• The kit features sponsor Paddy Power’s logo in a massive font on a diagonal sash
• Design contravenes Football Association rules regarding the size of sponsor logos
It was a significant commentary on the controversy engulfing Huddersfield Town that not a single customer was to be found in their extravagantly titled ‘club megastore’ on Thursday lunchtime.
The price of last season’s first-team shirts has been slashed from £50 to £15, demonstrating depreciation is fast and brutal when you fall out of the Premier League, while the signs that proclaimed the stadium as the home of ‘Yorkshire’s Premier League club’ have been taken down.
But no one anticipated the venerable 134-year-old side — home to Denis Law, Ray Wilson, Frank Worthington and Bill Shankly — becoming so desperate for cash that they would humiliate themselves by plastering bookmaker Paddy Power’s name across their home shirts, like a latter-day Rose Queen’s sash.
As the club’s fans reflected on becoming an overnight laughing stock, images of the players wearing the sash were on a continuous loop in the club shop window, where staff were certainly under the impression that this is not — as Thursday’s Huddersfield Examiner seemed to be hoping — another of the bookmaker’s pranks. “As far as I know, we will be selling them from Saturday (today) for £48,” said a shop assistant.
Club officials ran for cover, refusing to so much as acknowledge calls, while supporters asked why a club which became a metaphor for all that is good in the game, remaining true to their town and refusing to break the bank to sustain an improbable two years in the top flight, would prostrate themselves before a gambling firm for a rumoured pay-out of £500,000.
The answer almost certainly resides in the club’s change of ownership since local businessman Dean Hoyle, who delivered them to the top flight and a £23million profit in their first season there, sold a 75 per cent stake to legal services entrepreneur Phil Hodgkinson this year after suffering persistent ill-health.
Hoyle assiduously built commercial revenues out of the club’s on-field ‘Terrier’ ethos. In marketing speak, he made Huddersfield into a challenger brand, looking for commercial partnerships with companies sharing their spiky, defiant, biting-at-heels identity.
Yet Hodgkinson made the surprising claim this week that the club’s first £50m parachute payment has already been swallowed up by extras, including player bonuses and stadium improvements, which took spending above their £200m income from their two Premier League years.
“Unfortunately, the maths have been a little bit wrong on that one (in most quarters), but hopefully I have clarified that,” he told a supporters Q&A.
Hoyle helped turn the Huddersfield Town Foundation into one of the Premier League’s most impressive community support set-ups, renowned nationwide for its breakfast clubs for local children, many from homes on or below the poverty line.
But amid signs that the programme is being scaled back, popular Foundation executive Julie Sheffield was recently made redundant. ‘Feeling really empty and emotional following my termination of employment,’ she said in a recent Facebook post.
Insiders suggest that Hoyle would not have contemplated the crass new stunt but Hodgkinson certainly seems to have a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to gambling. It emerged last month that he had admitted a misconduct charge for placing 99 bets on matches between September 2015 and February 2019 while he was a football agent and a director of non-league club Southport. He was fined £1500 by the FA.
His willingness to deliver Paddy Power another cheap stunt comes as football lures increasing numbers to gambling. A whistle-to-whistle TV advertising ban comes into play next season, but there will be gambling ads on the shirts of 60 per cent of Premier League and Championship teams.
The market reaches well beyond the domestic audience. Aid workers in Africa last weekend described how British betting companies and football clubs are luring hundreds of thousands of children into gambling on games. In 2016, Arsenal sent ‘ambassador’ Sol Campbell to Nairobi for children’s coaching run by SportPesa, its African sponsor.
You don’t need to travel beyond Huddersfield to see how the industry draws people in. A stone’s throw from the statue of Harold Wilson, the town’s most famous son, Ladbrokes, Coral and Betfred stores stand a few hundred yards apart. Punters, some barely 20 years old, stare vacantly into the ‘20p roulette’ machines and are invited to bet on Europa League ties Rangers v St Joseph’s and Kilmarnock v Connah’s Quay.
Even those putting on bets say Huddersfield Town’s deal is wrong. “The bookie shouldn’t be dominating the shirt,” said one punter. “Of course it will have an influence, even if it’s a stunt.”
Eliza Calcraft, 18, says the Huddersfield image she knew about has gone up in smoke. “The sponsorship takes up the entire colours of the team. The bookmaker becomes the entire point of the shirt and I don’t see why they wouldn’t see that.”
Maizy Jenkinson, 18, points out gambling adverts are supposed to feature ‘When the Fun Stops, Stop’ warnings prominently.
“Did the shirt they played in last night (against Rochdale) feature that?’ she asks. ‘No, it didn’t. I’ve seen the way football draws gamblers. A family member of mine has had a problem.”
Amid suggestions on Thursday night that there are ‘more twists and turns to come’, Paddy Power will feel another successful stunt has been accomplished.
Huddersfield, who have just published a values charter placing honesty and integrity at their core, are left with only embarrassment and a whiff of incompetence.