In 1979 Liverpool FC became the first professional football club to have its shirts commercially sponsored, that was by Hitachi (1979-1982) and their company logo was emblazoned across the players’ chests, joining the Liver Bird top right and kit manufacturer Umbro top left as modelled by a youthful Kenny Dalglish above
Since then, the shirt has been sponsored by Crown Paints (1982-1988); Candy (1988-1992); Carlsberg (1992-2010); and Standard Chartered (2010-present day). Companies pay enormous sums of money for the privilege. In their final season (2009/10), for example, Carlsberg, paid £7.45 million for those money-shot TV close-ups of Torres and Gerrard scoring. When Carlsberg took over the following season, they had to fork out £20 million, and for the last two seasons that has doubled to £40 million. Doubtless, they do it not just for the cachet but also the cash it brings them in return for the £260 million it has cost them so far. Football is a business after all.
While the money may be serious, the fans don’t have to be. Sponsors’ logos have always provided a rich seam for them to display their creativity along with their colours. Take this one from the 2007 Champion’s League final against Milan :
The game was played in Athens and so, as usual, the fans support base camp and put out the flags. These are often made specific to the location of the away game and this one is no exception. AIG (American International Group), at the time, were actually the sponsors of Man Utd. though there had been some speculation Liverpool might succumb to their charms when that deal ended (in 2010). (Possibly the fact that AIG were by then somewhat disgraced by having to receive a $170 billion bail-out by the US government was a disincentive… so much for the free market…). In any event, changing the acronym from ‘American International Group’ to ‘Almost in Greece’ was presumably designed as a bit of a snarky comment to the Man Utd. fans who had been denied a place in the final and a trip to Greece, by Milan, although LFC themselves losing to Milan in the final, the banner proved to be sadly prophetic (😢 ).
Carlsberg provided one of my all-time favourite banners:
It’s not just the perfect copy of the Carlsberg font and adaptation of the slogan from ‘Probably the best lager in the world’ to ‘best scouser’, but the delight in subversive semiosis – playing with the sign to change its original function as a piece of corporate marketing to make it an affirmation of Scouse identity and delight when one of our own makes it to the first team. It’s an assertion of ownership of the clubs true values as opposed to its marketing value. The Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin called this appropriation of someone else’s words and recycling for your own purposes ‘double-voicing‘. We’ve seen it on banners quite a lot, the wonderful ‘Welcome to Hell my arse’, for example, or another of my favourites, ‘Back on our f*****g perch’ (which I’ve written about in a previous post and now also available as a T-Shirt from Kopite Klobber at a very reasonable price!
Fans have also used corporate logos in overtly political ways. As in the case of Thomas Cook, the travel company that made a visit to Anfield a tourist experience for an exorbitant fee. Here’s what an ‘enterprising’ fan made of that:
I don’t know if Spion Kop 1906 were responsible for this banner themselves (if so, good one!) but as you can see from its co-text, this appeared during the successful campaign against increased ticket prices in 2016. What’s interesting about this is it takes the Thomas Cook logo and then presents this ‘official’ partner of the club as an illegal tout, challenging the commercial ethos and placing their rip-off prices alongside the planned hike in prices by the owners, FSG (Fenway Sports Group). An interesting reversal of the capitalist and legal order. (If you want a reminder of that episode, check out this report from The Anfield Wrap (TAW) and I’ve also written a chapter about this from an applied linguistics perspective in a book that came out last year, Reterritorializing Linguistic Landscapes edited by David Malinowski and Stefania Tufi – this being an academic book it’s a ridiculous/rip-off price, but if you’re interested I can let you have a pre-publication draft!).
Keeping to politics, for the moment, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass to post this image, which has nothing to do with sponsors, but is just another excellent example of fans’ creativity in adopting a logo:
Solidarność (Solidarity) is probably unknown to many people these days. It was the non-governmental Trade Union that began in the shipyards of Gdansk in 1980 and became an anti-communist social movement and then a political party. Its founding leader, Lech Wałęsa, ultimately became the first elected President of Poland. Margaret Thatcher was very fond of him and he more recently he has been criticised for supporting Republican candidate Mitt Romney over Barack Obama and being critical of European support for migrants who he thought looked much better dressed and fed than many in his own country. When heroes live too long…
Which brings me to my final example, which popped up in my Twitter feed today so thanks Big Uncle Knobhead for sharing it. This returns us almost to the beginning with Crown Paints and needs no explanation.
Here’s to painting the town red again.