from a meeting this month show chairman James Rodwell acknowledging there were problems he branded “an unsatisfactory scenario”.
The firm also operate Mansfield Town’s club shop, on the door of which is a sign that reads, “Abuse if [sic] any kind will not be tolerated in the club shop”, while the Telegraph has been told of examples of letters peeling off shirts since the League Two side joined the Castore stable this summer.
There were accounts, too, of “teething problems” with the firm, including the late delivery of training gear for players or official merchandise for supporters.
An official from one club became exasperated when asked if they had experienced any issues with Castore, replying: “How long have you got? I’ve been working in professional football for 20 years and it’s really bad, to be honest; it’s really poor.
“Goodness me, I wouldn’t know where to start, really.”
Others from teams to have worked with Castore, now said to be worth £1 billion, accused the firm of having “become too big, too quickly” and cited high staff turnover there as another reason for its struggles.
Among the first to raise the alarm about the problems with Villa’s shirt was Rob Warner, a veteran kit designer whose strips includes those for Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winners, Manchester City’s maiden Premier League title-winners and Usain Bolt’s 2008 world and Olympic record 100 metres run.
Warner, a Villa fan who now trains the next generation of kit creatives at the Spark Design Academy, told the Telegraph the wet-look problem would not be solved in time for the men’s and women’s teams next games this weekend.
“If they were really pressing the fire drill, they could probably turn it around in four-to-six weeks,” he said.
“I would be absolutely astounded if they don’t do something about it. It’s just causing way too much brand damage.”
Dubbing it “a perfect storm”, he added: “In terms of it being so high-profile, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Warner said he had examined the shirt in question and was unable to find anything obviously wrong with it but speculated that it may be an issue with what is known as the “moisture-wicking finish”, which is designed to prevent saturation.
Informed that Wolves had experienced similar problems last season, he said: “You’d like to think that people wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.”
He also said the same fate was unlikely to have befallen an established brand.
“In terms of the brands like Puma, Adidas, Nike, they’re huge organisations. They’ve got a lot more levers to pull.”
Castore also has kit deals with the England cricket team and three of the country’s biggest rugby clubs in Saracens, Bath and Harlequins.
Joe Marler, who plays prop for the latter and is currently with England at the World Cup, had refused to wear the firm’s match shirt last season because it was too tight, opting instead to don a replica jersey.
But the Telegraph Sport has been told this is no longer the case and otherwise encountered only praise within cricket and rugby for a brand which had its big break four years ago when it signed Sir Andy Murray, now one of its biggest investors.
Even those linked to football clubs to have endured problems with Castore had plenty positive to say, not least about the firm’s “bespoke” products in a world of “boilerplate” kit design.
But Warner agreed with accusations that Castore had overstretched itself, saying: “Football’s such a complicated sport to go into. It requires huge manpower, the logistics of it are incredibly complicated.
“You need big, experienced teams to be able to manage it. For those guys, they’ve done incredibly well and a lot of their product’s very good. But they’ve gone very deep into professional football very early in the company’s journey.”
Telegraph Sport has been told Castore has spoken to its other clubs this week and found no evidence the problems faced by Villa were more widespread.
The firm finally broke its silence over the Villa fiasco on Thursday, with a spokesman saying: “We are working closely in collaboration with the club to address this issue as quickly as possible to meet the standards we expect. We would like to thank the club for their patience and support to date.
“As a proud new British brand, we always hold ourselves to the highest of standards and strive to do everything we can to constantly improve the performance of our products. This means addressing any customer concerns with promptness and humility.”