I’m currently collating material for a book on my experiences in my career in football, a large part of which will be taken from extracts from the diary that I kept throughout my 8 years at The Football League in the 1990’s. This of course was a period of huge change in the game, none more so than the advent of the Premier League in 1992.
With Barclays Bank remaining as sponsors for the 1992/93 season, the first as a 72 Club League; the three-year title sponsorship of The Football League by Endsleigh Insurance expired at the end of the 1995/96 season.
Endsleigh had been superb partners and had played a major part in the successful re-positioning of The Football League, post Premier League, and the Cheltenham-based Insurance experts were open to renewing their sponsorship, which was testament to how successful it had been. Without a doubt the excellent support of Endsleigh had enabled the revamped Football League to establish itself again as a vibrant league and one that was commercially attractive to corporate sponsors.
However, my colleague in The League’s commercial department Graham Walker and I both instinctively felt that after 3 years, the time was now right for The League to appoint a new title sponsor and to have a new brand identity.
To this end, Graham and I had successfully negotiated an excellent 3-year deal with the Nationwide Building Society, who had excited us with their innovative marketing, promotional and PR plans for their sponsorship.
However, it’s fair to say that our bosses on The Football League’s Board of Directors didn’t immediately share our belief that we needed a change of direction and a fresh impetus behind The League’s brand identity. So much so that Graham and I had to work extremely hard to explain why we felt, at this stage in the life of the ‘new’ post Premier League era, it would be right for The Football League to have a new title sponsor and principal partner.
Here’s my diary extracts from that time:
Friday 3rd May 1996
Graham telephoned to say that he would be in at about 10.00 am. As soon as I put the phone down the Secretary of The Football League, David Dent called to say that Graham and I should go straight to Manchester to discuss the title sponsorship situation with the four members of the League’s Board who were there for a transfer commission.
I therefore met Graham off his train at Paddington and set off for Manchester.
We arrived in the offices of the ‘Football in the Community’ programme in Oxford Court at about 1.30 pm and went straight into the meeting with League President Gordon McKeag who is Chairman of Newcastle United, Lincoln City Chairman John Reames, Terry Robinson, Bury’s Chairman and Douglas Craig, the Chairman of York City.
Graham and I sat opposite the board in ‘job interview’ style. Gordon McKeag set the scene and, from my earlier discussions with him, I was reasonably confident that he was supportive of our view that Nationwide would be a perfect fit for The League.
After the financials of the proposed deal had been presented to the Board, Graham then outlined why we believed that Nationwide would be ideal for The League at this stage in our post Premier League era. Graham was brilliant. Different Class. His eloquence and his powerful reasoning were obviously working. Like a wrestling tag-team, he then handed over to me!
I majored on the identity of The League and it was our belief that our brand needed ‘refreshing’. I then showed the Board the proposed design for the new logo and this highlighted that The League would now be called ‘The Nationwide Football League’. I then explained some of the exciting marketing plans that we’ve been discussing with Nationwide, which included everything from TV campaigns to innovations such as the new League ident being worn on the players’ sleeves and on the Mitre match balls. We were then asked to wait outside.
After ten minutes the Board came out and Gordon told us that the decision has been made unanimously to accept Nationwide’s offer to be our new sponsors. Graham and I had successfully convinced the Board that it was time for a new start for The Football League or, as it will now soon become, ‘The Nationwide Football League’.
I then gave Gordon McKeag a lift back to London. My car-phone was red-hot. First Gordon telephoned David Dent with the decision, then he contacted Football League Board member Martin George, the Chairman of Leicester City who concurred with the decision. Gordon then telephoned Mike Alcock the Managing Director at Endsleigh and told him of the Board’s decision to go in a different sponsorship direction. I have a lot of respect for Mike and typically he was extremely gracious. Graham and I then made arrangements for Gordon to meet Nationwide’s Chief Executive and Marketing Director in Swindon on Saturday for lunch. Gordon, by a strange coincidence was due to be at Swindon anyway to present the Division Two Championship Trophy to them.
After I dropped Gordon and Graham in London and headed off home the enormity of what we had achieved hit me. We went out on a limb to get a major brand like Nationwide to sponsor The League, but I am convinced that they are going to be a very important and influential brand in football for many years to come.
The start of the 1996/97 football season can’t come soon enough for me now!