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Top 10: Shirt Sponsors

It's not unknown for football shirt devotees to base their purchase entirely on a sponsor's logo. And why not? Sure, you can call them slaves to a corporate entity who are essentially paying for the privilege of advertising a product, but you can't deny that the guy waddling about town with a beer logo on his shirt, as well as the calorific excess thereof underneath the rapidly-stretching fabric is the essence of masculinity.

... OK, maybe you can. But either way, some sponsor logos look great, or at least stand out from the crowd. Here are ten of the best.

10) 'No Smoking', West Bromwich Albion (England)

Having raised eyebrows by opting not to sell their advertising space for some of last season, West Brom reminded older fans in the UK of their public health drive of decades past.

In 1985-86 the West Midlands club took to the pitch with the universal no-smoking symbol festooned on their strips in what was an admirable attempt to increase the well-being of the local area, as well as those bemused opposition fans wondering quite why they were being tacitly told not to spark up.

Tobacco opposition seems to be all the rage at the Hawthorns even today, one blogger noting that, although anti-smoking demonstrations have taken place at training, the shirt probably won't be back: '85-'86 saw the Baggies finish last in the First Division, shipping 89 goals and ending up 18 points adrift of survival. Probably worth giving up that kind of form as well as tabs, then.

9) Jagermeister, Eintracht Braunschweig (Germany)

The sickly-smelling, Hades-red concoction favoured by college students and seasoned drinkers everywhere, Jagermeister could only be the product of Germany. Just north of the Harzburg mountains, within miles of extensive forests, lies rustic Wolfenbuttel, the home of Jagermeister. It's all too easy to picture a German huntsman returning from a day in the saddle to roast his prey and conclude his meal with a shot or two of the drink that in English means 'master of the hunt'.

Just up the road from that is Braunschweig, a distinguished seat of learning and home to a remarkably popular football team, BTSV Eintracht. That they were the first Bundesliga side to have a shirt sponsor may not have won them any admirers; the fact that it was Jager probably did.

Bring your own shotglass

8) 'Sol', Club America (Mexico)

This one actually featured on the back of the club's shirt - opposite Coca-Cola, in fact, in case you wanted to start off with a caffeine-laden stimulant and then change gears with a mild depressant.

Say what one likes about the citrusy, thin-tasting beers of Central America, but there is no denying the beauty of the Sol logo. Even the most hardened ale or stout fanatic will be reaching for the lime and the salt when they see it on the back of a kit.

(And look - we managed to get through a whole description without mentioning that America went on to replace these logos with bakery company 'Bimbo' a couple of years later.)

7) 'Burger King', Getafe (Spain)

Getafe's shirt sponsor evolution has largely followed their rapid rise up the leagues. From local companies to a regional shopping centre to a large construction concern... and finally to a worldwide restaurant chain renowned for making just the kind of unctuously greasy fare that any would-be footballer should shy away from. That's progress... kind of.

6) 'Jotun', Sandefjord (Norway)

Because everything looks better with penguins.

A penguin carrying paint cans, bless

5) 'Valencia', Levante (Spain)

Eschewing fast food multinationals, Segunda strugglers Levante opted in recent years to bear the name of their local area, the Valencian Community, in the form of a government logo...

... as well they might have done, given that the state authorities eventually helped bail them out of their massive financial pit when things became so bad that even the most dedicated players spoke of going on strike.

All the same, a very stylish logo, and one that pays homage to a beautiful part of the world from which the club is proud to hail.

'Our debt is thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis big!'

4) '?', Penarol (Uruguay)

Once a giant of the global game, much less the continental, Penarol have been without a Copa Libertadores trophy since 1987, perhaps not for lack of trying, but certainly for lack of cash when compared with some of the giants in Brazil and Argentina.

In a bid to attract massive new investment, the Penarol squad took to the pitch for a 2000 Libertadores match with a massive white question mark emblazoned over their black and yellow stripes. ('Your Ad Here' would presumably not have stood out so much.)

3) 'Nintendo', Fiorentina (Italy)

Nobody can forget the sight of Gabriel Batistuta in the famous violet of Fiorentina. And nobody can forget the Nintendo sponsor, either.

Yes, other clubs may have had video game sponsors - Arsenal had Sega's unachieving but technically impressive Dreamcast logo on their shirt, in yet another example of 'art' imitating life - but something about the unapologetic red and white on the unmistakable Viola shirt is so memorable that it may just be the best advertising Nintendo ever managed in Europe.

'When you see me running, hit B to pass...'

2) 'Wet Wet Wet', Clydebank (Scotland)

Those Brits of a certain age will remember the summer of 1994. Watching, uh, none of the home nations at the World Cup in the USA; OJ Simpson tests the speedometer of his car; and... 'Love Is All Around' remains on near-constant repeat on every radio station for three and a half months.

The band responsible for this most insidious of cover versions? Wet Wet Wet, fronted by Clydebank boy Marti Pellow. The singer's hometown team soon benefitted from the windfall of this remarkable record success with a sponsorship deal, the band's rather plain logo appearing on their shirts as they fought for promotion from the Scottish First Division.

Wet Wet Wet went into decline in the late '90s; so too did a Clydebank side whose league placing was eventually bought out from under them. They now play at a semi-pro level. Minus Wet Wet Wet on their shirts.

1) 'None', A dying breed of professional teams

When even Athletic Bilbao are selling their shirt space, we know that the commercialisation of football is complete. The Basque side, who doggedly retain a policy of mining players only from the local cantera, even in an age of Bosman transfers and African youth academies, broke with the habit of a lifetime by having the Petronas logo on their shirts last season. Barcelona, meanwhile, also sullied their traditionally clean jerseys, albeit with UNICEF, a charitable organisation, in a move deemed by many to be admirable.

But in top-flight football elsewhere the bare shirt is virtually unknown. Who is left to carry on the proud old ways? Well, there's always West Ham United, who played the bulk of last season with an unadorned strip. Was this to preserve their famous colours and hark back to days of yore? Uh, no. Their sponsor, an Icelandic financial institution, went bankrupt, so they pasted squad numbers over their image. And thus the full circle of commercialisation is complete.

"I'm not a number! I'm a human being with a number!"

Ewan Macdonald,

Why not suggest your own favourites with a comment below?

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