The front of the jersey sponsor is ubiquitous in club soccer these days. It is hard to separate your favorite team from their jersey sponsor and impossible to imagine what the game would look like without them…this year alone Premier League clubs raised $285 million from jersey sponsors.
But this was not always the case. The team’s kit usually included a solid color shirt sometimes with a secondary color used for the collar or sleeves and the team badge over the heart as recently as the late 1970’s.
Kettering Town, an English club based in Northamptonshire and currently playing in the Southern League Premier Division (the 7th tier of English football), changed all of that when they adorned their jerseys the Kettering Tyres logo for their match against Bath City on January 24, 1976. In doing so Kettering Town became the first team in the UK to have a jersey sponsor.
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Former player Derek Dougan, who finished his career with Kettering Town, was the man behind the sponsorship. After assuming the role of CEO for the club, Dougan’s first major move was to sign the sponsorship deal.
“It’s fantastic to be able to credit such a momentous event in the history of football in the UK to a club in Northamptonshire,” Kevin Shoemake, CEO of the Northamptonshire FA, said. “Shirt sponsors help clubs at all levels to develop – which might not be possible without the foresight and trailblazing work of Derek Dougan and Kettering Town and for challenging the rules at the time.”
Needless to say, the FA was not pleased. They ordered Kettering Town to remove the sponsorship logo but the club responded by updating the logo to read ‘Kettering T’ claiming the ‘T’ stood for Town. The FA was not fooled and once again demanded the remove the logo this time with the threat of a £1,000 fine if they did not comply.
Shirt sponsors ultimately won the day. The next year Kettering Town, Derby County, and Bolton Wanderers applied to have jersey sponsors and the FA gave their approval ahead of the 1977/78 campaign. The sponsor ban still applied to when teams were playing matches on TV. This ban was lifted in 1983.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the game changing event, Kettering Town will wear a retro jersey with the original ‘Kettering Tyres’ logo for their matches against Stratford Town on Saturday, January 16 and away to Weymouth on Saturday, January 23.