Fort control: the ugly face of corporate football

Devoid of intellectual property worries: Tony Roffe's photo: Jake's adaptation

Salut! Sunderland is full of admiration for so much that SAFC does: community involvement, combat against racism, incentives for young supporters, encouragement to players to get out into areas of everyday life where their presence will bring smiles to faces. So it pains us to bring you this wretched tale …

The heart sank when up popped the Sunderland Echo item describing the latest break-out from the asylum of corporate football.

The Fort, that pub thousands pass on their way to and from the game with many stopping for pre or post-match pints, has had its ramparts shaken by a charmless letter from one of its near neighbours, Sunderland AFC. The flags have to come down. So does anything else bearing the crest of Sunderland AFC. The letter did not arrive on April 1 and is not a joke.

Someone at the SoL thought it might please the gaffers if (s)he dallied long enough on the way to work to jot down a quick note of the offending items on display in the window and, for all we know, take a few snaps to be on the safe side.

Whether this ultra-zealous individual also ventured inside to inspect the tops worn by staff and customers and make sure no one was in possession of a keyring or other item bearing the crest is not yet clear.

But the message of the letter could not have been more plain:

The use of SAFC products in your establishment implies a misleading affiliation between your establishment and SAFC.

Please note you have 14 days from the date of this letter to cease and desist in all use of the crest and the products.

“If such is not complied with within this time, then SAFC reserves its rights to take further action, without further notice, in order to protect our intellectual property.

Jake: mature reflection goes missing from the SoL

Alan Wallace, the landlord, is a Sunderland fan to the core. He spends money in the club shop. He and his regulars have invested sizeable slices of their incomes into active manifestation of their passionate support.

Alan tells the Echo: “We are the only pub in Roker that doesn’t show the foreign football. All the punters think it is disgusting. People here are Sunderland daft.

“I thought the club would have better things to do with their time than pestering landlords who are trying to make a living. They send paraphernalia to me advertising their Christmas party nights.”

Leaving aside the nonsensical first sentence of the letter quoted above – a football club is a football club, a pub is a pub and the flags and other memorabilia would imply an association only to the hard of thinking – the approach to a friendly local business defies belief.

What on earth did the relevant club official think a pub attracting SAFC followers in large numbers could safely put on show to avoid the slender possibility that someone, in the face of all the evidence from beer pumps to the pub sign, might mistake it for an offshoot of the club shop? Pink bunting? Christmas lights?

In an e-mail to the club’s press office, I made the point that SAFC “gets so much right” that it is even more annoying when it acts in such a manner.

“It really does seem astonishingly heavy-handed,” I went on, “to target a pub that has such a close geographical relationship to the SoL and is clearly run and frequented by passionate, loyal supporters .. Surely no one seriously believes that for a such a pub to display SAFC memorabilia implies the least commercial association between club and licensee or is any more than a demonstration of allegiance.

“I cannot believe MoN or Ellis Short would endorse the approach taken, perhaps by one individual acting a little hastily.”

From the person to whom I addressed the e-mail, I received a holiday bounceback. From the colleague to whom I then forwarded it, silence. At least the Echo was told the club was “declining” to comment.

There may be two sides to the story. Who can tell if the club retreats behind “no comment’ expediency? The pages of Salut! Sunderland are there for the club to use to put its version of a story that, on the face of it, brings it no credit.

Monsieur Salut, by Matt (award-winnign cartoonist who readily agreed to its reproduction on these pages)

36 thoughts on “Fort control: the ugly face of corporate football”

  1. The reality of the rumour mill is based to some extent on the observations of journalists looking at the same stuff that fans do.

    I remember when Keane took the helm at SAFC, and I commented to my kids that the first player I would sign if I was him would be Graeme Kavanagh. Who was the first player that Keane signed; of course it was Graeme Kavanagh. Did I have access to the inner workings of Keane’s brain? Was there a “hotline” to a mole at the SoL? Of course not. It was simple logic. New to management he will sign an experienced pro that he has played with, who would be affordable and willing to come. Given Keane, Quinn and the Drumaville consortium, there was a decent chance it would be Irish.

    The real truth with the internet hoaxer story is that it probably lies somewhere between the two camps. If the club in this case did behave as alleged, then it shows not only signs of bullying but also the most acute paranoiia to boot.

  2. When the internet was in its infancy and I was working in a Primary School, one of the messages that we strived long and hard to get over was that just because something appeared on the www didn’t mean it was the truth.Compared to more traditional methods of research, which had to go through several checks, the ease of creating rumour and falsehood online meant we encouraged the kids to always double check things.

    Nowadays it seems that there are people who take anything they read online as gospel. Journalists as well as students treat Wikipedia as the font of all knowledge and whilst I’m sure that almost all of it has been posted in good faith and is accurate, there is always scope for someone to post inaccuracies, either mistakenly, humorously or maliciously.

    Social networking sites make it so much easier to start a rumour and then for lazy journalists to repeat those rumours. Those of you living overseas will perhaps not be aware of the supposed “Have I Got News For You” transcript that purported to be what had been cut from the episode when Jimmy Saville appeared. Both Paul Merton and Ian Hislop were keen to tell everyone that it was a hoax, and Hislop especially seemed very vociferous in his protestations that no-one knew anything about Savile’s predilections and so could take no action against him while he was alive.

    Now it seems that football clubs, agents as well as journalists take tweets as proof of truth which is very worrying. The article accessed via Jeremy’s link leaves me wondering what is the real truth and can I seriously accept without question the words of a self confessed internet hoaxer?

  3. Good for Alan and good for The Fort, which used to be my regular pre match haunt for many years when we were at RP. A good result in the end, but a sorry lead up to it.

  4. Loved the letter and the use of the term ” intellectual property.”….Laughable, ……..nowt intellectual about any of that letter…….other than “intellectually challenged” maybe.

  5. Repeated from the new posting (McCormick’s Craic) …

    what a clumsy, cack-handed first step. I did a piece at the ESPN site and have now added this comment:

    Since posting the above article ( _), I have come across this story on the official Sunderland website:

    “The club has added another local business to the SAFC Rewards scheme benefitting Black Cats fans. Season Card holders can now save 20% on selected drinks at local public house The Fort in nearby Roker.

    “The latest initiative which is exclusive to season card holders is available at any time of day in The Fort on non-matchdays.

    “The Fort pub which is over 100 years old is popular amongst Black Cats fans and they can now be rewarded for the loyalty to the club with offers in the pub.”

    The Sunderland commercial director Gary Hutchinson is then quoted singing the praises of the scheme. Alan tells them he’s proud. Not the slightest mention is made of the shabby build-up to this announcement.

    I am delighted Alan is happy. It shows he was not bent on conflict but bewildered by the club’s unwarranted aggression. As for the club, one more shot in the foot would emulate those three own goals at home to Charlton in 2003.

    Perhaps the club needs someone to take its public relations policy by the scruff of the neck. I may be open to offers, Mr Short.

  6. Newcastle Utd have a proud history don’t they? They have a proud history of trailing the world finding any gutttersnipe that’s prepared to play for them. A great many of their followers are virtually illiterate, and have humilated themselves with their protests and “boycoutt” banners. The newly forged association with Wonga cements their pedigree as Chavs United. Pardew is their proud face of it, with his recent touchline ban and PR bullshit about their latest sponsors business ethics.

    • “The Fort Landlord, Alan Wallace added: “I’m a huge Sunderland fan so to now have that affiliation with the club is something that I’m really proud of.”

      So the club is now allowing him to have an affiliation with them. Great. Presumably, this is no longer ‘misleading’ because he’s paying for it?

      Beggars belief. (No criticism of the landlord – all criticism directed against SAFC management). As Jeremy said, it wouldn’t have happened under Niall Quinn.

      • ” As Jeremy said, it wouldn’t have happened under Niall Quinn.”

        I think that it may well have done.

        The BIG difference (IMHO) would have been the way in which the backlash, against the club employee’s stupidity, was then handled.

      • I don’t suppose the Fort is paying for it and no doubt there is a confidentiality clause which prevents Alan and his employees talking to the press about this “development”.
        It seems significant to me that the Echo hasn’t printed a “club admits they ballsed up” or “Fort can fly the flag” story yet.

        I am an old cynic and I have nothing to support this but I can’t help but have the feeling that some sort of financial deal has been made that ensures the pub won’t be out of pocket. And because it now has an affiliation through the rewards scheme the club can now say publicly that the pub can display their flags, without having to back down and offer a grovelling apology.

        These of course are just my thoughts and if I am wrong will be happy to say so if and when the whole story comes out.

  7. PR masterstroke by buying stadium naming rights and going back to St James Park. Get’s the fans onside despite the national media outrage about the morality etc. Poor Blackpool F.C must be shouting “HELLOOOO”.

    St James’? St Jame’s? St James’s. Or whichever way the apostrophe was used.

  8. I just found out what this “Wonga” thing was about (being stuck in the new world). Can’t NUFC just get “Ndangreta” on their shirts and be done. That would be one deal they couldn’t turn down

  9. Joan said “The strength of the club is the emotional affiliation that people in the area have towards it. The lift you feel when you walk into a pub and it’s full of red and white. Oh, I forgot, no-one cares any more about the local supporters.”

    That just sums it up in a nutshell. Sunderland is a provincial club which needs to recognise what constitutes its own lifeblood; that same lifeblood which kept the club viable in the dark days of the Third Division and before Murdoch took over the running of top flight football. This club is dependent on its support and this nonsense with the lad at The Fort sadly illustrates how out of touch the club has become. Does anyone think that this would have happened when Niall Quinn was the Chairman?

    Great postings from all on this thread btw.

  10. MartinW,I’m afraid that the ‘posh’ story is true.When Peterborough United wanted to register the name ‘posh’ with the Patents Office,an objection was received from Victoria Beckham’s staff.Remember that this had been the club’s nickname years before anyone had ever heard of the Spice Girls.

  11. In a wider context going on from the orginal thread here,
    we should try and base our game more on the German regime-cheaper tickets=bigger attendances=finance coming in. Plus serve decent quality drink, allow safe standing areas, let people have the freedom to sing, shout and therefore eradicate the pathetic, sterile atmosphere than envelops too many games in England now where the motto often seems to be “Thou shalt not enjoy thyself [but gis yer forty or fifty quid first!].
    *Sixer-you’re a great bloke and superb supporter, so please never give up on the game or our club marra-fight the things that annoy you but never, ever walk away. There is a definite climate growing that will ultimately lead to changes being made to the way supporters are treat by those who see we fans solely as cash cows and little else. In fairness, Sunderland do a lot of good things, have a reasonable match day pricing system, a great community spirit via the SAFC Foundation activities and have some genuinely decent people working for them. Obviously in the case of ‘Forgate’ there are an element who need bringing down to earth before the natives make their life a misery as such arrogance will not be tolerated by our wider fanbase. That crest belongs to all of us. End of.

  12. It makes you wonder what they’d have done in ’73 when every shop in Sunderland had flags on display and every house between the town and South Hetton had red and white stripes in the window. I’m trying to be polite here, but what on earth do they mean by “misleading affiliation”? The strength of the club is the emotional affiliation that people in the area have towards it. The lift you feel when you walk into a pub and it’s full of red and white. Oh, I forgot, no-one cares any more about the local supporters. All they care about are global marketing opportunities. I always think every nail is the final one, then keep going anyway. But the final one has to come at some point if they continue like this.

  13. Strong words Pete but I know exactly what you mean. I love football but I don’t like footballers. Not many of them anyway. And the tossers who run the game, from FIFA to the FA to the clubs, have totally lost touch with the ordinary fans.

  14. Aother nail in the coffin for me, Tom. Seriously considering knocking PL football on the head after this season.Terry, Cole, Wonga and now this; why do we bother?

  15. You have to think that there’s more to it than we know. That said, the PR team should have realised that anything they send out formally can then be presented to the City via local media outlets. As Colin said, SAFC does a LOT of good, but on the day that Wonga delivered a PR masterstroke, it has had a PR disaster.

    The silence – whilst deafening – is surely reflective of a lengthy and detailed thought process as to what it will say in response to the outcry. It has to be good. And it can’t be patronising.

  16. What I find somewhat alarming is that someone, presumably in the club’s legal department, does not understand the law of contract.

    Any vendor offering goods for sale must make clear any terms for their use, prior to sale, and a potential buyer is deemed to have accepted these by completing the purchase.

    However, without preconditions being, clearly, stated then there are no restrictions and these cannot be imposed retrospectively.

    If the letter writer is, indeed, part of the SAFC legal department then he/she is, clearly, unfit to hold such a position!

    • I should have added that the above refers, only, to legally purchased, official SAFC merchandise and not to any illegal reproduction/use of the club’s trademarks which would be a, totally, separate issue.

    • I can, only, assume that the person that gave me the “thumbs down” was the idiotic, legal illiterate who sent out the letter!!

  17. SAFC have to say ‘sorry’ immediately and give the lad a couple of tickets and a meal for a forthcoming matchday. Nip it in the bud now and say ‘We wuz wrong!’. The pro game in this country is getting so far up its own backside now that it will disappear very soon.

  18. Reminds me also of when Victoria Beckham wanted to stop Peterborough using ‘Posh’ to avoid confusion!.Totally pathetic.

  19. I do wonder whether this has anything to with the club shop no longer being owned by the club now (well since some time earlier in the year).

  20. Have to agree with Jeremy. Why sell flags if people can’t put them up? Obviously to all but the idiot who wrote the letter it is a fan showing his support for the club not someone trying to make a profit from pretending it is an official club outlet.

    I would suggest that unless the club comes out and says that the letter was a mistake we start a campaign to boycott the club shop, concourse outlets etc. We could also refuse to wear replica shirts to matches though I doubt if enough people would do that without a huge publicity drive.

    Sixer was bemoaning again the fact that football is losing touch with the people who prefer to attend games rather than watch on TV. Here is another step away from the man or woman going through the turnstile.

    A few years back I seem to remember a multinational corporation telling a Scottish General Dealer he wasn’t allowed to use his own name above the shop. Mr MacDonald wasn’t too happy and neither should we be.

    Of course it isn’t just The Fort – all the pubs I have been in near the ground are full of Sunderland memorabilia.

  21. This is an absolute disgrace. Does the author of this riduculous letter think that The Fort is creating the impression of being some kind of SAFC franchise.

    What might I ask is the purpose of selling memorabilia if people aren’t allowed to display it?

    Get a bloody grip SAFC!

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