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Published: SUNDAY 13th FEBRUARY 2000


"Vodafone / n. a cellular telephone system in the UK."

That's what it says in the Oxford English Dictionary in between vocoder and vodka. Now look up Manchester United and see what you get. Well, obviously there isn't an entry for Manchester United, but at least Manchester United have been mentioned three times to Vodafone's two so far. And that's what it's all about isn't it - Vodafone riding on the back, or in this case, the front, of Manchester United. A cuckoo in the nest, a tick on the dog, and no, I'm not referring to Nike - you see, you just can't get away from it. Or can you?

A few years ago when my son was a mere sprog and becoming vaguely interested in football mainly because he started to wonder where his dad was disappearing to on Saturday afternoons or whenever Tv dictated United were playing their football, he thought Manchester United were called Sharp. For chrissakes, he actually thought the greatest club in the world were called Sharp! From the mouth of an innocent, all that Manchester United stands for was dismissed in a moment - what an alarming thought. It's only logical to assume that other parents have gone through similar traumas, having to explain to their offspring that they do not go and watch Sharp play, they go and watch Manchester United. The fact that he was only about three years old at the time and would obviously find out the truth sooner or later doesn't matter. He had been indoctrinated by the advertising on the shirt. And isn't it obvious that the most prominent feature on the shirt should be the name associated with the club? In the eyes of a young child it would be natural to assume it was also most probably the name of the club as well, thus giving more credence to the sponsor than the sponsored. Surely that can't be right can it?

Already in this short piece both Vodafone, Sharp and even Nike have been mentioned in the same sentence as Manchester United so we may as well state the interests of Microsoft, BA, Emirates, Yahoo and even Virgin, as all were linked with possible sponsorship deals at some time or other over the last few weeks. All have had advertising mileage out of the association even though there was only going to be one winner. And there's the rub - only one winner and ultimately that is Vodafone - not Manchester United. In fact, I'd argue that all the other companies previously mentioned have benefited more by the brief association and are therefore obviously infinitely better clued in to PR than Manchester United possibly ever will be.

In my opinion, the only way Manchester United could win is by shunning all shirt sponsorship and in effect sponsor themselves by keeping the shirt pure, with only the club crest (preferably with the initials FC reappearing) and possibly a minor reference to a kit manufacturer. Now, that would be a real statement - a real stand befitting our great club, and would gain so much more publicity, gain so many more column inches, it would surely be worth a lot more than the 30 million pounds to be invested by Vodafone over the next four years.

Once again, I think the hierarchy has sold us short. I have no basic objection to certain forms of sponsorship - didn't we have Wonderfuel Gas over the Stretford End for donkey's years along with the usual pitch-side advertising? But the name of another company emblazoned on the red shirt is an insult to our great club. Wouldn't it have been superb if we'd stuck up two fingers to a shirt sponsorship deal and gone it alone like the maverick club we are supposed to be. And that's another thing, "Maverick / n. an independent-minded person. (named after S.A. Maverick, Texas engineer and rancher d. 1870, who did not brand his cattle." "Did not brand his cattle." I just thought it was worth saying again!

So there we have it - a lesson from the Oxford English Dictionary - don't bow to the filthy lucre, keep the name pure and eventually you may find you even get an entry into the dictionary itself, and think what sort of publicity that would bring in. Still, I suppose we should be grateful they didn't sell our souls to Orange - the mind boggles.

- The Devil May Care (D.M.C.)

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