"Official suppliers" of ice-cream? How football advertising got out of hand

Man United, Man City, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal – they all proudly proclaim the names of their official suppliers of beer, betting, doughnuts, coffee, underpants, toilet paper, cars, call girls, condoms.

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Just got back from the West Indies and can’t see. The English sky is so dull at this time of the year. And I can’t breathe, ’cos of the London smog. And bloody hell, never been so cold in my life.

Moan moan moan, my wife used to say, always the same when you come back. You’re OK when you’re out there, oh yes, full of beans, rushing around, charming for England, then all you do is moan when you get back, so just stop it.

So I wrapped up well and sat down to watch my first live footer in two weeks, Liverpool-Southampton in the League Cup semi. They all looked perishing as well. Klopp had his scarf right up over his face, to keep from freezing, and was fuming at his useless team. Players wore gloves; poshos in the directors’ box had thick red rugs over their knees.

Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed a message on that annoying perimeter board that flashes ads all the time. OFFICIAL SUPPLIER OF ICE CREAM TO LIVERPOOL FC. I didn’t catch the brand and wouldn’t repeat it anyway, unless paid, but I scoffed aloud. Who is eating ice cream, official or otherwise, at a match when it’s beyond freezing?

The use of the words “official supplier” is now everywhere in football, making a nonsense of the English language. Man United, Man City, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal – they all proudly proclaim the names of their official suppliers of beer, betting, doughnuts, coffee, underpants, toilet paper, cars, call girls, condoms. I might have made some of these up, but the point is that if you give enough money to a famous club, you can use its name in advertising your products and services. All “supplier” means is that you gave the club money.

I bet that few of the players actually drink the official beer, which they shouldn’t anyway, or use that particular kind of condom, which of course they should, even when having sex at half-time or taking a corner. Frightfully dangerous.

All this advertising in football is relatively recent. In the early 1970s neither Spurs nor Arsenal would accept a penny from any commercial organisation. There were no shirt sponsors, no names on the shorts, no advertisements in the ground and no adverts in the programmes. Gawd, the money they must have been turning away every week.

I took this up with some of the Spurs directors when I was doing a book about the club in 1972 and they recoiled in shock horror. The very idea. How vulgar. Nor did they take salaries or fees. The good, unsullied name of the club was what mattered. They did not want to associate their famous club with any other brand or commercial business.

How times change. The whole point now is to extract as much money as possible, from advertisers, sponsors, hangers-on, naming rights, hospitality suites, executive lounges, and daft fans willing to pay £18,000 for a season ticket, including a chance to see a naked bum emerging from the dressing room. I’ve not quite made up that last bit. Pay enough and you can press your snotty nose up against the players’ tunnel at Spurs’ new super-stadium.

Who is to blame for all this money swishing around in football? Avaricious clubs, greedy players, dodgy agents? Look, I’m very tired and cold, and just got back from the sun. Not starting that discussion again, which bores me anyway.

But I’ve decided to cash in. So, let’s hear it for “Lidl: Official Supplier of Sweet Red Peppers to The Fan”. I always buy them, on my way home from swimming. I don’t like Lidl generally but its peppers are a bargain.

“Iceland: Official Supplier of Mature Cheddar to The Fan”. That’s another stop I make every week. Trouble is, I get tempted by the largest packet, £4 for a whopping block, then I’m too tired to carry it home.

“Morrisons: Official Supplier of Beaujolais to The Fan”. I might be dropping this sponsor. Recently, even when I ring up in advance and order 48 bottles, reckoning that should do me for a month, the shop has none at all when I arrive. Bastards. In fact, I’ll drop them all, unless they pay up by next week. The Fan intends not to sell himself cheaply . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 02 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, American carnage