Does the sponsorship of a club really mean that fans can’t criticise the sponsor?

By Tony Attwood

I must say I was singularly surprised by the large number of comments Untold received from Manchester City supporters after I commented negatively on the ownership of that club.

Most of these comments were to my mind of very little merit being simplistic and/or crude, and so did not get published, and indeed a quick look at our automatic systems showed a fair number of other such comments that I had not originally seen which were deleted by the software, saving me a lot of time.

But it really made me wonder – do people really go out and buy products and services created by the sponsor of the club they support, irrespective of any moral or political point of view?  Do people change their views in order to find the behaviour of their sponsor acceptable?

Let me try and put it another way.  If the Conservative and Unionist Party of the UK (that’s the party of government in my country) were for some bizarre reason to sponsor Arsenal, would it mean that I would change the habit of a lifetime and vote Conservative?  Absolutely not.  Would it stop me supporting Arsenal? Absolutely not.  Would it stop me criticising the Conservative Party, certainly not.

I am sure many people do purchase services and products made by a sponsor of a club (including its stadium sponsor) because it is the sponsor, and I guess if all other things are neutral one might do that.  But otherwise to me it seems a bit dumb.

So, because I have, through my life, been active in supporting movements in favour of ever greater democracy, and against those regimes that I feel are repressive, I’ve not been motivated to change my airline habits when flying overseas.   As it happens I did fly Emirates once simply because there was no way around it, and I was inwardly amused to find that my dislike of the airline because of its owners’ association with stoning, torture, lack of freedom and a total disregard for what in general might be called democratic values, was also justified by an appalling service, ludicrously delusional self-promotion and high prices.

Now of course perhaps my attitude towards club sponsors comes from the fact that I was a supporter before we had sponsors – in fact a supporter through the era when no company in its right mind wanted to be linked with 1st division football.

But now it is different.  And maybe I am just stupid and in a tiny minority in trying to avoid products and services that are sponsored by or associated with things I find morally repugnant, but that just seems to be how I am.

So Arsenal have accepted money from what I consider to be an awful denier of human rights.  I regret that and occasionally write an article on the fact, but I still support Arsenal.   The FA has accepted their sponsorship too.  But I still celebrate Mr Wenger’s record breaking seven wins of their cup, and each of our victories.  I’ve still gone to Wembley for the games, but along the way made a little fun of them for utterly failing to keep their website up to date in terms of who the winners of the FA Cup actually are.

And it doesn’t stop me criticising the FA and its support of the appallingly corrupt Fifa.

Thus these days I call the ground we go to, Arsenal Stadium, as in fact it is called on European nights.  For quite a while I called it on Untold, the Ems, largely because that amused me as the bar on trains from the Midlands to London (which was utterly inadequate and often ran out of anything one wanted) was known as the Ems Bar.

And yet here are all these Man City fans writing in and telling me I’m stupid for criticising the sponsor of Man City when the same appalling country sponsors Arsenal Stadium.

I don’t understand how they don’t get it.  I support Arsenal, and always will do, but that doesn’t stop me from criticising or laughing at or indeed just ignoring their sponsorship deals.  I don’t make a big thing of it every article, because if I did most people would probably stop reading and I’d get utterly bored writing it. But then again I didn’t actually write positively about Mr Wenger in each article – although some readers like to pretend that I did.

I don’t actually crticise PGMO in each article either come to that, although I have had a few digs against their sponsors over time, and maybe that helped encourage them to pull out.

Manchester City, in my view, deserve criticism for building their entire club on the wealth of a country that pays no heed to human rights.   Before this decade they had won the league twice – and on one of those occasions they were relegated the following season.   Arsenal, without any sponsorship money and living entirely from gate money and the sale of programmes, won the league five times in the 1930s alone.

All the clubs have sponsors now – that’s how it goes.  But why on earth should one not criticise what sponsors do and what they are associated with – irrespective of whichever club they sponsor?

Of course Arsenal aren’t going to be sponsored by Sea Shepherd as Forest Green Rovers are.  Indeed if there was money to change hands it would probably be Arsenal sponsoring Sea Shepherd.  But calling out really awful sponsors, directors, owners… that seems to me to be part of the raison d’etre for running a blog while supporting a club.  I choose not to criticise our manager or players because that seems utterly counter productive.  But as for the rest – it seems to me fair game.

I can understand that many Manchester City supporters welcome the money from what I perceive to be the appalling Abu Dhabi regime has put into the club.  I on the other hand choose not to.  Mind you, I’m also with Rowan Atkinson when he said, “As a lifelong beneficiary of the freedom to make jokes about religion, I do think that Boris Johnson’s joke about wearers of the burka resembling letterboxes is a pretty good one.   All jokes about religion cause offence, so it’s pointless apologising for them.”

Judging by the news broadcasts of late, I’m in a minority supporting Mr Atkinson too.

Today I see we’re running adverts supporting a TV channel that is not my cup of tea.  It seems I can’t win.

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15 Replies to “Does the sponsorship of a club really mean that fans can’t criticise the sponsor?”

  1. Tony, Would the sponsorship of the club by the tory party make you stop blindly voting against them… sadly not. Concrete thinking!

    As for anyone buying stuff purely because they’re a club sponsor, If Emirates airlines fly to where I want to go and have a similar deal to the other options then I’d probably use them (their service is very good as well). But equally there are products that I will no longer buy due to their sponsorship of other clubs, although I wasn’t especially keen on them over any of their competitors before their deal…

  2. I am sure that Tony does not “blindly” vote against the Tory Party. There are many substantial reasons for his views, not least that they are based on his principles, some of which are occasionally apparent from his articles here.

  3. Is the converse worth exploring?

    What sponsors would people like to see for Arsenal?

    This would have to be for Stadium, shirt, shirt sleeve, 78th thread on shirt body, and so on.

  4. Unrelated. has a bunch of “Breakdown” articles. A few words and a link to some video. I’m not a member, I don’t know that I would trust the video even if I was a member.

    Why can’t we get a text version?

  5. Walking to the Ground on Sunday one of my chums was the butt of the joke by some Manchester City fans. It was all just good fun and banter. They were of my generation (i.e well over 50). When I started to reply in kind along the lines of why they are in the position they are in and what got them there their response was they couldn’t care less. They recalled City relatively recently being in the lower divisions and United being successful so this is their turn. That was that.

  6. Gooner S

    “When I started to reply in kind along the lines of why they are in the position they are in and what got them there their response was they couldn’t care less.”

    And I get that. It must of hurt them massively to live in United’s shadow for so many years. In there position I’m sure I’d feel the same.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that any club, Arsenal, Spurs, Everton, Palace, Wolves, Bury, Accrington Stanley, ANYONE would win the league eventually, given the massive finances that have been GIVEN to Manchester City, and they know it.

    So given that, despite his undoubted ability, this current period of success at City will not be remembered as the ‘Guardiola years’ because it’s not he that has brought this success to Manchester City, it’s the near ONE BILLION POUNDS NET that has been spent on players over the last 10 or 11 years that has literally bought that success.

    My Mum could win the Premier league with that sort of spend.

    Just like Chelsea’s success will be remembered as the ‘Abramovic years’ Manchester City’s will be remembered as the ‘Mansour years’.

    When it’s all about the money that’s what happens.

    Conversely, all those years of success at Manchester United will, and are indeed, remembered as the ‘Fergie years’ and always will be. And rightly so.

    Similarly Arsenals successes over the last 20 plus years will be remembered as the Wenger years.

    2 Clubs where their success is all about the money.

    2 clubs where their success is all about the managers.

    So yes of course City fans are enjoying there moment in the sun, and so they should, but what they cant do is kid themselves that it actually impresses anyone else outside the Stadium I helped buy for them.

    The bottom line is, not only are City buying there way to glory in a way that has NEVER been seen before (ONE BILLION POUNDS is quite simply mind boggling) but they are doing it with some of the dirtiest money anyone could lay their hands on.

    And yes, I know this sort of thing gets right up there nose.

    And so it should, because you know what they say about the truth.

  7. @ Nitram

    Not forgetting that Man U were the richest club in the world whilst Fergussaon was in charge and the one thing nither $ity or Chelski have in their pocket is Mike Riley. Unlike Fergie!

  8. I suspect that the only reason why the “liberal” press is making such a fuss about the Johnson/Burka incident is as a counterweight to the uproar about the Labour party/Corbyn and antisemitism. The idea is that if enough fuss is made about the latter, the former will be forgotten

    AS a member of the Jewish community in this country, I view the former with considerably more trepidation than the latter.

  9. Mikey the Gooner. Yes they were. I’m not sure if you are trying to infer some kind of similarity between The Billion pounds plus gifted to city and the accrued wealth of United here but if you are I can’t agree. Yes United were rich but come on. And even so at least they had the decency to earn it. As for the Riley comment, of course you have a point. I think it was a disgrace the favours United received, and it’s even worse the way it is to this day simply brushed under the carpet . Personally I think it does taint Fergies record to some degree and who knows what United may not have won without them, or indeed what we may of won in turn ? Alas we will never know. But having said all that I believe the basis of my point stands. But you are right to mention it.

  10. While I have only bought one item from a former Arsenal sponsor( A JVC VHS player) , on the other hand I flatly refuse to buy items from those who sponsor the Spuds ! And our rivals.

    So I have never ever tasted a Holsten beer in my life ! Nor agreed to take any credit card that shows the image of any other club on it. That would be sacrilege !

  11. I’ve often wondered just how much negative impact sponsorship can have. Certainly I think whatever sponsorship benefit Arsenal or Tottenham get from fans of those clubs, they must get a similar amount of refusal to buy from fans of the other club.

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