In mid-2018 prior to opening their campaign in the English Premier League, Wolverhampton Wanderers took to the field in their pre-season games in the Uhren Cup in Switzerland in football shirts that were clean and unadulterated except for the manufacturers logo. Surely football shirts the world over should look like this? How about removing makers marks as well? Unfortunately, when the season proper got up and running, Wolves were advertising a gambling company and a crypto-currency dealer on these stylish shirts. Given the fact that Wolves have got rid of The (much despised) Money Shop as shirt sponsors, it came as an eye-opener back in the summer to discover that the club had chosen a betting company and a fledgling crypto-currency firm (established in March 2018) to replace the loan shark as shirt sponsors. While gaming companies prey on the poor and the weak-minded, crypto-currencies are traded by extreme libertarians (among others) who built blockchain to decentralise government power and to undermine the established banking system. CoinDeal were described by Wolves Managing Director Laurie Dalrymple as a ‘bold and progressive’ company! Progressive, surely, is not the word. The typical characteristics of the kind of libertarianism behind crypto-currency exchange platforms are associated with anarcho-capitalism, libertarian anarchy and market anarchy. However according to one line of thought, if crypto-currencies realize their full-potential, the end result could be the polar opposite of what the crypto wide boys envision: authoritarianism. Ian Bogost outlined this in The Atlantic last year. Progressive indeed! It’s temping to suggest that Mr Dalrymple hasn’t done his homework on crypto-currency exchange platforms, or is just hoping that the average Wolves fan won’t know much about them and so won’t care that the club is accepting money from a company that won’t do anything positive for society.
The irony of all this, of course, is that it was Wolves legend Derek Dougan who brokered England’s first football shirt sponsorship on behalf of Kettering Town back in 1976. It was an early indicator of the type of future wrangle Dougan would get into as a businessman, as the FA put the kibosh on the Kettering Tyres ‘four figure deal’ (lest Wolves Fans forget the Bhatti brothers). However, not long after the Kettering affair Liverpool would have shirt sponsorship sanctioned by the FA big-wigs in 1979 and there has been no looking back since. So, here we are in 2018 and shirt sponsorship is part and parcel of football finance. Fans may even refer to past shirts by the name of the sponsor that was sprawled across it rather than the year or season that something remarkable happened on the field of play (for example, I have always like the STAW shirt from 1986-1988).
As all this and more has come to pass it is no good trying to turn the clock back. It would be nice though, if clubs actually took a progressive stance, rather than recycling advertising and PR Clichés to often comic effect and without much thought (I actually laughed out loud when I saw CoinDeal described as progressive). With all the money in the game, what about clubs emblazoning the names of good causes on the chests of their players and donating half of sponsorship revenue to social programmes? Leukemia UK or Cancer Research, anyone? ‘But it can’t be done’ I anticipate you saying to yourself as you read this! Well, It could be done but a radical shake up of more than the football world would be needed and it would require a fan’s movement to move into the territory of regulating the business side of the game: ticket prices, transfer caps, wage caps and mandatory community ownership share quotas. I could even use a cliché and say ‘look at how the Bundesliga is run and compare it to the Premier League.’ But then, this blog post would turn into an academic thesis or People’s Football Manifesto and invite interminable critique. For now, it’s better to just register my aversion to gaming companies and financial speculators. The clean and crisp new 2018-2019 Wolves shirt would have been just fine without the corporate sponsor slapping me in the face. It would be great to see any club revert to their colours, plain and simple. Unfortunately, once more, there won’t be any matchday shirts in the mail to this part of Japan.