the real fa cup

A Sponsorship Too Far?

This week it has seemed like all and sundry have been testing my resolve to be generally supportive of all things football.

Firstly, the FA. The FA gets a ridiculous amount of stick from punters and media alike for failing to do things that it is not able to do, has no place in doing or is legally unable to. For this I usually raise an eyebrow, sigh and engage in an act of futility trying to defend the creators of our good game against detractors who simply do not know what they are talking about. The amount of time the FA gets it in the neck for something the Premier League or Football League did is quite astonishing.

Secondly, the fans. Fans get a ridiculous amount of stick for being a homogenous and simple bunch of bigots. To this I usually raise an eyebrow, sigh and engage in an act of futility defending the moral majority from the barbed words of the seasoned click baiter and agenda-driven establishment figure head. Only this week I was saying how pleased I was with the very tiny amount of abuse and tension seen among the Twitter and Facebook threads of this website. Football is a contentious and emotional thing and often explodes on social media but I rarely see it directly on ours – and The Real FA Cup is not just followed by non league fans, so don’t go there.

However, this week, both the FA and fans have managed to test my support. For their part, the FA have managed to cause consternation with their own player registration process, appearing to blame the club (Enfield Town) that pointed out a flaw to them and (it seems likely) compensate that club by backing their relevant league into a corner so that they almost have to remove said club from the play off position they had earned. A slightly bureaucratic piece of administration by an old major (not helping the FA’s fusty image there) and his two chums (yes, an old major and his two chums, you can view the document here).

In support of the FA, I could not quite see what was wrong with the new FA Cup sponsor. The fans disagreed. Views and opinions, almost to a man have been negative about the FA’s announcement of new FA Cup sponsorship by Emirates. The Emirates FA Cup. I’ve seen no positive tweets about this. I’ve seen a number of ‘does it really matter’ efforts but nothing purely positive. Surely any money coming in to a competition that includes grassroots teams is a good thing? The reasons given for this negativity swept the spectrum from outright racism (Emirates, innit) to ‘selling the soul of football’ (that ship sailed 20+ years ago) via the more realistic prism of ‘sponsorship creep’ (a phrase coined by Greg Johnson on Twitter).

The edges of that spectrum are frankly nuts. Racism: Emirates, Arabs, blah blah blah, you get where that is going so I’ll gloss over it because it is so very shit-brained.  Selling the soul of football: the FA Cup has been sponsored for well over 20 years. Selling the FA Cup is not new, selling the England team is not new. Both are ways to make money. Last time out the FA Cup was sponsored by that wholesome British company Budweiser, for example, a bland beer peddlar (who are back on board as ‘official beer of the FA Cup’) for crying out loud! While not everyone’s cup of tea you could argue they promoted grass roots football to some extent. Also, it has also been ‘The AXA sponsored FA Cup’ and ‘The FA Cup sponsored by EON’ … what little soul is left is not going to be affected  by a change of sponsor name.

However, the third thing is more interesting and a little more nuanced and all of a sudden I turned. No, maybe the fans are right and maybe the FA do not deserve support on his one. ‘Sponsorship creep’. Naming the sponsor in the Cup is not new but here what we have goes against convention and moves away from partnership and into the world of ownership, of naming rights.

Previously, the FA have insisted that the FA Cup competition retains its’ singularity and the name of the sponsor is seen as an adjunct, a partner, something with which the competition is tied to rather than swamped by. For example, ‘The FA Cup with Budweiser’. Not ‘The Budweiser FA Cup’. What seems to irk people is that the ownership of the FA Cup is being taken from the FA, or the clubs, or more importantly from ‘them’, the fans.

This is an important distinction in a landscape where football has been removed from the populace and is controlled by the hand of distant oligarchs and business leaders. The English top flight has long since ceased being of football and owned by football, it is currently Barclays’ Premier League, it is not football’s Premier League or the fans’ Premier League, it’s Barclays’. The same with the League Cup, the same with our stadiums, the same with our club’s kit. But the FA Cup always seemed a beacon of hope, the FA trod the difficult tightrope between moneys earned and retention of the Cup as a thing in its own right, something for the fans, something not to be sold entirely.

The ommission of the words ‘with’ or ’sponsored’ have effectively stripped the FA Cup from the football authorities for good, stripped it from the clubs, stripped it from the fans and this is why fans seem so angry. If you dont believe they are angry, re-listen to talksport this morning, search ‘Emirates FA Cup’ on Twitter. Fans are furious with the FA.

Not entirely sure I agree it’s the end or indeed that simple but what Greg said about ’sponsorship creep’ is true, certainly. And, although it has been creeping for 20 years, is this the last step? In the future, will the exclusion of a few little words be held up as the moment that the last thread of old football was finally lost. Have the FA just lost football?

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