We are now firmly in the betting sponsor era of football shirts.
Like it or loathe it, the vast majority of shirts in England’s top divisions are sponsored by names such as bet365, Dafabet and LeoVegas.
You can’t say they didn’t warn us (Ray Winstone certainly did his best), but it’s still a little sad to see nine out of 20 teams in the Premier League sponsored by companies from the same stable. It’s even worse in the Championship, with an eye-watering 17 clubs out of 24 suffering the same fate.
There are no signs of this trend letting up, at least any time soon. Thankfully we don’t have to look too far back to appreciate a time when the shirt betting sponsor was something of a novelty.
Bat out of hell
In the weird and wonderful world of shirt sponsors, some stand out more than others. Occasionally brands are so popular that whatever shirt they decorate is immediately enhanced by their presence.
Then you have examples like Fulham in the late 90s, and their infamous “Demon Internet” shirts.
I don’t know the origins of Demon Internet as a company, but something about the name makes me smile every time I see it. Perhaps it’s the fact the logo looks hilariously reserved considering the name.
And it makes for a memorable sponsor.
Fulham was first sponsored by Demon Internet in the 1998-99 season, and their home shirt that year featured a thick black band covering the shirt, with thin white stripes running either side. “Demon Internet” stands out right in the middle, cut out with not a hint of nuance.
In the second year of Fulham x Demon Internet, adidas changed things up stripping out the black band and instead bordering the sponsor with triplets of lines.
Both these shirts gained something of a cult status, and it was no surprise to see adidas call back to this era with their new home shirt for The Cottagers this season.
So how would Fulham follow up their Demon Internet days? With one of the biggest names in the food industry.
Gather ’round the good stuff
I love food and drinks sponsors.
Some of the best logos and names can be found in the industry, and Fulham stole one of the big boys partnering with Pizza Hut in 2001.
At the same time as the sponsorship shift, the club also re-branded with a new crest.
This fresh design was a huge departure from the previous edition, moving from a coat of arms to a streamlined shield. It all made complete sense in tandem with the Pizza Hut logo.
The away shirt from that same season featured the traditional colourway of red and black, with bold stripes and tasteful white detailing on the collar. And there it was again, the Pizza Hut logo in all its glory.
Like the home shirt, it’s made memorable purely for the sponsor alone. Stick 32Red on it instead and you realise how forgettable a design can be.
As if they knew we would be discussing this subject, Fulham pretty much did that when they became the first club to feature a betting sponsor in the Premier League. Using the exact same shirt design as the 01/02 season, we saw the introduction of betfair.com instead of Pizza Hut.
When you compare the 01/02 and 02/03 shirts, there’s only one winner. The only difference is the sponsor, but that difference is enough to bring a relatively vanilla design up a few notches.
Best of the rest
Another personal favourite sponsor of mine was found up at Wolves.
After a long-term deal with Goodyear which spanned the entirety of the 1990s, Wolves made a big change in 2002. Into the mix came everyone’s favourite tortilla snack, Doritos. Much like Fulham and Pizza Hut, the marriage was a happy one with Wolves’ iconic crest a perfect compliment to the Doritos logo.
The colours worked superbly well too, with the red, yellow and white appearing almost flame-like against the amber body of the shirt. It was notable that Admiral produced the shirt, with the brand now almost non-existent in the game. But their efforts for Wolves 16 years ago hit all the right notes.
An honourable mention to Arsenal as well.
The Gunners were no strangers to great shirts, but like Wolves, they upped their game after a long-standing sponsor partnership to great effect. In 1999, JVC went out the door only to be replaced by video games giant SEGA.
Like food brands, video game brands completely transform a football shirt when appearing as a sponsor. The Arsenal x SEGA combination was a great match, and interestingly we saw “Dreamcast” across the home shirt and “SEGA” across the away.
This multi-pronged attack from a brand is rarely seen today, but it worked well in North London. My personal favourite during this time is the 2001/02 away shirt, with the combination of a pale gold shade and the wonderful SEGA logo across the front. Red trim and navy blue detailing for the swoosh, cuffs and collar all combine for a refined look.
The home shirt from the same year was just as classy, with the Dreamcast logo in white complimenting the white sleeves. Despite all these features, you have to ask yourself: would this shirt be as memorable with Fun88 as a sponsor?
With the right sponsor, a good shirt can be made great, and average shirts retain a sense of dignity. Fulham, Wolves and Arsenal are all testament to this and a reminder that there is so much more to the shirt sponsorship world than Unibet and SportPesa.
Read the previous chapter, here.
Shirt Tales will return soon with Chapter 6…