Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Much Ado About Nothing: An Intertoto Story

Football, and its long and rich history, is littered with magical cup competitions. From the global festival that is the FIFA World Cup to the miraculous twenty-six year existence of the second tier Anglo-Italian Cup, each one brings its stories, legends, and memories. It's fair to say the UEFA Intertoto Cup isn't topping many peoples favourites list.

Ernst Thommen, Eric Perssen, and Karl Rappan, are the three founding fathers of the 'Cup of the Cup-less', which was first played in 1961 under the simplistic guise of 'The International Football Cup' or 'IFC'.
Ernst B.Thommen: Switzerland, FIFA, and a vested personal interest? Image here.

Rappan, an Austrian coach who made a name for himself coaching clubs in Switzerland, was in-between appointments at FC Zurich and FC Lausanne at the time. He later coached the Swiss national team on four separate occasions. Persson was Chairman at Malmo FF, and a strong advocate of European club competition. However, Thommen was the real driving force. Native of Basel, Thommen, is considered by many to be the 'inventor' of modern day European club competition. Whilst head of the Swiss FA, he was instrumental in forming the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, which just about preceded the UEFA Cup (now known as the Europa League). Thommen also served in various capacities on FIFA's Executive Committee for the best part of two decades.

At first glance, the three men could be forgiven for creating such a pointless cup competition. Under the simple premise of wanting to provide European competition to clubs unable to qualify for the European Cup, their intentions seemed pure. Any club could apply for qualification, and the Intertoto place would go to the team who finished highest in their domestic league, and didn't already qualify for the European Cup. However, in starting a long history of FIFA ethics and blurred definitions of 'personal interest', it should also be noted that Thommen had set up 'Swiss Sports Toto-Gesellschaft' (a Swiss version of the football pools) in 1932, and continued to manage this entity alongside his work at FIFA and the Swiss FA. He had a huge personal interest in creating meaningful club fixtures throughout the summer months, and wasn't shy about admitting this. On a related note, UEFA didn't officially recognise the competition until 1995 due to finding the betting background to be distasteful. They did, however, later recognise the tournaments roots with a logo design (see bottom of article).

If meaningful fixtures were the aim, then the first final didn't disappoint. After whittling down the field of thirty-two teams from nine countries, Ajax Amsterdam v Feyenoord Rotterdam contested the inaugural final in Amsterdam's Olympic Stadium.  Ajax recorded a 4-2 win, and their first European trophy. Coincidentally, the Olympic Stadium would host the seventh European Cup final between Benfica and Real Madrid just two weeks later.
Ajax celebrate their first European trophy in April 1962. Image from here.

Though the first seven years of the competition were relatively well-received across the continent, British clubs remained doubtful of the tournaments merits, and declined invitation for entry. Clubs from France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany (East and West), Poland, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Greece, all participated. Early Intertoto Cup winners included Inter Bratislava (1963 and 1964 double), Polonia Bytom (1965), Lokomotive Leipzig (1966), and Eintracht Frankfurt (1967). 
Polonia Bytom, winners in 1965. Image from here.

Throughout its first seven years, the Intertoto Cup had operated under a 'one cup, one winner' format. The initial group stages were played in June and July, while the knock-out rounds and final were played across the season, as agreed by the competing clubs. UEFA had permitted the tournament to run alongside Europe's domestic football calendar, but the impracticalities of this were quick to show. Competing teams would often struggle to find suitable dates for the knock-our rounds, which meant the tournament rarely finished on time. Notably, the 1965 final between Polonia Bytom and SC Leipzig wasn't played till early June, well over a year since the tournament has began. Similar instances occurred in 1964 and 1966. 

Perhaps more significant, though, were the financial and logistical challenges placed upon participating teams. As the Intertoto Cup was billed at Europe's smaller clubs, budgets were tighter, and resources were fewer. Often seen as a supplement or replacement for a pre-season tour, there was little issue with the group fixtures of June and July. Competitive football in place of friendlies, and some financial support from the Swiss Sports Toto-Gesellschaft, all coming when many teams would pay for pre-season tours anyway. The real challenges came with the expense and organisation of trips to small, far away places in the middle of the domestic season.

So, in 1967, the response of Messrs Thommen, Perssen, and Rappan, was to eliminate the knockout stages completely. The team finishing the June and July group stage with the best record would officially be recorded as 'champions', and varying amounts of prize money would make its way to the group winners. Post-July, there would be no Intertoto fixtures. 

Naturally, this went a long way to reduce the significance of the tournament. With UEFA Cup qualification not offered till the mid-nineties, the 1968 Intertoto Cup kicked-off nearly three decades of a competition without any winners. 

The Intertoto Cup became a light-hearted pre-season warm-up for Europe's 'B-list' teams, and dubbed as the 'Cup of the Cup-less'. Sadly but rather inevitably, highlights and captivating stories were few and far between. 

In the early seventies, FC Nitra 'won' back-to-back Intertoto Cups, one of only three teams able to make that claim to relative fame. One of the first professional clubs in Czecheslovakia, FC Nitra currently play in the second tier of the Slovakian league, and might come to a pub quiz near you on account of changing their official name twelve times since 1909.

In 1984 Hungarian club Videoton 'won' the Intertoto Cup and went all the way to the next season's UEFA Cup Final. They lost to Real Madrid, but proved that the Intertoto cup could indeed be that stepping stone towards frying proverbially bigger European fish. 

Gornik Zabrze of Poland 'won' the Intertoto Cup in 1985, a success which kicked off four consecutive domestic championships, and modest skirmishes in the following UEFA Cup, and European Cup campaigns.

The late eighties and early nineties were dominated by Danish and Swedish clubs. Only the Polish Lech Poznan and Czech Republic's Slavia Prague broke up a Scandinavian 'winning' cycle which spanned from 1986 till 1994.

In 1995, the Intertoto Cup was finally adopted by family UEFA. Under full and official sanctioning, the Intertoto Cup burst into a new lease of life. It was given a snazzy new logo which paid tribute to its betting foundations, and was immediately expanded to accommodate sixty teams in twelve groups of five. Definitely something of a gamble on UEFA's behalf. Knock-out stages were reinstated, and were to be completed no later than mid-August. UEFA had decided that both winning semi-finalists would 'win', and a place in that seasons UEFA Cup proper would be the big prize and incentive. 

For eventual 'winners', FC Bordeaux and Strasbourg, sandwiched between June 24th and August 22nd were an incredible four group matches, a round of sixteen match, a Quarter-Final, a two-legged Semi-Final, and all played in six different countries. Days later, their UEFA Cup campaign would begin. Strasbourg would exit in the second round, 3-1 on aggregate to AC Milan. Having eased past Ujpest in the first round, Strasbourg far from disgraced themselves against the Italian giants, losing out to a Milan team including legends such as; Baraesi, Maldini, Albertini, Costacurta, Desailly, Boban, Di Canio, and Panucci. 

However, it was Bordeaux who would go the furthest of the new Intertoto Cup 'winners'. Spurred on by a twenty-three year-old Zinedine Zidane, they went all the way to the final, making them an instant Intertoto success story. UEFA must have been secretly yearning for a 'poster team' to do what Bordeaux did, and they got it at the first throw of a dice. 
Bordeaux, UEFA's instant Intertoto success story in 1995. Image from here.

In what surely must be one of the most epic cup campaigns in footballing history, Bordeaux lined up on July 1st 1995, and beat Norrkoping of Sweden 6-2. Their Intertoto journey saw them undefeated against Bohemians of the Republic of Ireland, Odense of Denmark, HJK Helsinki of Finland, Eintracht Frankfurt of Germany, Heerenveen of the Netherlands, and Karlsruhe of Germany. Into the UEFA Cup proper of 1995/96, and FK Vardar of Macedonia were dispatched in the first round, Russia's FC Rotor Volgograd in the second, and Real Betis of Spain in the third round. That set-up a mouthwatering quarter-final against AC Milan. At the San Siro, Milan recorded a relatively simple 2-0 win courtesy of Roberto Baggio and Stefano Eranio goals. However, led by the creative spark of Zidane and Christophe Dugarry, Bordeauz stormed the second leg on home soil, and won 3-0, near destroying AC Milan's dream team. That same evening, Nottingham Forrest were being humbled at the City Ground, losing 5-1 to Bayern Munich in another quarter-final. The semi-finals saw Slavia Prague defeated 2-0 over two legs, and Bordeauz were to meet Bayern Munich in the final. There wasn't quite a fairytale ending, as Bayern proved too powerful for the physically lagging French team, and won a two-legged final 5-1.

For Zinedine Zidane, and the other French internationals present at Euro '96 following the UEFA Cup final, the 1995/96 football season lasted five days short of a full calendar year. 

While it fell short of a fairytale for Bordeaux, in terms of putting the Intertoto Cup on to the football map, their story represented a true fairytale for UEFA. An endeavour which wasn't helped by English clubs representation in 1995.  

In England, not much was known about the competition prior to the early nineties, but as UEFA took control, the Premier league's mid-table teams began to take notice of a 'back door' route into more credible and rewarding European competition. Tottenham Hotspur, Wimbledon, and Sheffield Wednesday were the Premier league's first reluctant representatives. Both London clubs would exit at the group stages, and were eventually banned from all European competition for fielding weakened sides. Tottenham recorded one win against Slovenian minnows NK Rudar Velenje, and losses against Sweden's Osters IF, Switzerland's FC Luzern, and Germany's FC Cologne. The latter defeat somewhat contentiously recognised as Tottenham's heaviest, 8-0. All of Spurs' home Intertoto games were played at Brighton's Goldstone Ground, and featured squads of youth team players and a ramshackle collection of older loan players. While the Spurs first-team were working through their own pre-season schedule with manager Gerry Francis, a thirty-five year old Alan Pardew was swiped from fourth-tier Barnet's pre-season training camp to make up numbers in the Intertoto games.

It was a similar though slightly less embarrassing story south of the river for Wimbledon. The Dons recorded defeats against Bursaspor of Turkey and Charleroi SC of Belgium, and salvaged draws with Beitar Jeruselem of Israel and FC Kosice of Poland. Only Sheffield Wednesday took the competition seriously, fielding first-team players such as Chris Waddle, Mark Bright, and Dan Petrescu, and narrowly missing out on topping their group. 

European bans imposed upon Tottenham and Wimbledon were reduced to fines upon appeal.

The instant success story of Bordeaux saw the Intertoto expanded for the 1996 edition, where three 'finals' would see three teams through to the UEFA Cup proper. English clubs, still somewhat confused about the Intertoto Cup, and discouraged by Tottenham and Wimbledon's exploits, didn't enter any teams for the next two years. In the meantime, Karlsruhe of Germany, Sikeborg of Norway, and Guingamp of France were 'winners' in 1996. A hat-trick of French teams claimed success in 1997; Auxerre, Bastia, and Lyon. In the preceding UEFA Cup campaigns, Auxerre reached a quarter-final, but all other Intertoto teams were dumped out at the first or second hurdle.

English representation returned for the Intertoto Cup of 1998, as did the trend of format change. This time the group stage getting the chop in favour of a good, old-fashioned, 'winner takes all' knock-out rounds from start to finish. Despite finishing nineteenth in the Premiership the previous season, Crystal Palace joined the fun in the third round, as they were the highest ranked English team to register any Intertoto interest. The South-Londoners were defeated 4-0 by Samsunspor. Bologna, Valencia CF, and Werder Bremen won the three 'finals'. Like Bordeaux three years previous, Bologna nearly went all the way, losing in the UEFA Cup Semi-Finals to Marseille. An eighty-fifth minute Laurent Blanc penalty made the second leg 1-1, and gave the French side an away goal to halt plans of an all-Italian final.

The 1999 edition saw better fortunes for sole English representation. West Ham United had quite an enviable team sheet in the late nineties, and the team who reached one of the three the Intertoto Cup finals consisted of the experience of Paolo Di Canio, Jon Moncur, Shaka Hislop, Paolo Wanchope, and the youthful exuberance of Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Trevor Sinclair, and Marc-Vivien Foe. In the final they defeated Metz 3-2 on aggregate, and qualified for the UEFA Cup along with Italian giants Juventus, and Montpellier of France. In doing so, also captured a little Intertoto imagination on home soil. Sadly, the Hammers petered out in the UEFA Cup, exiting at the hands of Steaua Bucharest in the second round. Juventus predictably went furthest, but were knocked out in the fourth round.
Di Canio leads celebrations at Metz. Image from here.

Spurred on by West Ham's success, Bradford and Aston Villa applied and qualified for some Intertoto fun in 2000. Both teams won a couple of knock-out games before exiting the Semi-Finals, Aston Villa lost out to Celta Vigo, while Bradford were defeated by Zenit Saint Petersburg. Celta Vigo had the most stamina for the UEFA Cup, losing out on away goals to compatriots Barcelona.

Villa must have really got the taste, as they were back for more Intertoto adventure in 2001. This time they went all the way to the final, where a beautifully greying David Ginola inspired them to a 5-2 aggregate win against FC Basel of Switzerland. Proving that English Intertoto interest started in London and slowly swept the country, Newcastle United also made it to the final in their debut season. They scraped past French club Troyes to claim their place in the UEFA Cup. Paris Saint-Germain joined them as winners of the third final.


David Ginola scores against FC Basel. Image from here.

Villa crashed out against Croatian side NK Varteks in the first round of the 2001/02 UEFA Cup. Troyes nearly caused an upset in the second round, but were eventually despatched 6-5 on aggregate by Leeds United. PSG went as far as the third round where they lost on penalties against Glasgow Rangers. An Argentine by the name of Mauricio Pochettino missing the crucial spot-kick.

Joined by Fulham in the 2002 Intertoto Cup, Aston Villa made it a hat-trick of consecutive appearances. They were knocked out by Lille at the Semi-Final stage, but Fulham stormed through to one of the three finals against Bologna. Inspired by long-term loanee, Junichiro Innamoto, the Cottagers won 5-3 over two legs, but were dumped out of the UEFA Cup by Hertha BSC in the third round.
European success at the Cottage in 2002. Image from here.

Perugia, Schalke 04, and Villarreal claimed the three 'winners' positions for the 2003 edition. The Spanish club, led by Pepe Reina in goal and Fabrizio Colloccini in defence, went all the way to the UEFA Cup Semi-Finals, where they lost 2-1 on aggregate to Valencia, who went on to claim a UEFA Cup and La Liga double.

2004 saw more change on the horizon. UEFA was in the midst of revamping it's European Competitions as the Champions League inadvertently became the be all and end all. Lille, Schalke 04, and Villarreal claimed the three winning Intertoto Cup places, and entered the first UEFA Cup with a group stage. All three progressed into the knock-out rounds where Villarreal were again the best performers, eventually going out in the Quarter-Finals.

Newcastle United were back in the Intertoto game in 2005, but were dumped out in the Semi-Finals by Deportivo La Corouna. Marseille, RC Lens, and Hamburg would claim their places in the 2005/06 UEFA Cup.

The tides of change were becoming too strong to resist, and in 2006 the days of the Intertoto Cup began to look numbered. In a stripped down version, the number of participating clubs was reduced, and contested five knock-out rounds instead of three. Furthermore, rather than three finals and three winners, 2006's Intertoto Cup would see all eleven third round winners progress to the UEFA Cup. The 'Cup of the Cup-less' was now without a final, too. Undeterred, Newcastle United were rewarded with byes in the first and second round, and beat Lillestrom SK in the third round to pave a route to the UEFA Cup. By means of reaching the third round of which, the farthest of the eleven Intertoto-qualified teams, Newcastle were declared 2006 Intertoto winners, and received a rather non-descript plaque for their troubles.
Scott Parker receives a career highlight. Image from here.

Hamburg claimed themselves an Intertoto plaque in 2007 by definition of their UEFA Cup third round exit. Coincidentally, Hamburg exited alongside Bolton Wanderers, who had defeated Atletico Madrid in the second round.

Also in 2007, as newly elected president Michel Platini swept into UEFA HQ, it was announced that the tournament would be discontinued in 2009. Platini was re-shaping and expanding European club football, and there was to be no room for the Intertoto Cup. The all-consuming Champions League would be bigger, brighter, and better, and the UEFA Cup was to be re-branded and expanded as the Europa League.

SC Braga, Portugal's first Intertoto 'winners', copied Newcastle's achievements in what was the last Intertoto Cup in 2008.... In the UEFA Cup, Braga lost out to Paris-Saint Germain in the second round.
Sternly satisfied: the last Intertoto glory boys from Braga in 2008. Image from here.

This meant that on 27th June 2008, the last ever official Intertoto Cup match was played. The second leg of the eleventh 'final' in the competitions third round, FK Riga of Latvia held Elfsborg of Sweden to a goalless draw. Thanks to their first leg victory, Elfsborg progressed to the 2008/09 UEFA Cup, where they crashed out at the second qualifying round to St Patricks Athletic. In 2009 the Intertoto Cup, and the UEFA Cup were no more, and the Europa League began it's own un-loved history.    

In summary, for the nerdiest of stats fans or insomniacs, Germany's Werder Bremen, and the Czech Republic's Slavia Prague can call themselves 'Kings of the Intertoto Cup', if they wish, having 'won' the competition three times each. However, if we're talking countries, France can lay claim to the most Intertoto titles, racking up twelve in total. A genuinely impressive feat as they all came after UEFA's official sanctioning of the tournament post 1995, and, incredibly with twelve different teams; Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Guingamp, Auxerre, Lyon, Bastia, Montpellier, Troyes, PSG, Lille, Marseille, RC Lens. German clubs account for ten Intertoto successes, closely followed by nine victors from the Czech Republic, six from Poland, five from Spain, and four apiece from Denmark, England, and Italy.


It may still surprise some footballing people to learn the competition was terminated in 2008. Like the quiet ushering away of a drug scandal-shamed children's TV presenter, the Intertoto Cup was abolished, and replaced by an extra qualifying round in the Europa League competition. There was no funeral, no minutes applause, and no celebratory BBC special feature documentary, just forty-seven years of slightly odd history consigned to the memories of few.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Brief History of Football Shirt Sponsorship

Upon reflection, there could be two schools of thought regarding the actions of Derek Dougan in January 1976. Firstly, he could be held solely responsible for dragging football out of the dark ages. One could argue he single handedly made it possible for clubs at all levels to make much needed extra money through marketing. Or, he could be referred to as some kind of unknowing satan's assistant. For it was he who started the process of soulless globalisation in football.  

Either way, Derek Dougan has a lot to answer for. 

Dougan was a gifted footballer who made his name with Wolverhampton Wonderers, and won over forty caps for Northern Ireland. He ended his playing days with non-league Kettering Town, and somehow balanced the roles of Player/Manager and Chief Executive for the 1975/76 season. Dougan was also Chairman of the PFA at the time, and as such, not afraid of a little bit of conflict with the Football Association.
Derek Doughan in sponsor-less action for Wolverhampton Wonderers, image from here.

Ever innovative, flamboyant, and not afraid of a risk, he once recorded his own EP which included a cover of Kaleidoscope's, 'A Dream for Julie', with the lyrics changed to tribute his teammates. He was also an open advocate of the UK's psychedelic music scene, and one of the first footballers to shave their heads. As a TV pundit in the early 70's, he also had regular verbal tussles with Brian Clough. 

Since taking over as Chief Executive at Kettering, Dougan had been making a deal with local company, Kettering Tyres Ltd, to have their name embroidered on the front of Kettering's shirts. Kettering Tyres Ltd would pay the club a four-figure sum for the privilege. The exact figure has never been revealed.

January 21st 1976, Kettering Town v Bath City in the Southern League. The match itself was a rather drab affair, played out by two mediocre mid-table sides. However, the words emblazoned on the home sides shirts caused quite the stir. The inevitable letter from the Football Association came just four days later, and it ordered the removal of the company name. 'The Doog', not wanting to accept defeat, simply had new shirts embroidered with 'Kettering T', and claimed the 't' stood for town, not tyres. The FA were unamused but scratched their heads on the matter for a few months. In April 1976, their response came with the threat of a £1000 fine if the text wasn't removed right away. Not wanting to pay a fine, Dougan and Kettering Town did as they were told. "I find it inconceivable that these petty minded bureaucrats have only this to worry about", Dougan is reported to have said.
Britain's first sponsored football shirts, Kettering Town, January 1976. Image from here.

However, fuelled by a sense of injustice and an impressive network of contacts, Dougan enlisted the support of bigger clubs, including Bolton Wanderers and top-flight Derby County, and continued to plead the case. Football shirt sponsorship was already happening on the continent, and could bring much needed extra funds to all levels of the game. It was hard to argue against. At the time, Derby County already had an agreement with Saab. Many Derby players were cruising around in sponsored Saab cars, but the wearing of the Saab printed shirts was strictly limited to pre-season friendlies. Eventually, the Football Association succumbed, and shirt sponsorship was cleared in time for the 1977/78 campaign.

Ironically, Kettering Town couldn't find a willing sponsor that season.

Quick on the uptake, Hibernian of Edinburgh became the first British top-flight team to wear sponsors on their shirts for the 1977/78 season. 'Bukta', the Greater Manchester-based sportswear company, produced, adorned, and supplied the green and white shirts, which incidentally were being worn by a certain George Best at the time.
George Best and Hibernian wear Bukta! Image from here.

South of the border, a dispute between the Football League and the television companies was halting progress. The TV companies, namely the BBC and ITV, were refusing to show highlights of any teams who wore shirt sponsors. In 1979 Liverpool cashed in on their appeal by signing a £100,000 two-year deal with Hitachi, the Japanese electrical company. Written into the contract were clauses that the shirts couldn't be worn in European competitions, or any live televised domestic games.
Uncomfortably cool. Liverpool wear Hitachi in 1979. Image from here.

Siding with the TV companies in opposing shirt sponsorship, many chairmen and football folk in varying positions of authority were concerned that extra logos and names on their clubs shirt would deter from the traditional commitment to club colours. Arsenals then chairman, Peter Hill-Wood stated, "‘I was against advertising and sponsorship more than anyone. I felt we would be losing a little bit of our identity but I have been persuaded the other way." A £500,000 deal with another Japanese electrical company, JVC, over three seasons went a long way to win over Hill-Wood.

Compared to teams on the continent though, Britain was already lagging behind.

In a global sense, Uruguayan club Penerol are widely considered to be the entrepreneurs in the field as far back as the fifties. Though details of exactly how they raised funds through shirt-based advertising are somewhat hazy. In Europe a decade later, Austria and Denmark were the first countries to make shirt sponsorship legal. By the time the seventies rolled around, a number of German clubs were bending the rules and regulations while experimenting with the idea of shirt sponsorship.

The first official shirt sponsorship across Europe's major leagues came in the German Bundesliga back in 1973.  Three years before Dougan and Kettering Town got scheming. Eintracht Braunschweig, like Derek Dougan, had their initial request to emblazon their shirts refused. Jaegermeister, the drink company, were the proposed sponsor, and Braunschweig got around the refusal by voting to oust their club crest in favour of the Jaegermeister logo. Around the same time, Bayern Munich wore what looked like red Adidas t-shirts. Having followed the example of Braunschweig, Bayern removed their own club crest, and had their kit supplier blown up on the front of their shirts. Shortly after, the German FA caved in to the swirling tide of opposition, and legalised shirt sponsorship.
Eintracht Braunschweiger and their Jaegermeister jerseys, 1973. Image from here.

In Italy is was Udinese who first rocked the sponsor-free status quo in 1978. Teofilio Sanson, owner of Udinese and a prosperous gelato business, had his name printed rather discreetly on the side of the team shorts. The Italian FA, more direct than their English counterparts, skipped the letter of warning, took exception, and had him fined. However, they evetually followed suit and made shirt sponsorship an option for clubs in 1979. As one might expect, due to the stronger attachment to tradition, and the love of organisational bureaucracy, Italy would remain a little further behind in terms of shirt sponsorship. It wasn't until mid-way through the 1990's till most Italian clubs had shirt sponsors. 

Sanson and his gelato shorts, Udinese 1978. Image from here.


Juventus, slightly ahead of the game, wore Italian domestic appliance manufacturer, Ariston, shirts in 1979. They were joined in gambling club tradition and honour in 1981 by AC Milan (Pooh Jeans), Roma (Barilla), Lazio (Tonini), Inter (Inno-Hit), and Palermo (Vini Corvo) in 1982.

A similar story in Spain, where most clubs went without shirt sponsorship till the late eighties or early nineties. Real Madrid were La Liga's first, wearing Zanussi in 1982. Celta Vigo deserve special mention due to having only one shirt sponsor in their entire history. Citroen have been proudly placed upon their sky blue shirts since 1986, and remain there to this day. Barcelona, famously, chose not to entertain the idea till 2006. Atletico Madrid have something of a unique and checkered history with shirt sponsorship. Like most La Liga clubs, they didn't have a shirt sponsor till the mid to late eighties. Japanese photocopier manufacturers, Mita Copiers, were in place for the 1989/90 season, but the following season they found themselves ditched for the Marbella Tourist Board. President at the time, the ever stirring Jesus Gil, also happened to be the Mayor of Marbella. Between 2003 and 2005, Atletico were sponsored by Colombia Pictures. Rather than having just one logo on their shirts, the Holywood giant used the shirts to promote several different movies including; Bewitched, Hellboy, Spanglish, S.W.A.T, Hitch, and Spiderman Two. Each film saw a re-designed shirt. More recently, the Madrid club were sponsored by another tourist board: 'Azerbaijan: Land of Fire' between 2012 and 2015. Letters from several Human Rights organisations put a stop to this deal, many calling Azerbaijan one of the most repressive countries in the world.

Coming soon to a stadium near you: Atletico Madrid in 2004. Image from here.


Across the footballing world, most clubs in most countries had a shirt sponsor in place by the mid-eighties, and there would be no turning back.

Naturally, bigger clubs have always been able to attract the interest of bigger companies, and earn larger amounts of money from longer term contracts. Smaller clubs would have to settle for what they could get. Usually this meant sponsorship contracts of a shorter duration, and with local companies and businesses. In some rare cases, staying local also meant big money, as in the examples of; Boca Juniors (Quilmes), Ajax (ABN-AMRO), Copenhagen (Carlsberg), Parma (Parmalat), PSV Eindhoven (Phillips), and Newcastle United (Newcastle Brown Ale).

Though the history of shirt sponsorship is a relatively recent one, patterns aren't difficult to pick out. The types of companies sponsoring football shirts in the dominant league generally reflect the global markets. Throughout the mid-eighties, big Japanese electrical companies had something of a monopoly across Europe's biggest clubs. Manchester United (Sharp), Arsenal (JVC), Liverpool and AC Milan (Hitachi), Everton (NEC), Manchester City (Brother Industries), Atletico Madrid and Aston Villa (Mita Copiers), Ajax (TDK), and Hamburg (Hitachi and Sharp). Once the Japanese financial bubble burst, those companies footballing presence began to be replaced by those from emerging markets such as South Korea, China, Malaysia, and Thailand. See shirts of; Everton (Chang beer, Thailand), Leicester City (King Power, Thailand), Chelsea (Samsung, South Korea), QPR (Air Asia, Malaysia), and even two betting agencies based in the Philippines sponsoring Aston Villa (Dafabet), and Hull City (12Bet). All those examples hail from the Premiership, but Europe's other big leagues followed similar patterns.

Furthermore, the products offered by those companies follow quite obvious patterns. In England especially, the eighties and nineties saw many alcohol companies represented. Holsten Pils (Tottenham), Carlsberg (Liverpool), Shipstones (Nottingham Forrest), McEwans (Blackburn Rovers), and Coors (Chelsea), all enjoyed long term contracts. However, as advertising and promotion of tobacco and alcohol slowly became taboo in the sporting world, these companies disappeared. Thankfully, our moral judgement appears to be on hold, as we now have a significant number of clubs sponsored by betting companies and money-lending banks!
Worth a gamble? 12Bet and Hull City. Image from here.


Currently, a number of clubs in Italy and Spain are playing without sponsors. This relates directly to the struggling economy of both countries. In Italy, the two Serie A clubs based in the capital; AS Roma and Lazio, are both without a sponsor. Lazio have been without for the best part of a decade, and their neighbours are entering their third season sponsor-less. In fact, almost a third of the top flight clubs are doing without. Why? Mostly because Italian companies just haven't got the spare cash to throw at 'luxury advertising'. Also, the appeal of Italian clubs to bigger, truly global companies simply isn't big enough. Only the clubs regularly qualifying for the Champions League come represent enough exposure. Fly Emirates currently adorn the shirts of AC Milan, and judging by Milan's recent form, one presumes they must be somewhat relieved they also sponsor; Arsenal, S.L Benfica, Hamburg, Paris St.Germain, Real Madrid, Olympiakos, and the FA Cup from 2016.

Fly Emirates and their deal with Arsenal equals £30million each year, inclusive of the next level of sponsorship - stadium naming rights. While that sum may seem impressive, it's dwarfed by Manchester United's deal with US-based motor company, Cheverolet. United will recoup £53million every year till 2021, and they get to keep their original stadium name. Chelsea's agreement with Japanese tyre manufacturers, Yokohama brings in £40million a year. 

£11million is the average for a Premiership club to earn from shirt sponsorship. That's £220million in total, which is £120million more than the Bundesliga's equivalent figure. La Liga brings in a combined £82million (club average of £4.1million), Ligue Un in france totals £70million (club average of £3.5million), and Serie A of Italy lags behind with £61million total (club average of £3million).

With such lofy figures banding around, it's worth noting that football shirt sponsorship hasn't always been about shameless promotion and money making. In 1985/86, West Bromwich Albion played with the national 'No Smoking' logos on their shirts. The West Midlands Health Organisation paid to have the logos there for two years.
Tight shorts and smoking: just say no! Image from here.

Of course, Barcelona's Unicef deals should also fall into the 'do good' category. The Catalan giants rebuking the concept of shirt sponsorship till 2006, when they reversed the deal. The humanitarian organisation, UNICEF, had their logo across the Barcelona shirts, and received an annual $1.2million donation from the football club. However, it should also be mentioned that in 2014, Barcelona signed a deal to have the Qatar Foundation on the front of it's shirt. UNICEF was moved to the back of the shirt, and the club will receive $200million from the non-profit organisation over the next five years.

Other noteworthy sponsorship deals and tales, with varying definitions of 'noteworthy', include but are certainly not limited to; Scottish pop group Wet Wet Wet and Clydebank FC the Scottish pop boys humbly wanting to share their fame and wealth with their hometown club. Intelligent Finance and Livingston FC, inevitably, Intelligent Finance were declared bankrupt before the season's end. Arsenal getting lost in translation. Before a 1995 Champions League match at Fiorentina, the North London club were politely asked to remove the sponsor because sega is an Italian slang term meaning, 'to masturbate'.

Finally, as fans of lower league European, and/or Central American, South American or Asian football can vouch for, the demand for more money has seen the humble football shirt become a mobile billboard. Some shirts have been known to carry more than ten different company logos. Mexican club, Puebla FC, provide a nice visual example of shirts gone mad. Also, Swedish club Mjallby AIF, illustrated below, display thirteen logos on their home shirt in 2014.

Derek Dougan might be turning in his grave. Mjallby AIF raking it in, hopefully. Image from here.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Cobblers in Happier Times: Class of '66

A perennial nearly club, in a perennial nearly town. Northampton Town FC. Geographically one could argue the town is on the edge of the Midlands, or the periphery of East Anglia. Nearly north and nearly south. Nestled alongside the M1 between the bright lights of Birmingham and London. Nearly everywhere, yet nowhere at the same time.

The same could be said of the football team, with the exception being 50 years ago.

Last Saturday, October 17th 2015, amidst takeover too-ing and fro-ing, and a winding up order issued by HMRC, they were defeated 2-1 at newly promoted Cambridge United. Thus cementing the Cobblers' place of mid-table obscurity in League Two. 


Cambridge United 2-1 Northampton Town, 17th October 2015. Picture from here.

Nearly pushing for the play-offs, yet just as close to edging into a relegation dog fight. 

Off the field they're nearly facing meltdown, or they're close to a takeover and a fresh start, depending upon whose media quips you believe. The plight of their ground redevelopment is the cause of this potential meltdown. The development and it's somewhat shady planning and financing, is nicely summarised here and here.

Regrettably, the Claret Army are used to both the underwhelming on-field continuity, and the off-field implosions. In Northampton Town's somewhat uninspiring one hundred and seventeen year history, the club have spent just four seasons outside the bottom two divisions. Those four seasons all came in the magical mid-sixties. Starting with promotion from Division Four in 1961, the Cobblers had climbed all the way to the top flight by 1965, and somewhat inevitably all the way back down again by 1969.

Naturally, for a club flirting so closely with the professional football abyss, their have been close shaves with relegation from the football league. The Cobblers have finished bottom of the football league on two occasions, but didn't suffer relegation. In 1994, the Aggborough ground of Kidderminster Harriers didn't meet football league requirements, thus saving the Cobblers. A decade earlier, that same fate was endured by the top three teams up for promotion, and Northampton lived to play another season on the bottom rung. As recently as 2014, a victory over Oxford United on the last day was needed to preserve football league status.

Other than that, it's been lower league continuity. 

However, between 1960 and 1965, Northampton Town threw caution to the wind, and went gung-ho towards the top flight of English football. An unprecedented rise from the old fourth division, all the way to the first. They claimed league titles, promotions, smashed over one hundred league goals in a single season, reached the League Cup quarter-finals twice... and then plummeted straight back to Division Four in time for the 1969/70 campaign.

The greatest rise and fall English football has ever seen, an 'achievement' most likely to never be repeated, and all completed in under a single decade.


Dave Bowen is seen by many as the catalyst for change. Having played for the club in the late 1940's, Bowen returned as player/manager in 1959. In the nine years he'd been away from the County Ground, Bowen had established himself as a Welsh international, captaining his country in the 1958 World Cup, and in the process, marked a 17-year-old Pele against Brazil in the group stages. He'd captained Arsenal for two seasons, and though he didn't win any major honours, he was selected for a London XI who lost out to Barcelona in the final of the Inter-City Fairs Cup (which preceded the UEFA Cup) in 1956.

As player/manager, Bowen's first full season in charge was the 1959/60 campaign. Division Four was in it's second year of existence following a Football League re-structure, and Northampton Town were starting their fiftieth season without a trophy. The clubs only league title coming in the form of a Southern League Championship in 1909. However, Bowen's debut season as a manager bought promise, and an improvement on last season to finish in a creditable sixth position. 

Pre-money spinning play-offs, this ultimately meant consolidation, naturally.

The 1960/61 season saw Northampton surprise many, and clinch promotion from Division Four. The leagues top four earning the right to a place in Division Three, again, without the need for play-offs. Joining the Cobblers on the way up were Peterborough United, promoted as champions in their Football League debut season. Crystal Palace and Bradford Park Avenue made up the four.

Northampton Town FC, Division Three, 1961. Picture from here.

The Cobblers' first campaign in Division Three, 1961/62, consisted of more respectable consolidation, with the team finishing up in eighth position. Incidentally, it was the same season Liverpool secured the Division Two championship and their return to the top flight. At the County Ground, Bowen was beginning to earn a reputation of being able to piece together a gritty team on a shoestring budget.

Following on from a satisfactory eighth place finish, season 1962/63 was glorious for the Claret Army. The winter of 1963 and it's imaginatively named big freeze may have interrupted the fixture list, but the Cobblers were rampant and recorded their first professional league title. Over 100 goals in the league, and many of them courtesy of Alec Ashworth and Frank Large. The championship was, rather sweetly, clinched with a 4-0 win on the home soil of rivals Peterborough United. 

Northampton Town were to be joined in Division Two by Swindon Town, themselves somewhat masters of un-remarkable consistency. They had been stuck in Division Three for the previous forty-three seasons.

Both Swindon and Northampton made sure they avoided an immediate return with admirable mid-table finishes in 1963/64's Division Two. The Cobblers started the season well, even without the inspirational Dave Bowen at the helm. Amidst reports he'd resigned, Bowen stated he needed a break from the game. Something he also did in the September of 1962. With Trainer Jack Jennings in temporary charge, the managers job was advertised. Bowen only made his u-turn after popular ex-manager Bob Dennison put forward an application.

Leeds United stormed to the 1964 Division Two title under the stewardship of Don Revie, and playing the style of football which inspired the 'Dirty Leeds' tag. Sunderland were runners-up, despite their 5-1 reverse at the hands of the Cobblers.

Remarkably Leeds United's return to the top flight, after seven years absence, saw them narrowly miss out on the Division One championship. They lost out to Manchester United on goal difference. 


The Cobblers flew to their first match in 1965, an away day at Plymouth. Picture from here.

Meanwhile in Division Two, 1964/65 the gravitational pull was too much for Swindon Town. Despite capturing Northampton's goalscorer supreme, Frank Large, they were relegated. The Cobblers were slow to start, but a 1-0 win at home to Newcastle United propelled a seventeen match un-beaten run. Curiously, that run also ended against the Magpies, in the shape of a 5-0 defeat. Despite that significant result, the Cobblers would fight with Newcastle hammer and tong for the championship. Eventually, Newcastle came out on top by two points, and the Cobblers claimed runners-up, and promotion, with a 4-1 win away at Bury.

Division One. The top flight. Liverpool. Manchester United. Everton. Arsenal. Illustrious company indeed. Northampton Town were sailing in un-charted waters, and were given an opening day baptism of fire at Goodison Park. Everton won 5-2 with eight internationals in their team. There was hope for the Cobblers, though. Four of those goals came in the last twenty minutes, and they'd held their own till then. Despite picking up points at home to Arsenal, and away at Manchester United, both 1-1 draws, the Cobblers were forced to wait till October 23rd for their first league win. It came in the form of a 2-1 victory at home to West Ham United. Before the turn of the year, further wins were recorded; 2-1 against Aston Villa, 4-1 against nemesis in the making Fulham, and 2-1 against Blackpool, all at the County Ground.


Kicking off in the big league at Goodison Park, Everton. Picture from here.


While the Cobblers managed to pick up points, their form was inconsistent, and the numbers in the 'goals conceded' column gave serious cause for concern. By the season's end, ninety-two had been conceded, and seven different players scored hat-tricks against the Cobblers. Heavy defeats came at the hands of Everton, Leeds United, Blackburn Rovers, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Stoke City.

The ups and downs, of course, were expected from a team who started the decade in Division Four. What wasn't expected, was the Cobblers going into the last two weeks of the season with their fate in their own hands. Blackburn Rovers had confirmed one of the two relegation places in early April, and left Sunderland, Fulham, Sheffield Wednesday, and Aston Villa to tussle it out for the second. As bigger clubs,Villa and Wednesday never seemed to be in any real danger due to their games in hand, which made Fulham the Cobblers' nemesis. 

April 23rd 1966, County Ground, Northampton. Perhaps a little too soon to be called a relegation decider, but in many ways it was. Northampton had put together a good run of form, losing only twice since February 2nd. Disappointingly, Fulham were enjoying a late surge of even better form. The Cobblers took the lead in front of a record attendance of 24,523. Fulham equalised five minutes later, but the Cobblers went in 2-1 at half-time thanks to Joe Kiernan. The pivotal moment came mid-way through the second half. Another strike from Kiernan crashed off the crossbar, and bounced somewhere close to the line. Unable to call for an instant replay, and having not seen it, the referee glanced over to his linesman, who hadn't seen it either, having slipped and fallen over. Steve Earle then scored a Fulham equaliser, and two further goals in the 87th and 90th minute to seal a 4-2 win.

Going into the penultimate match of 1965/66, Sunderland came to the County Ground and needed only a point to salvage their own top flight status. They found scarred but less than charitable hosts, as the Cobblers won 2-1. Despite this victory, Sunderland finished above the drop zone, and thanks to the continued good form of Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham, the Cobblers still needed favours from other results to secure their safety. Before the final match of the season, away at Blackpool, Dave Bowen had the team watch 'Sound of Music' in a local cinema. However, unlike the Von Trappe family, the Cobblers escape had been blocked up. Lady Luck wasn't wearing claret, the other results didn't go as favourably as they might have, and Northampton succumbed to a 3-0 defeat away at Blackpool on the last day of the season.

Ending the season in the mid-May sunshine, and on the coast at Blackpool at least lent some picturesque retrospect for the Claret Army. Blackpool wasn't the low budget stag/hen party venue it is now, and must have provided an almost fairytale like setting for what was most definitely a fairytale-like journey.

The 1965/66 season ended with a tour of East Germany, where matches against Hannover, Russelsheim, and FSV Frankfurt played second fiddle to some well-earned down time, did much to lighten the mood and provide some perspective. The experience would surely stand the club and team in good stead, and a successful season for the reserve team suggested a certain depth of quality in the squad. All in all, surely the relegation from Division One could be classed as an heroic failure, and gallant effort. 

However, and perhaps inevitably, the Cobblers pressed the self-destruct button back in Division Two, and were relegated to Division Three in time for the 1967/68 season. The Cobblers finished eighteenth that year, but were relegated again, back to Division Four in 1968/69. The cycle was complete. Back to where they started. A cosmic rise through the leagues via three promotions in five years, and then dropping like a lead balloon. Three relegations in four years.

But what a rise, and what a journey.


George Best on target in an 8-2 FA Cup win, Cobblers v Man Utd, February 1970. Picture from here.


In English football, only Swansea City come close to matching this 'achievement'. The Swans' rise and fall was encompassed neatly within sixteen years between 1970 and 1986. Carlisle United did it in twenty-two years between 1964 and 1987. Stretching further, Notts County completed the cycle in twenty-seven years, and Oxford United did it in thirty-six years. Wimbledon could have come close, having achieved league status in 1977. They spent 1987-2000 in the First Division (or Premiership), but the change to MK Dons somewhat broke the chain of history.

Northampton Town used 25 players during their top flight campaign. The vast majority of whom stayed in Northamptonshire, and even retired in the area. Many played for Kettering Town and other local non-league teams, and retired in the local area. 

Manager Dave Bowen: (Died in 1995, aged 67) The man who captained Wales at (to date) their only World Cup was also manager of the Welsh national team from 1964 till 1974. Bowen also remained close to both the town and club. He had a second stint in charge of the Cobblers from 1969 to 1972, and later served as general manager, secretary, and scout before being made Club President. Sixfields, current home of the Cobblers, has a stand named after him.
Dave Bowen during his Arsenal playing days. Picture from here.


Mike Everitt: Named in the Northampton Town 'team of the century', another ex-Arsenal player, Everitt left the Cobblers and enjoyed playing spells with; Plymouth Argyle, Brighton & Hove Albion, and Wimbledon. Everitt also had spells coaching Brentford and Wimbledon in the early 1970's.
Everitt made just 9 appearances for Arsenal before joining the Cobblers. Picture from here.

Derek Leck: (Died in 2011, aged 74) Affectionately known as 'Daisy', Leck is one of a select few who represented the Cobblers in all four divisions. he was ever-present in the 1916/65 campaign. Leck joined Brighton & Hove Albion in 1966, where injury forced early retirement from the game. Leck later became a well-known Baker on the south coast.

Bryan Harvey: (Died in 2006, aged 68) The ex-Newcastle Utd goalkeeper who made penalty saves his speciality was released by the Cobblers in 1968. Harvey played on for a few more seasons with Kettering Town, but retired to manage a chemical company in Northampton.
Harvey in his Newcastle Utd days. Picture from here.


Terry Branston: (Died in 2010, aged 72) Joined Lincoln City in 1972, and wound down his playing days with his hometown club; V.S. Rugby. Having managed V.S. Rugby, and taken up refereeing local football, Branston retired from the game to return to his Driving School business. Having established the school during his playing days, Branston taught many of his team-mates to drive. In his later years, Branston was also a paying season ticket holder at the Cobblers.

Joe Kiernan: (Died in 2006, aged 66) Ever-present in the Division One campaign, Kiernan was released by the Cobblers in 1972, and joined Ron Atkinson's Kettering Town. Joe returned to the Cobblers to manage the youth teams in 1986, before being made assistant manager of the first team in 1990. Two years later, Joe returned to his profession as a painter/decorator, as Northampton entered administration.
Joe Kiernan in 1964. Picture from here.


Charlie Livesey: (Died in 2005, aged 67) Livesey flittered around the edges of the starting eleven most weeks, and was another Cobbler who made his way to Brighton & Hove Albion. He played there for four years, before moving to non-league Crawley Town where he saw out his playing days. Upon retirement, Livesey was a painter and decorator in central London.
Livesey in claret colours. Picture from here.


Harry Walden: Played 76 games in three seasons with the Cobblers, and made many appearances for Team GB. Walden returned to his only other club, Kettering Town, in 1967.

Bobby Hunt: The forward signed from Colchester United spent just two seasons with the Cobblers. He left Northampton to join Millwall in 1966, and went on to play for Ipswich Town, Reading, Charlton Athletic, and Maidstone. As recently as 2012, Hunt stood as an independent candidate for election on to Colchester Council.
Hunt in Ipswich colours. Picture from here.


Theo Foley: A Republic of Ireland international, Foley built a solid reputation playing for the Cobblers, and later for Charlton Athletic. Foley started coaching and managing with non-league teams before taking over at Queens Park Rangers. He was also assistant to George Graham's Millwall, and Arsenal teams, winning the 1987 League Cup, and the 1989 Championship with the Gunners. Foley left Arsenal in 1990 to take the managers position at Northampton, but left in 1992 as the club entered administration. Foley remains a match-day host at Charlton Athletic.
Cobblers manager in 1991, Theo Foley. Picture from here


Brian Etheridge: (Died in 2011, aged 67) Etheridge made only a handful of appearances in Division One, and left in 1966 to join Brentford. The following season he departed for Belgium and enjoyed stints at Daring Club de Bruxelles, and Cercle Brugge. Etheridge returned to Northamptonshire to play and manage at Corby Town, Rushden Town, and Wellingborough Town. Tragically, Etheridge suffered from depression, and took his own life in 2011.
Etheridge in Brentford colours. Picture from here.


Tommy Robson: Played fifteen times in the First Division, scoring three goals. Mid-way through the season Robson departed for Chelsea, and switched to Newcastle United shortly after. He later clocked up a club record five hundred and fifty nine appearances for Peterborough United. He is now a car delivery driver.
Robson pictured in 1999. Picture from here.


Bobby Brown: Top scorer in 1965/66 with ten goals, Brown moved on to Cardiff City in 1967, but was forced into retirement soon after. Brown held coaching positions at the Welsh FA, and an assistant managers role at Hull City. After retiring from football, Brown worked for a shipping company, and owned a pub in Pembrokeshire.
Brown in 1959 playing for Barnet. Picture from here.


Barry Lines: Became the first Cobblers player to play and score in all four divisions, and stayed with the club till 1969. He later became a sports equipment salesman.
Barry Lines in 1963. Picture from here.


Graham Carr: Carr, the current Head Scout at Newcastle United, had only just broken into the Cobblers side in 1965. He joined York City, and later Bradford Park Avenue. Carr saw out his playing days with Poole and Dartford on the south coast. After managerial stints at Weymouth, Dartford, and Nuneaton Borough, Carr was appointed as Northampton boss in 1985. He managed the 'Champagne Cobblers' to their 1987 fourth division title, but was sacked following relegation back to Division Three. He then managed Blackpool, Maidstone United, Kettering Town, and Dagenham & Redbridge, before finding success in various scouting roles with Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, and currently, Newcastle United.


Graham Carr, pictured with his wife and children, the eldest of which is TV's Alan Carr. Picture from here.