Thursday, 19 July 2012

Classic football shirt sponsors

It started as a single Twitter message sent out a couple of days ago by the great football blogger @mirkobolesan. It read:

"Napoli = Mars, Hellas Verona = Canon, Arsenal = JVC, Everton = NEC, Liverpool = Crown Paints, Man United = Sharp. #propersponsors‬"

David Johnson in
action for
No explanation was needed and none was given, yet everyone knew what was being discussed. Before long, many people (including myself) were chipping in with the company names that somehow seemed synonymous with individual clubs based on former shirt sponsorship deals. It was a discussion that ran and ran.

It’s almost 34 years since Liverpool became the first team to sport a company name on its shirts. It was Japanese hi-fi and TV manufacturers Hitachi that had the honour of starting a trend which would ultimately spread its commercial influence right the way down to 'grass roots' level.

Left: Alan Smith of Arsenal;
Right: Bryan Robson of Man United.
Though Hitachi’s name wasn’t seen on TV when Liverpool played, the partnership lasted four seasons – a long contract that helped forge a lasting association between the two parties. Such an extended bond between team and sponsor can create an inseparable connection in the minds of the fans, especially if they became partners so very long ago. Arsenal’s link-up with JVC in the early 1980’s is another such example, as is Manchester United’s with Sharp Electronics.

Alan Shearer during his
Blackburn Rovers days.
Yet for all that, company sponsors – if lucky enough – can raise their profile hugely if their contract happens to coincide with a winning spell for their football-playing associates. That was the fate that befell McEwans Lager when Blackburn Rovers won the Premier League in 1995, and for many years after. It’s fair to say no-one was offering up ICI Perspex as the name they most strongly associated with the Ewood Park club on Twitter a couple of days ago.

Sometimes, however, you don’t even need a successful era to be forever linked with a particular club. As @mirkobolesan pointed out in his first selection above, Napoli will always be tied with the confectionary company Mars – primarily because the shirt sponsorship deal coincided with the arrival of Diego Maradona in 1984. One could make a similar case for the Italian pasta company Buitoni who shared the sponsorship until 1991, and herein lies an ongoing dilemma.

Diego Maradona showing two
sponsors for Napoli.
If someone asked you to name the shirt sponsor with the most enduring connection to your club, chances are you'll have more than one to choose from. While one Charlton fan will fondly remember the Fads era, another might plump for The Woolwich or Viglen. Manchester City supporter? Maybe Saab are the sponsors for you… or would it be Brother, perhaps?

The more you think of the classic shirt sponsors each team has had, the more your head spins. What makes Hafnia more iconic as an Everton supporter than NEC? If you're from the red half of Merseyside, is Hitachi the ultimate in corporate partners, or would you go for Crown Paints or Candy or Carlsberg?

The importance of a company logo on a team shirt has become more important and more intrinsic to the very spirit of the game than anyone could ever have imagined prior to 1978. Which shirt sponsors would you give honorary status to and for which clubs? Leave us a comment using the link below and give us your thoughts…


  1. Southampton FC - has to be the 80s classic; Draper tools

    Newcastle - Newcastle Brown ale seems the stand out one - the blue star version of the logo.

    Man City - Brother - maybe because of that Oasis Noel/ Liam photograph

    Chelsea - Commodore - just because I loved my C64!

  2. Some excellent suggestions there, Row Z! Can't argue with any of those... :)

  3. You say "It’s almost 34 years since Liverpool became the first team to sport a company name on its shirts."
    Well Kettering Town fans may take you to task on that!