Nike defends St George's Cross changes to England shirt - 'It was never our intention to offend'

Nike has said it was not its "intention to offend" after a row erupted over the sportswear giant's changes to the St George's Cross on the new England shirt.

The US firm issued a statement which said: "We have been a proud partner of the FA since 2012 and understand the significance and importance of the St George's Cross and it was never our intention to offend, given what it means to England fans.

"Together with the FA, the intention was to celebrate the heroes of 1966 and their achievements.

"The trim on the cuffs takes its cues from the training gear worn by England's 1966 heroes, with a gradient of blues and reds topped with purple.

"The same colours also feature an interpretation of the flag on the back of the collar."

Earlier, Sky Sports News was told the Football Association (FA) has no intention of withdrawing the controversial kit and England manager Gareth Southgate said the row wasn't "high on my list of priorities".

The row erupted after Nike revealed it had altered the traditional red cross of the England flag on the back of the shirt's collar, introducing purple and blue stripes.

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The company dubbed it "a playful update" to the shirt ahead of Euro 2024.

But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned Nike "should not mess" with the flag while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged the firm to "reconsider" the design.

Speaking in a press conference this evening, England manager Gareth Southgate said: "I don't know if the debate is about the St George flag needing to be on the England shirt because obviously it has not always been.

"I think the most important thing that has to be on our shirt is the Three Lions. It's our iconic symbol. It's what distinguishes us from football teams around the world and England rugby and England cricket.

"I suppose what you're really asking is should we be tampering with the cross of St George, in my head if it's not a red cross and white background then it's not the cross of St George.

"It's a hard question to answer. It's presumably some artistic take on [the flag] which I'm not creative enough to understand."

He insisted the row wasn't taking away from their preparation ahead of two upcoming friendly games.

Fans are demanding the original flag be reinstated and an online petition has collected thousands of signatures.

But a spokesperson for the FA said: "The new England 2024 home kit has a number of design elements which were meant as a tribute to the 1966 World Cup winning team.

"The coloured trim on the cuffs is inspired by the training gear worn by England's 1966 heroes, and the same colours also feature on the design on the back of the collar.

"It is not the first time that different coloured St George's Cross-inspired designs have been used on England shirts.

"We are very proud of the red and white St George's Cross - the England flag. We understand what it means to our fans, and how it unites and inspires, and it will be displayed prominently at Wembley tomorrow - as it always is - when England play Brazil."

Mr Sunak said: "Obviously I prefer the original, and my general view is that when it comes to our national flags, we shouldn't mess with them.

"Because they are a source of pride, identity, who we are, and they're perfect as they are."

Labour's shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry told Sky News: "It's all very peculiar. The England flag is a symbol of unity.

"[For] people, particularly in the last few years when we've been having such a difficult time, the England flag at the time has been a symbol of unity... the Lionesses and so on.

"So you wouldn't expect Nike to go off and have a look at the Welsh flag and decide to change the dragon to a pussycat.

"I mean, you wouldn't expect the England flag to be changed like this.

"You wouldn't expect bits of purple in the French tricolour. I mean, why are they doing it? I don't understand."

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Back in 2014, Ms Thornberry was forced to resign from the shadow cabinet by the then party leader Ed Miliband after being accused of mocking "White Van Man" in a social media post during a visit to Rochester, which pictured a housing block with St George's flags flying from the window.

Responding to the Nike design, England's most capped men's player, Peter Shilton, wrote on X: "Sorry but this is wrong on every level I'm totally against it."

Another former England goalkeeper David Seaman said: "It doesn't need fixing. What's next, are they going to change the Three Lions to three cats? Leave it alone. It's the St George's Flag. Leave it alone."

But John Barnes, who also previously played for the national side, said: "I don't get involved in culture wars anymore but this whole furore… I didn't even know there was a St George's Cross.

"If they were going to change the Three Lions then that's a debate to be had. I don't see what the fuss is. I think it's a much ado about nothing.

"They are not changing the colour of the shirt, the lions are still there. If they were going to change the national flag for England and change the colours then that's a proper debate to have."

The price of the shirt has also faced criticism since it was launched earlier this week.

An "authentic" version costs £124.99 for adults and £119.99 for children while a "stadium" version is £84.99 and £64.99 for children.