by Stuart Moriarty-Patten
A new season often means a new shirt, and like many football fans I look forward to pulling on a new top after the other one has been worn to death for the last two years (or one year as increasingly the case). One thing spoils it for me though and that is I’m not sure if I feel comfortable being a walking bill board for some company that I in no way support or have any feelings for other than they happen to give my club a wad of money for the space on the front of the shirt. The clubs should give you the option of buying a sponsor free shirt, but I accept that, with the amount of money available there is no way this will ever happen, and what money it is. Man United’s deal with Chevrolet, to start in 2014, is worth a whopping £210 million, but even that pales into insignificance next to Man City’s £400 million deal with Etihad Airways, although that did involve the stadium name too.
Sometimes a sponsors name can enhance a shirt, such as when Brighton were sponsored for a good few years by Skint Records, which must have been a relief for the Brighton fans having walked around with NOBO across their chests for much of the Eighties. Clubs sometimes get slightly more unusual sponsors than the typical giant multinational organisation and pop bands (Wet Wet Wet and Clydebank), charities (The Prince’s Trust and Blackburn), trade unions (the GMB and Swindon, until they cut their links over Di Canio’s support for Italian fascism), and uncommonly a no-smoking symbol on the front of West Brom’s shirt during the 1985/86. There must have been many Baggies fans at the Hawthorns puffing away on a B&H and Embassy while wearing that.
Sometimes the sponsors can be companies you have never heard of, especially in the lower leagues where the lack of attention doesn’t attract the giant corporations, although I do remember seeing Worcester City running out with Embroidery Weekly across their chest. Even in the top division though you can get the odd strange one. I remember for many years in the 1980s that Everton had Hafnia across their chest, and in that pre-internet age I never knew who, or what, Hafnia was. I have since found out that they were a Danish sausage manufacturer.
Although it can be a money-spinner for the club do those that run the club ever stop to think of the damage they can do to a club’s image and a fan’s self-respect before they allow the sponsor to scrawl across the front of the shirt? Abroad, where admittedly the words may mean something else, you can get such classics as Pooh (AC Milan), Mister Lady (FC Nurnberg) and Dong (Denmark), but even in Britain you can get fine words such as the aforementioned Nobo, and Oxford’s Wang, and, up in Scotland, St. Johnstone had Bonar across their chest.
Even innocent names can lead to a fan’s life becoming a little bit harder. As a Wolves supporter, during 1990s I often got asked why we were sponsored by Goodyear when we had never had one. On entering the Premiership for the first time in 2003 the club’s shirt sponsor read Doritos and was I quickly told that Doritos must stand for ‘division one rejects in the orange shirts’, or ‘division one return is the outcome surely’. As it happened both were correct.