OPINION: Sponsors - stop milking the profits with football shirts and think local

Norwich City and Ipswich Town in action in 1999 when both clubs were sponsored by local companies

Norwich City and Ipswich Town in action in 1999 when both clubs were sponsored by local companies - Credit: Archant

When did you last drink a glass of milk?

If, like me, you're in your mid-40s, it may still be a daily part of your life.

As a family we get through more than 20 pints a week, much of it drunk by my five-year-old son who has picked up my love of a nice cold glass in the morning after a run or with my toast.

Part of the reason I have a love of milk is that I'm old enough to remember when it was given out free at school and also because growing up in the early 80s, the sports world seemed to have a love affair with promoting this most wholesome of products.

At school I took part in the Milk In Action awards, I was given sew-on patches for meeting certain standards in sprinting, long jump and high jump, I used to enjoy watching cycling's Milk Race on TV and even had a Milk Race computer game. And, of course, Dairy Crest famously became the first sponsors of the Football League Cup in 1981, which was renamed the Milk Cup and won by Norwich City in 1985.

Asa Hartford celebrates Norwich winning the Milk Cup in 1985 with a good old bottle of milk

Asa Hartford celebrates Norwich winning the Milk Cup in 1985 with a good old bottle of milk - Credit: Archant


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Footballers weren't seen after games clutching large blue plastic Lucozade bottles guzzling drinks with supplements added, they were often spotted instead holding glass bottles of milk. It was what Ian Rush drunk, and if you didn't drink enough, you'd only be good enough to play for Accrington Stanley.

The innocent days of sport sponsorship have been somewhat compromised this week by the announcement of another new deal for Norwich City with gambling company BK8.

We've been here before of course with LeoVegas and Dafabet in recent seasons, but while the outcry over those deals, and with Ipswich Town's similar flirtation with Magical Vegas a couple of years back, has been more of a discerning tut tut, the fact that BK8 have crossed the line of taste and decency in their online advertising has overshadowed this latest deal and heaped embarrassment on a club that thrives on its relationship with the community.

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I personally don't have a problem with betting companies sponsoring football teams, in the same way that I don't have a problem with alcohol companies sponsoring a team. I see it as a necessary evil that's crept into football over the last decade. 

I don't think it leads most people towards betting or drinking more just because the name of a company is plastered across a replica shirt, but I understand that the exposure these companies get with such deals could be an issue for those who aren't so sensible.

I didn't feel the need to rush out and get new double glazing from Poll & Withey Windows when Norwich won that Milk Cup in 1985 in the same way Ipswich Town fans probably won't all rush out and buy Ed Sheeran's new album just because he's on the front of their shirts next season.

And I don't remember any outcry in 1987 when Littlewoods replaced Dairy Crest as sponsors of the League Cup and in the same year when Coventry City won the FA Cup sponsored by Granada Bingo. 

But then doing the pools or playing bingo seem to be more accepted forms of gambling in the UK. 

It's great that replica kits for children don't carry logos of betting firms - in Norwich City's case they are usually replaced by local companies. 

But I do think it's lazy and unoriginal that football clubs allow their shirts to have a rubbish logo of some foreign company on their shirts that nobody has never really heard of.

Football - Arsenal v Everton - FA Premier League 97/98 - Highbury - 3/5/98 The Arsenal team celebr

Arsenal celebrate winning what was then known as the Premiership in 1998. In 29 years of the Premier League, the winners have never been sponsored by a betting company

Here's a stat for you. In 29 years of the Premier League the title has never been lifted by a team with a betting company as its main shirt sponsor.

Yes, English football's big guns - Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United - have managed to survive without ever having a gambling company as a main shirt sponsor. And across Europe, the biggest clubs in Italy, Germany and Spain also don't have gambling companies as shirt sponsors.

Barcelona didn't even have a shirt sponsor until 2006 because they didn't want their famous kit to be blemished by a logo and then, for four years, they simply carried the Unicef logo - and they even paid Unicef for the privilege.

So clearly the money offered by betting companies to football clubs is nowhere near the likes of Fly Emirates, Chevrolet, Standard Chartered, Etihad Airways or Three UK, which sponsored those big five English clubs last season.

Betting companies seem to only be able to afford to strike deals with Premier League also-rans which seems to spark outrage and accusations of selling their soul whenever they are announced, so why don't clubs put more thought into their shirt sponsors? 

Ed Sheeran is sponsoring Ipswich Town's kits for 2021/22 - this is the logo that has been revealed t

Ed Sheeran is sponsoring Ipswich Town's kits for 2021/22 - this is the logo that will appear on Town's shirts - Credit: ITFC

What would fans rather have? A Norwich shirt with a proud local company like Colman's or Lotus splashed across their chests, or an Ipswich shirt with Suffolk-based Fisons or Greene King on the front or even good old Ed Sheeran over some foreign gambling company with no roots in East Anglia?

Don't clubs realise too that there is a huge resurgence of interest in football shirt culture, both now and in retro shirts from their past? A terrible advertising deal can ruin a shirt, a good deal with a reputable local firm can make it a cult classic.

I understand that there's large amounts of money involved in these deals, but with sleeve sponsors, back of shirt sponsors plus sponsors for different stands and, for some clubs, naming rights of stadiums, surely their iconic football shirt would now be the last thing that needs to be ruined by an unsuitable company?

Ethics and principles may be fast vanishing from football, but in this social media age don't clubs realise that money doesn't always talk when it comes to something like a dodgy shirt sponsor that could upset thousands of their loyal customers?

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