Talking Football: Getting Shirty

Read via Burnley FC’s official programme

Football shirts matter.

They demonstrate everything there is to love about the game; a sign of solidarity, loyalty, belonging – but more than anything, history.

Sadly, football clubs and those who fund them are losing touch with the importance of the shirts, neglecting how and why they came about and everything they stand for; instead seeing the flagship of the club as an opportunity for further advertising space.

Often forgotten by these owners are stories like how Notts County’s famous black and white was the influence of Juventus’ design and city rivals Forest prompted the red of Argentinian giants Independiente.

Look no further than Vincent Tan’s decision to change Cardiff City’s strip from blue to red and the fury that followed and it is clear that a club’s shirt is a symbol of tradition and pride to its supporters.

A shame, then, that these iconic colours, possessors of such epochal status among doting supporters in towns and cities, must be tarnished with the addition of overbearing, ever-changing and even unethical sponsors’ logos – all in the name of football’s obsessive pursuit of income streams.

With the annual season-by-season turnaround of replica jerseys, one that particularly stuck out this summer was Hull City’s home shirt adorning the giant logo of East Yorkshire’s Flamingo Land.

Coupled with the embarrassment that has come from the club’s owner’s pursuit of a name change, which has twice been rejected by the FA, the honour of City’s famous orange and black is being made a mockery with a flamingo – far from the club’s proud shipbuilding and fishing roots on the River Humber and an all too common theme of kits in recent years.

Whether it be from betting companies, casinos or alcohol, the combined value of shirt sponsorship deals in the Premier League broke the £200m barrier after Chelsea and Liverpool secured new deals this summer; an unfathomable amount compared to the amount received by German side Eintracht Braunschweig when they signed the first shirt sponsorship contract of its kind with Jägermeister in 1973.

The incessant hunt of clubs throughout the leagues for these sponsorship deals knows no limits, rarely with consideration for whether the company offering the largest figure fits within the ethics of a football club, often leading to a marring of the club’s heritage and reputation which has taken so long to form and maintain.

Newcastle’s fling with pay day loans company Wonga put Muslim players Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa in awkward positions and Cisse threatened to leave the club due to the nature of the company’s sky-high interest rate, conflicting with his Islamic beliefs on lending money.

Undeniably, the finances resulting from shirt sponsorship provide vital funds for clubs to spend on players and the day-to-day costs of running a club – even for a club’s survival in the lower leagues – but the manner in which certain clubs feature wholly inappropriate advertising dishonours the legacy represented by the shirt.

While teams all around Europe have followed Eintracht’s initial lead, Burnley bucked the trend in the 2000/01 season and featured just the club’s badge and manufacturer – a shirt that would be the club’s highest-selling to date which would suggest that supporters prefer a shirt with the badge as its defining feature.

Similarly, Athletic Bilbao resisted the temptation of a simple opportunity of further funding, printing a sponsor for the first time as lately as 2009.

José María Arrate, the club’s president between 1994 and 2001, was influential in maintaining Athletic as a sporting institution comprising of local players.

“We only wish for the sons of our club to represent our club, and in so wishing we stand out as a sporting entity, not a business concept.” He stated, perhaps a mantra more clubs should consider.

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