The curious history of the inaugural Premier League shirt sponsors

In the course of researching a piece on Spurs, I found myself looking through a list of Premier League clubs from the inaugural season in 1992/93.

Wikipedia also helpfully listed the shirt sponsors for this seminal vintage of English football. At first glance, it struck me as an interesting list from a historical point of view — a real statement of where we were as a nation and economy more than two decades ago. Likewise, with seven online gambling sponsors and seven sponsors of various types from Asia and the Middle East, the 2015/16 batch probably tells us a lot about where things stand now in England, too.

Just like some of the clubs — Wimbledon and Oldham Athletic, anyone? — the sponsors have suffered divergent fates since their logos adorned the shirts of the new English footballing elite of 1992/93. So where are they now? I decided to take a bit of time and have a look, for no particular reason other than that I can.

photo

From Daily Mail via Google Images

Arsenal — JVC

The Japanese TV and VHS pioneer was one of the longest running shirt sponsors, their red logo emblazoning Gunners shirts for 18 years. In 2008, JVC merged with home appliance maker Kenwood to form JVC Kenwood. The JVC brand remains alive, but has never quite hit the heights (insert Arsenal joke here).

Aston Villa — Mita Copiers

Mita Copiers was a brand of Mita Industrial, a Japanese photocopier manufacturer. Mita Industrial was acquired by Kyocera in 2000, and the Mita brand no longer exists. Kyocera sponsored Reading FC for three years from 2005 to 2008, during which time no doubt photocopier sales soared in the Berkshire area.

Blackburn Rovers — McEwan’s Lager

A once popular Scottish lager whose ups and downs and changes in ownership in some ways mirror Blackburn Rovers. The McEwan’s brand was sold by Scottish and Newcastle to Heineken, and with customer tastes shifting away from cheap lagers, McEwan’s Lager was discontinued in 2003. The McEwan’s brand has subsequently been sold again, to Wells & Youngs, and is on the up again, but talk of a McEwan’s Lager comeback has come to nothing.

Chelsea — Commodore International

A computer pioneer whose Commodore and Amiga machines were the starting point for many gamers. Commodore was overtaken and left in the dust by Microsoft, Apple and others. It filed for bankruptcy in 1994.

Coventry City — Peugeot

A French auto maker that is part of PSA Peugeot Citroën. The Peugeot 205 was one of the biggest sellers in Europe the late 1980s and early 1990s. Peugeot had a major factory at Ryton, outside Coventry, where it produced the 309, 405, 306 and 205 types. The factory was shut down in 2007. Top Gear did a piece on Peugeot, and, um, it wasn’t great.

Crystal Palace — Tulip Computers

A Dutch computer company that manufactured the Tulip PC. The Tulip PC was simply a copy of the IBM PC, and unsurprisingly IBM sued. The case, per Wikipedia, was settled in 1989. Tulip acquired the Commodore brand name in 1997, sold it, and then tried to by it back on the cheap a year later. Tulip changed its named to Nedfield, but went bust a year later.

Everton — NEC

An information technology and electronics manufacturer, part of Japan’s Sumitomo conglomerate. Employs more than 100,000 people worldwide.

Ipswich Town — Fisons

A pharmaceutical, scientific instruments and horticultural chemicals company headquartered in Ipswich. It was acquired by Rhone-Poulenc in 1995. Rhone-Poulenc merged with Hoechst in 1999 to form Aventis. Aventis mergerd with Sanofi-Synthélabo in 2004, and became Sanofi in 2011. The freehold of the former Fisons headquarters site, closed in 1995 and empty since, has recently been sold to a developer.

Leeds United — Admiral

A British sportswear brand that, despite ups and downs as new entrants such as Umbro and Adidas added competition, continued to supply English and overseas teams through the 1990s. Moved into cricket in the 2000s, supplying the England team. Nowadays supplies the West Indies cricket team, and some football teams including AFC Wimbledon. Very much second division in sportswear terms — much like Leeds.

Liverpool — Carslberg

A Danish brewer that has, per its own statistics, a 14.2% share of the UK beer market. Employs more than 40,000 people worldwide.

Manchester City — Brother

A Japanese electrical equipment manufacturer, most notably of printers. Sponsored Manchester City for 10 years until 1999. Employs more than 30,000 people worldwide.

Manchester United — Sharp

A Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer. Sponsor of Manchester United from 1983 to 2000 and whose logo will always be associated by Red Devils fans with the rise of United under Sir Alex Ferguson and the treble winning team of 1998/99. Revenues of $28 billion in 2014.

Middlesbrough —  Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI)

Formerly Britain’s largest chemical manufacturer, it was acquired by Dutch multinational AkzoNobel in 2008. Parts of ICI were then sold off to Germany’s Henkel corporation, and the ICI brand ceased to exist. ICI had two key manufacturing sites in the Middlesbrough area — at Billington and Wilton — and former parts of ICI continue to operate at these sites.

Norwich City — Norwich and Peterborough

A building society founded in 1860. It was merged with Yorkshire Building Society in 2011 and ceased independent trading. N&P at the time of the merger was the ninth largest building society in the UK, but became undone with its decision to sell Keydata Investment Services products. Keydata collapsed leaving investors out of pocket to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds, and its founder was fined a record £75m by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Nottingham Forest — Shipstones (home)

A brand of beer brewed by James Shipstone & Sons in Nottingham. Production at the brewery ended in 1991, but the brand was continued for several more years. The Shipstones brand was brought by a beer enthusiast in 2013, and is making a comeback in the Nottingham area. Labbats, Canada’s largest brewer and part of the Anheuser-Busch InBev empire, sponsored the away shirt.

Oldham Athletic — JD Sports

A sports retailer founded in Bury. Per its corporate website, has 800 stores “across a number of retail fascias” — or to put it in English, owns a number of high street brands in addition to JD Sports, such as Size? and Blacks.

Queens Park Rangers — Classic FM

A national radio station for classical music founded by GWR and launched in 1992. Now part of Global Radio and still going strong — but hasn’t sponsored any more football teams. QPR was brought by music executive Chris Wright in 1995 — his Chrysalis Radio group would eventually be sold and become Global Radio. I’m not sure it really connects, but it’s all a bit circuitous, perhaps as one would expect for a club nicknamed The Hoops.

Sheffield United — Laver

Arnold Laver is a timber company. While manufacturing has moved out to Mosborough, Arnold Laver’s headquarters remains on Brammall Lane next to Sheffield United’s stadium. Arnold Laver were the main sponsor of Sheffield United from 1985 to 1995, and Arnold Laver himself was a director for 30 years. The South Stand at Brammall Lane used to be the Laver Stand.

Sheffield Wednesday — Sanderson

A Sheffield-based software company that provides solutions to retail and manufacturing businesses. Its founder, Paul Thompson, became a director and largest shareholder of West Brom before selling his stake. He also became involved at Southampton, which also took the Sanderson sponsorship. Sanderson was followed as Sheffield Wednesday’s shirt sponsor by Chupa Chups.

Southampton — Draper Tools

A family-run tools business based in Chandler’s Ford, Hampshire (which is also where the headquarters of DIY giant B&Q is located). Draper Tools sponsored Southampton from 1984 to 1993, taking over from the now defunct Air Florida. Draper Tools is going strong under its third generation of Draper ownership.

Tottenham Hotspur — Holsten

A brewer originally from Hamburg in Germany. Its most famous brand is its pale lager, Holsten Pilsener. Holsten was acquired by Carlsberg in 2004. Holsten sponsored Spurs from 1983 to 1995, and again from 1999 until 2002. Still going, but never really hit the big-time — insert Spurs joke here (for the sake of balance at least).

Wimbledon — No sponsor

It wouldn’t be long before there was no club, or possibly two, depending on your view of these things. For readers of cached versions of this blog in 2045, MK Dons was where the great Dele Alli started out before being bought by Spurs for a bargain £5 million in 2014.

__________

So, an interesting list. Much like today, there were a fair number of Asian sponsors, but mostly Japanese in reflection of the strength of corporate Japan at the time. Out of the 20 sponsors, eight no longer exist (or like, Shipstones, are fundamentally different businesses). In 23 years time, let’s see how many of the online gambling companies and forex/accounting software providers on the current Premier League shirts are still going strong.

For what it’s worth, of the original Premier League teams, 11 are no longer in the Premier League. A further four (Palace, Manchester City, Norwich and Southampton) have experienced relegation. So quite a high attrition rate, and puts the longevity of Arsenal, Aston Villa, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs into context.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more random musings on Spurs.

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