The 15 Greatest Football Shirt Sponsors of All Time
Updated: Jul 30
Everyone remembers the good old days. I certainly do. I'm not sure when they started but I've got a feeling they ended around the time the first series of Big Brother aired on Channel 4. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure everything has gone downhill since then.
For others, the good old days might have been a brief, rave and ecstasy filled window in the early 90's. Or before that, they might have existed on some linear path between London and Philadelphia in July 1985, as Bob Geldof and company saved the world through the power of music at Live Aid.
But, without a doubt, we all know that the goodest of the good days actually date back to the 1970's, when football kits of the world were as yet untouched by the scourge of sponsorship. Ask any Brexiteer and they'll tell you, "It all went to pot once the Europeans got involved and started writing on our football shirts", or something like that, I'm sure. I mean, look at this old Stoke City shirt. That's D-Day spirit in a kit, that is.
Remember those golden days. The clean lines, the minimal designs, the 10 season shirt that only cost Three Bob and Nine. I wasn't even alive and I know how much better the world was. Since then we've been lambasted with a litany of lamentable logos and assaulted by an arsenal of abysmal artwork that, in some cases, feel like a genuine attack on the senses. Even now, wonderful designs are being ruined by having valuable ugly things stuck on them, I'm looking at you Corinthians.
But now, 40 years since Liverpool signed the first top flight sponsorship deal, the footballing world is finally kicking against the trend of ruining beautiful things for money. Paddy Power have launched their twitter storm inducing "Save Our Shirt" campaign and football teams from around the world have begun to turn their backs on sponsorship deals in favour of giving their fans something they actually want, for once.
In the British leagues, Huddersfield Town and Paddy Power have been joined so far by Southend United, Newport County and Motherwell in removing sponsor logos from the front of their kits. And abroad, the trend is catching on (without intervention of any betting companies, might I add) leading to new, sponsor free kits being produced by River Plate, Galatasaray, Flamengo, Real Betis and many more.
But, cynical as I am, I'm no fool. There have been some high points over the last 40 years. Some shirt sponsors just work, it's undeniable. They blend in seamlessly, they work with the colours or, in some cases, they add that little sparkle of personality that makes a kit iconic. So, before the all sponsorship deals disappear from football (lol!), I'd like to celebrate those occasions when the synergy of logo and kit hit that spot and fill you with a intangible swell of joy better than a David Gilmour guitar solo. Here's my list of the greatest football sponsorships of all time:
Arsenal + JVC
Modelled here by Kenny Sampson, the 1981 Arsenal kit was the first to sport the JVC logo. Arsenal and JVC had a relationship right up to the turn of the century, covering their golden years where they were actually capable of winning things. I've plumped for the original but, to be fair, there were plenty of beautiful shirts during the Arsenal/JVC years.
I think the colours on this just work. It doesn't interfere too much with the design of the shirt and it's fairly classy as a logo goes. It probably gets points for longevity too.
Barcelona + UNICEF
Right up until 2006, Barcelona didn't have a shirt sponsor. They'd shunned the trappings of such luxuries, helping to maintain that air of rebellion they held for so many years. They'd always played the plucky underdog to Real Madrid's establishment bad guy, the symbol of Catalan pride to Real's capital city dominance.
So their first foray into staining those famous stripes needed to be a good one. And boy did they go about it well. Modelled here by the greatest footballer to ever live, the UNICEF logo was paired with yellow highlights on the shirt and shorts to make it pop.
Barca also agreed to donate millions of Euros a year to the charity from the 2006/07 season onward, which is nice.
Boca Juniors + BBVA
There's no denying the Boca Juniors + Quilmes pairing is more iconic. But I'm feeling contrarian and I always leans towards more minimalist designs, so the more modern BBVA design gets my vote.
This effort, containing Manchester City's favourite bench lover, Carlos Tevez, is from 2015. Some of the other designs, for some bizarre reason, have the BBVA logo below the yellow band, which looks like the kid who was printing the shirts just failed to follow the instructions correctly. This one is the best of the bunch.
Hull City + Bonus
This shirt, which looks like it was designed by an 8 year old competition winner, has the retro air of an all time classic. I actually believe the shirt would be unbearable were you to remove the Bonus logo. It adds just enough to offset the fact that Hull City wore literal tiger stripes for a whole year. That's right, someone said "yes" when someone else said "how about tiger stripes?". Let that sink in. Tiger stripes. Like Tony the Tiger, only it's non-animated adult men, playing a professional sport.
Inter + Pirelli
I'm no graphic designer, I don't know why it works, but it just does. They won a champions league with this sponsor logo on their chest. Plus Jose Mourinho completed two whole seasons there without moaning about how everything wrong in his life was everybody's fault but his, as has since become his habit. Bring back old Jose, I say. Maybe Pirelli can sponsor him to take some responsibility for his own failings for once.
Juventus + Jeep
For a team with one of the classiest kits in the world, Juve really have had some stinkers for sponsors. They even managed to screw this one up a few times. But this effort gets the seal of approval from me. Tight design, matches the colour scheme, doesn't take too much from the shirt. A solid effort.
Modelled here by Gonzalo Higuain, the victim of a recent fat shaming scandal. I don't want to digress into some sort of body positivity campaign during a football post but if Gonzalo Higuain is fat then what hope to the rest of us have?! I might as well shut myself in a cave with a Netflix password and life time supply of doughnuts if this is what's considered fat! Solidarity, my chubby brother. Solidarity.
Manchester United + Sharp
My love for this kit is deep. I owned it as a child. I have a fascination with away and 3rd kits, they're always more fun. And Eric Cantona was my first, last and only true footballing hero. A mercurial genius with magic between his toes. He literally kicked a man in the face whilst wearing this kit. What's not to love?*
United had a lot of classy numbers in the Sharp years, but this slimming black design will always have a special place in my heart. The yellow of the logo matching the yellow of the badge is lovely. Too many modern sponsors ignore touches like that.
*I don't condone kicking people in the face, obviously. Even if it's done by King Eric.
Napoli + Mars
During the Camora years of Maradona's career, Napoli sported this dashing design as their home kit. Powder blue is just one of the most irresistible colours when it comes to football kits and, with a little bump from the cocaine white Mars logo, this shirt really blows you away. So much so that the team and confectioner teamed up again years later to relive those hair raising halcyon days (with less success, it must be said).
Newcastle + Newcastle Breweries
Long before Mike Ashley began running the football club with the same ethos as he runs his warehouses, Newcastle were a great team. And this kit... I mean... just look at it. It's beautiful!
Newcastle have had a long relationship with Newcastle breweries, they were their main shirt sponsor through most of the 80's. But this 1994 kit is my favourite because it has a proper Newcastle United badge, not that weird "NUFc" badge that haunted their kits from '83 right up until the summer I was born. (I don't want to say I had anything to do with it but they had a crap badge, then I was born, then they had a good badge and have ever since. What I'm saying is, as long as I'm alive, Newcastle will have a decent badge. At least that's what the prophecy says.)
I wont begrudge anyone who prefers the kits that came after this, with the full Newcastle Brown Ale logo in the middle that heralded Alan Shearer's arrival. But for me, this one is gorgeous.
Porto + Revigres
This pairing lasted longer than most marriages. Porto and Revigres (no idea who they are or what they do) were together for 20 years, going their separate ways in 2003, presumably after some soul searching, a good dose of couples councilling and possibly some infidelity on the part of one partner that the other suspected for many years but put out of their minds until one day the truth was thrust in their face and neither could avoid it any longer.
Sure they gave it a go, really worked a repairing the damage but they both knew there was no saving it and decided to end things on a positive note, only seeing each other at family events where they have awkward stunted conversation about how the other's siblings are doing. But, you know, these things happen in life.
Pumas UNAM + Banamex
Mexican team Club de Fútbol Universidad Nacional, or Pumas UNAM as they're known, have had some crazy kits. Seriously, just google it. We're talking full Puma face taking up the whole kit. Stunning stuff, really.
And Banamex have done their part here to not mess things up too much. Yeah they take a prominent place on the chest so you might think it's the team name but, hey, when you've got a 2ft puma face on your torso who cares?
Rangers & Celtic + CR Smith
An odd quirk of the Old Firm relationship is their tendency to co-sell their sponsorship opportunities. They did it for a stretch in the 80's and then again in the 2000's. I've heard it said that it's because any company sponsoring one team can't risk alienating the other half of Glasgow for fear of violent reprisals, but I've not found any evidence of that so far in my research.
Either way, the CR Smith logo was the first to co-sponsor the pair, which is why it makes it on to my list. It's not particularly nice on either (it works better on the Rangers kit here than on the Celtic kit, in my opinion) but it's a bit of history I really enjoyed.
Red Bull + Red Bull
What do you do when you own four teams with four separate identities? Homogenise!
Here we have RB Leipzig, New York Red Bulls, Red Bull Brasil and Red Bull Salzburg. But you knew that already, right? They're all so unique, it's easy.
I'm not at all enamoured by the logo here, in any of it's various forms. I'm just sort of fascinated with the idea of effectively having your own badge as your sponsor logo. Kind of like they're sponsoring themselves. It's like if I walked down the street wearing a t-shirt with my own face printed on it and pretended it was totally normal. There is no need at all for the logo to be there. Nobody is any less aware of the brand if you take it away. It's not like people are wondering who owns Red Bull Salzburg.
Southend United + Martin Dawn
As a born and raised Southend fan, it would be remiss of me to exclude them. And this is my favourite of their efforts. We've had better kits, we've had better sponsors, but this combo just pleases my eye.
Martin Dawn has been our sponsor on two separate occasions, this one is the better one. I like the pinstripes and how the logo meshes with them. It's tasty.
Uwara Red Diamonds + SAVAS
Uwara Red Diamonds, of the J-League in Japan, have had some terrible sponsors over the years, including having an almost identical kit to Man United in the mid-2000's with the awful Vodafone logo that ruined many of United kits of the time.
But I love a palindrome and this is the only one I could find. It's a lovely little piece of design work. If only they did the same for the player numbers below the logo too.
You'd sort of imagine that Japan would do this sort of thing well, but i struggled to find much. They suffer a similar fate to many of the Brazilian teams, with a mish mash of logos taking up any space they can find.
Not here though. Good work, Uwara.
Hardly creme de la creme, more on the “baffling” end of the scale.
West Ham + XL
Who are XL? What do they do? I guess we'll never know. We'll just have to live with the memories of West Ham forcing their players to look like they're publicising their shirt size all year.
Portsmouth + TY
People who know about Beanie Babies:
2) Pompey fans circa. 2002-05
Norwich + Coleman's
When playing in bright yellow isn't enough and you think "Maybe we could just be mustard".