"Ruined by the sponsor(s)" is an oft-repeated refrain on football shirt websites, particularly FootballShirtCulture.com, generally expressing disappointment at a warmly-received design carrying an organisation's logo which is to its detriment.
Football clubs need to make money. More than ever before, any potential injection of funds into a team's progress has to be considered, even with significant drawbacks. Chelsea took money from a Russian oligarch with a shady past in order to stop going out of business (and he won them the European Cup), Llansantffraid FC became Total Network Solutions for a time and Manchester United, through maximising fund-raising efforts by floating on the stock exchange, left themselves open to being taken over by debt-laden owners.
For most clubs, however, putting the name of a business on the front of the shirt is the major compromise of ideals. The most crudely symbolic in recent times are those of short-term loan companies such as Wonga.com on the Hearts and Blackpool shirts and the-pawn-broker-it's-ok-to-like Cash Converters on Hull City's torsos. These are indicative of recession-hit Britain and, like many others, are included on playing and replica wear much to the chagrin of supporters.
Sponsors' logos are not always disliked; Carlsberg became popular with Liverpool fans, and I've always greeted larger profiled designs on French kits - not least Montpellier carrying 'Sud de France' to represent in stopping PSG winning the French title whilst l'OM fiddled - but what to do for the many logos which don't stir the heart so expertly?
Well, sometimes allowing the fans the option of purchasing a sponsorless shirt acts as a PR olive branch. Celtic - currently sponsored by Tennent's - retail their shirts with and without the brewers' logo. In the cases of gambling and alcohol sponsorship, kids' shirts must be devoid of that kind of advertising so this is occasionally extended to the adult wear too, with pleasing results. One other approach is to offer an alternative to the sponsor, such as Swansea City putting their date of establishment on the kids' shirts, though this is rarely offered as an across-the-board option due to the potential of the paying publicity seekers' branded shirts being eschewed.
But these are the exceptions rather than the rule. Most fans are forced to both wear and watch their team carrying a logo which they may dislike aesthetically - l'OM's Intersport sponsor, in royal blue and red, is a sartorial faux-pas on a shirt of white, lighter blue and orange - or hold deeper rooted resentments against, such as, in my own case, Liverpool's Standard Chartered. The latter belongs to a company, as if being a bank wasn't bad enough, which has spent its association with one of the world's most famous and decorated clubs shooting its mouth off and trying to engineer Anfield-policy with an arrogance and lack of discretion which can only be located in the finance sector. But hey, at least the logo's not too ugly.
There are, still, other encouraging signs. Both Celtic and, "The Rangers" will wear shirts in 2012-13 which carry much smaller Tennent's logos below the crest, rather than broadly across the body, with Celtic still allowing the removal of this if preferred. Quite why the so-called "Old Firm" blanket polices still need to be in place is beyond me but, regardless, it's a tactic which has been employed in hugely popular Manchester City and Inter Milan shirts in recent history and long may it continue.
Sadly, for every company which agrees to reduced visibility - such as on the new Coventry kit - there'll be a team which signs with a company whose logo immediately renders their shirt cheap and nasty (equally true in the DF gallery where one minute you get a beautifully subtle Real Madrid kit and the next a nauseating Colchester United shirt). Even Barcelona have let their shirts be sullied by not one but two sponsors.
But why do I choose this moment to rail against shirt sponsors? We are, of course, in the midst of an international football tournament where shirt sponsorship does not feature.
If only that were true. The FAI, reprehensibly, still sign deals which allow sponsorship to appear on Ireland replica shirts. As iconic as the Opel sponsor became, and despite being blessed with the historically and enduringly brilliantly-sponsored Cork City, the fans want sponsorless shirts. With there only really being one place that generally offers them - and only previous styles at a far from Irish recession-friendly price - the fans are often forced to think outside the box with their purchases, inevitably impacting on replica shirt sales. In 2012 it was the turn of the gorgeous training shirt to be a popular surrogate - pictured here sandwiching a pretty girl with a player issue unsponsored long-sleeved Italia '90-era example - to the point where it sold out. Is the extra revenue received from association sponsors genuinely calculable to cover the amount lost in shirt sales? Would relocation of the partner's logo be so hard to insist upon?
We, as football fans, deserve the choice - none more so than the sea of green.
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