I can’t count how many times over the years I’ve longed for Leeds United to be able to take the field at Elland Road once more, wearing shirts of pure, pristine white, unsullied by any tacky sponsor’s logo. Over those years, we’ve had many and varied brands besmirching the hallowed material, from RFW via Lion Cabinets, Top Man, Admiral and many more, through to the ill-fated Enterprise Insurance. I’ve regarded them all with more or less disgust and hostility – longing nostalgically for more innocent, pre-sponsorship days.
And now those days are back, if only temporarily. Barring a late twist, Leeds will be running out in colours free of any endorsement to start the forthcoming season. And do you know what? I’m not sure I like it. In fact I suspect I really don’t.
If that seems a little contrary, I can only hold my hands up and agree that it is. After all, this is what I’ve been wishing for these past 35 years. I was against shirt sponsorship right from the start, right from those early days of Hitachi and then Crown Paints on the red shirts of Liverpool FC. It just seemed too, too tacky for words, an offence against football aesthetics. To this day, I can’t handle Sharp (spit) electronics products without feeling the need of a bath – though this has more to do with the identity of the club sponsored, no doubt, than any deep-seated objection to Sharp – who once supplied me with a very nice radio-cassette player for my student bedroom.
The only Leeds sponsor I came anywhere near liking was the iconic, title-winning Evening Post logo of 1991-92. That seemed properly Yorkshire, and – with Leeds dominantly resurgent – it neatly captured and still recalls the Zeitgeist of those heady days.
So I am, perhaps, being a little churlish to complain now. And I’m not in particularly good company either. The bulk of the Twitteratti seem to like the new shirt, there’s a general buzz of approval among all but the more portly chaps out there, who are viewing the snugness of the design with deep suspicion. The problem I have with the shirt, after all this time whinging about the tackiness of logos and how they detract from the all-important badge, is that without a sponsor’s brand plastered onto the chest, it looks curiously featureless. It looks, I’m afraid, like a t-shirt.
It would seem that, for me, the commercial age has swallowed up the sport of football, and made of it a dependent creature, bereft of much of its colour and detail in the absence of those once alien logos. A sports shirt now somehow doesn’t look right without its accompanying branding. It looks a bit forlorn, rather naked – as if somebody’s sent it out too hastily, having forgotten to apply the finishing touches.
Perhaps I’ll get used to it, if Leeds do indeed play the season out unendorsed. Almost certainly I’ll have more depressing things to worry and write about as hostilities get under way. And at least Leeds will be, as is their wont, the exception rather than the rule, swimming against the tide as such a maverick and popularly unpopular club ought.
But, in the long term, I find it hard to embrace the concept of these featureless, bland tops. Perhaps the best I can hope for is that the contractual spat with Enterprise Insurance can be resolved, leaving United free once again to sell their very soul to the highest bidder. We will then just need a sufficiently cool brand name and ideally a vast amount of money.
Red Bull, anyone?