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 singlehandedly 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 Wanderers, 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 Dougan in sponsor-less action for Wolverhampton Wanderers, 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 amount 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. Arsenal’s 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 Penarol 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 Braunschweig and their Jaegermeister jerseys, 1973. Image from here.


In Italy it 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 eventually 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 chequered 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 Hollywood giants 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 can 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, Chevrolet. 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 lofty figures bandied 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, displayed 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.