Soapbox: suffering sponsors


What’s this, a new split in the Salut! Sunderland camp? The ink’s hardly dry on Colin Randall’s piece about Sunderland’s Tombola sponsorship, essentially saying it doesn’t matter too much what appears on our shirts (assuming we cannot just return to the good old days of red and white stripes, badge and each player’s number). Now Pete Sixsmith offers his dissenting view …

Unlike Colin, I do think shirt sponsors are quite important. They often give you a flavour of what a club is about. Until the Boylesports deal, all of our sponsors had been Wearside companies – Cowies, Vaux, Vardy’s and I was unaware that Tombola were a Sunderland based company until I read about them on the club site.

So, after a three-year deal with an Irish bookie, we move on to a three-year deal with an online bingo organisation.

It seems to me that the majority of the bottom half of the Premier League is backed by gambling – Bolton, West Ham, Wigan, Wolves, Hull, ourselves all “proudly” wear the logo of someone who is desperate to separate you from your hard earned cash in a game of chance.

Portsmouth are sponsored by Jobsite – which seems entirely appropriate – while Saturday’s opponents, Burnley, are currently backed by a local fuel supply company, although that deal ends at the end of the season and they will be replaced by a Chinese gambling site. Should go down well in the Championship.

The first club in England to wear sponsored shirts were those giants of the game, Kettering Town, who had Kettering Tyres emblazoned across their chests. Liverpool were the first League club to go down this road thanks to the generosity of Hitachi.

Since then, clubs have had an eclectic collection of sponsors. Our initial venture in the early 80s saw then chairman Sir Tom Cowie (an arch Tory by the way) allow us to show off the name of his motor trade company.

Vaux came in round about 1987 and if we have ever had a better kit than the Hummel one with the simple local legend of “Vaux” inscribed on the front, I have yet to see it.

Local companies for local people has been the keyword for North-eastern clubs.

The Mags have had S and N breweries for much of the time, interspersed by Greenalls, a brewery which produced unspeakably awful beer entirely fitting for NUFC. Now it’s the Northern Rock – again entirely fitting as a “much loved North-eastern institution” that got above itself and came down to earth with a bang.

Middlesbrough have struggled for sponsors and seem to have had a succession of short term deals. Local companies like the Evening Gazette and Herutage Hampers (honest) were superseded by Cellnet for a while, but since then they have had difficulties and are now sponsored by Garmin sat navs, which suggests that they have no idea where they are going.

Hartlepool always look good with Camerons or Strongarm on their chests, although the club owners now bring IOL (International Oil Recovery) to a wider, and clearly fascinated, audience. Darlington have had a useful tie-in with the local building society but that’s gone now and they raffled off next season’s deal. It was won by a local hotel and conference centre. Prophetic, eh.

Some clubs have had truly awful deals. I remember Bristol Rovers were backed by a local sandwich company called Lunchbox, while Brighton had a blue and white striped kit (shirts and shorts) with NOBO, a company that produced whiteboards and marker pens. Unfortunate slogan if a player was having a stinker. They were replaced by SKINT records, which again says it all.

However my very favourite came from the early 80s when I went to see Darlington play Port Vale in the old Fourth Division at the much missed Feethams. Vale had a ferocious centre forward called Bob Newton playing for them. He was a cult figure with the Valiants fans and at Hartlepool where he had played in between jail sentences.

As he bullied and blustered his way around the field I noticed that his sweat covered Vale shirt bore the name of their equivalent of United buses. Being in the Five Towns area, that company was called Potteries Motor Traction, which had been abbreviated to PMT. I couldn’t think of anyone less likely than Bob Newton to suffer from that.

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