Why Man Utd, Chelsea and co. have little Kettering Town to thank

In Depth

Manchester United, Chelsea and the rest of the Premier League behemoths continue to amaze with multi-million pound shirt sponsorship deals, but they may not realise they have non-league Kettering Town to thank for it.

The collective value of all 20 Premier League shirt sponsorship deals has reached £226.5million for 2016-17 and dwarfs other European leagues like the Bundesliga and La Liga, where the total is around the £100 million mark.

Manchester United signed a massive £53million-a-year shirt sponsorship deal with American car company Chevrolet in 2013, and the seven-year contract is the biggest in sports history by far, while Chelsea recently announced a £40million-a-year deal with Japanese car tyre manufacturer Yokohama which is worth £200million in total over five years.

But flash back to 40 years ago in the year when Concorde first flew, unemployment was at an all-time high, Britain only had three television channels that broadcast for less than 12 hours a day, and Punk Rock was launched.

And in a small town in Northamptonshire, football opened up a new horizon.

Non-League side Kettering Town were lining up in the Southern League against Bath City on January 24, 1976, and something unique was about to happen. They were the first club ever to have advertising on the front of their shirts.

Wolverhampton Wanderers legend Derek Dougan had taken on the rather unique joint role of player, manager and chief executive of the non-league outfit and did a deal with local business Kettering Tyres which created publicity across the country.

• • • •

READ: How the Whitehawk Ultras made me question my Premier League obsession

• • • •

The suits at the FA were furious and ordered the offending slogan to be removed. Dougan initially changed the logo on the shirts to Kettering T, which he claimed stood for Town, but after after being threatened with a £1000 fine, the plug was pulled on the Poppies’ shirt sponsorship.

A year on and Kettering, along with Football League clubs Derby County and Bolton Wanderers, submitted a proposal to the FA to rescind their decision, and they gave in – paving the way for big money deals.

It was north of the border that the first professional shirt sponsorship deal was unveiled when kit manufacturer Bukta was emblazoned on Hibernian’s kit, and another two years passed before Bob Paisley’s Liverpool agreed the first English shirt sponsorship deal with Japanese manufacturer Hitachi in 1979.

Television was still uneasy at allowing what they classed as free advertising in televised and highlighted football games, however, and it was 1983 before clubs were allowed to run out in front of the cameras with logos on their shirts.

Progress in developing kit advertising continued to be slow, and the next big change was names being added on the back of shirts in 1992 with the advent of the FA Premier League as replica sales began to go through the roof.

It was 2006-07 before the Football League welcomed rear of shirt and short advertising, although the Premier League chose not to follow suit at this stage, and the most recent development is the Premier League giving the go-ahead for clubs to sell advertising space on their shirt sleeves from the start of next season.

But while the focus has been on how shirt sponsorship has revolutionised the beautiful game, what about Kettering Town, with their revolutionary commercial ideas during the last century?

In 2005 the club was taken over by controversial chairman Imran Ladak, who hired and fired ten managers during his seven-year rein – including England legend Paul Gascoigne.

The Poppies were booted out of the top flight of non-league football with £1.2million of debts, lost their home to a ground share that failed to work out, saw a proposed owner banned from all forms of football for five years, and on one occasion were only able to field ten players in a league game due to a transfer embargo.

However, the last five years have brought about a change in fortunes and a league title that has lifted the spirits of everyone in Kettering, leaving them three promotions away from the Football League.

So the next time you read about multi-million pound sponsorship deals and highly inflated salaries, spare a thought for where it all began…

By Dave Riche