I’ve never been much of a fan of Liverpool, a trait that probably goes way back to sharing the pain of the creators of the Norwich City fanzine Liverpool Are On The Tele again many years ago, a footballing antipathy that has, for one reason or another, never really gone away since those predominantly red days of the 1980s.
So I’m not altogether sure why I chose to watch their Premier League game with Manchester City from the comfort of my sofa on Wednesday evening.
I’d given the two clubs meeting in the League Cup final three days earlier a miss in favour of doing a spot of housework based on the logic that I’d find the latter more entertaining. As things turned out, that was precisely the case, so quite why I succumbed to their subsequent Premier League clash I’ve no idea.
Yet I’m very glad I did.
Not, I should add, for the football or any of the players on show. But for one of the pitch-side adverts at Anfield which, in all its digital glory, made me realise, at a stroke, just how far the game and the clubs involved are willing to whore themselves out to the highest bidder in order to help pay both transfer fees and players wages.
I’ll come to the ad in question shortly although I’m sure some of you saw it for yourselves.
Advertising at football matches is not, of course, a recent trend; nor is the relationship that a professional sportsman or woman will enter into with any company, or brand, that is willing to pay them large amounts of money in exchange for their public endorsement of a product. One that, strangely enough, they might not even have been aware even existed until the phone rang and the numbers were quoted.
George Best had a well known taste for the finer things in life. But Cookstown sausages? I’m struggling to believe he’d have been lining them up as his post-match meal of choice. Best also put his name to the first pair of football boots I ever owned (anyone else?) although I seriously doubt he had any input other than to say “thanks very much” when the cheque came his way in return for his endorsement of same.
Bobby Moore, on the other hand, was known to like a beer or two in his playing days, so the ad he made that extols the virtues of the great British pub is a lot more believable, even if his on-screen performance doesn’t quite have the same sort of style and finesse that he displayed on the football field. Moore’s mate in the ad is, of course, our very own Martin Peters, backing him up as ably in the bar as he did on the pitch.
Talking of footballers and adverts, I can’t let the opportunity to remind everyone of the one Kevin Keelan starred in back in 1979. Is it one of the worse adverts featuring a footballer ever? Is it even one of the worse adverts ever, period?
I’m not even sure it’s the Cat’s own voice that’s been poorly dubbed onto the film but, regardless of all that, Keelan would have been paid a hefty sum as part of his agreement with the New England Teamen to front the advert and, at a time when footballers pay was nowhere near the stellar levels it is today, he wouldn’t have minded the indignities for the financial reward it brought him.
It was, of course, Liverpool that set the ball rolling at the top level of the English game as regards sponsorship when they entered into a deal with Japanese electronics giant Hitachi in 1979. The floodgates opened as a result with all the giants of the game at the time swiftly following suit with Manchester United aligning themselves with Sharp whilst Arsenal went with JVC.
Most football fans think that the commercial involvement and influence of the Far East in the English game is a relatively new development in the game. As these, and other sponsorship deals from the late 1970s illustrated, England’s leading clubs were seeing the benefits of commercial tie-ups with businesses from that part of the world long before the dawn of the Premier League and overseas investment and ownership.
The Canaries own tentative forays into the wider world of match and club sponsorship commenced in 1976 when Dunlop Tyres sponsored the home league game against Liverpool on March 20 – nearly forty years ago.
The Canaries lost the game 1-0, courtesy of a David Fairclough goal yet, defeat or not, the seeds had been sown at Carrow Road and for those purveyors of a match programme that usually extolled the virtues of such local concerns as Bee-Line Taxis (‘For a quick getaway after the match’); the El Greco Kebab House and the Carrow Road Fish Shop (‘Enjoy good fish and chips before or after the match’), the involvement of US giant Dunlop was but a sign of things to come, even if the clubs first ever shirt sponsorship deal, with Poll Withey Windows hardly got the blood racing.
It did, however, give the Watton based company enormous coverage when the Canaries appeared on live TV for the very first time in 1985, beating Sunderland 1-0 in the League Cup Final at Wembley.
Replica shirts had not yet caught on – I don’t recall seeing one worn by a Norwich fan on the day – but it is no accident that their popularity grew as clubs more and more enthusiastically caught on to the idea of shirt sponsorship, with the companies themselves as keen to see the fan wearing the shirt and therefore acting as a free advertising hoarding in the process.
A real win-win deal.
Norwich had first worn a kit openly showing the maker of the kit at the beginning of the 1975/76 season when the little double diamond of Umbro adorned the shirt. Admiral took over in 1976 before being succeeded by Adidas in 1981. They, in turn, were supplanted by Hummel in 1984.
There was no going back now.
Rumours on who will replace Aviva as the clubs new shirt sponsor from the beginning of the 2016/17 season abound with the smart money, ironically, going on it being Coral. Providing that doesn’t mean a trace of their corporate blue anywhere on the shirt, then I’m prepared to let that one pass although any deal with the bookmaker may, of course, be dependent on Premier League status being retained.
Survival would, of course, also mean another season of having to ensure that bloody dog dancing its way around the pitch throughout the game, an idea which the company behind it must have thought was a good one, although I have yet to meet a football fan of any kind who is as enamoured with the damned thing as ******** seem to be.
This takes me back to that game at Liverpool and the aforementioned advert; the natural progression of football’s infatuation with corporate sponsorship and, more recently, that of clubs to have ‘official partners’.
In Liverpool’s case, one of these is a company called Baskin Robbins who are, according to the ad in question, provide “…the official ice cream of Liverpool Football Club.”
They, I should add, work in tandem with Dunkin’ Donuts who are ‘proud’ to be the “…official coffee, tea and bakery products supplier of Liverpool Football Club”.
I wonder how many Merseyside businesses would give anything to have that sort of relationship with their local team?