…the 72 clubs…would be playing in the ‘Nationwide Football League’.

By 30th May 2023 No Comments

Watching the Play-Off Finals this weekend, the thing that struck me the most was how disappointing it was to see my old employers, The Football League (or the EFL as they are now known) so in thrall to their sponsors, Sky Bet.

At a time when a Premier League player has been banned from the game for 8 months for breaching the FA’s betting regulations and the clamour to remove betting sponsorships from the game will see gambling sponsorship axed from the front of Premier League club shirts from the end of the 2025/26 season; seeing Wembley Stadium covered in advertising for Sky Bet made me feel even more proud of the sponsorships we did during my time at The League.    

I was involved in negotiating two title sponsorships during my eight years at The League, my first was with Endsleigh Insurance and then with the Nationwide Building Society, which we launched 27 years ago today.     

The three-year title sponsorship of The Football League by Endsleigh Insurance expired at the end of the 1995/96 season. Endsleigh had been excellent partners and had played a huge part in re-positioning The Football League, post Premier League. However, after a close season spent in protracted sponsorship negotiations, we reached agreement with the Nationwide Building Society in May 1996 for the financial giants to become the new title sponsors of The Football League which meant that, from the start of the 1996/97 season, the 72 Clubs in The Football League would be playing in the ‘Nationwide Football League’.

The challenge for me and my colleagues at The League now was to get everything in place for the launch of the new ‘Nationwide Football League’, including the official theme tune, which I suggested and which went on to become an iconic soundtrack to Nationwide’s sponsorship and the official theme tune of ITV’s ‘Nationwide League Extra’ highlights show.

The official launch took place on 30th May at ‘Football, Football’ in the Haymarket, here are my Football League diary extracts from that time:

Thursday 23rd May 1996 

One of the things that Nationwide will be doing is producing a video for the launch. Backing music was required and for our sponsorship launch strategy meeting today I brought in a CD of ‘Little Britain’ by Dreadzone which I felt would be absolutely perfect. Everyone in the Nationwide marketing team, including their consultants MGA, agreed that the music I suggested was just right. I stated that I had a feeling that ‘Little Britain’ would go on to be a very recognisable them tune of ‘The Nationwide Football League’.

Tuesday 28th May 1996

Today was spent organising ‘faces’ to attend the press conference on Thursday. Phil Neal and Dennis Smith confirmed their attendance and I managed to get David Webb to agree to come. Also, Sheila Marsden at QPR contacted me to say that Simon Barker would attend. I then fell back on ‘my’ club for help. Alan Curbishley couldn’t make it, but he allowed me to contact Stuart Balmer. Stuart was so supportive, which I knew he would be, and within 30 minutes I also had Mike Salmon and Carl Leaburn as well. I know that some people at The League feel that I’m too close to Charlton Athletic sometimes but at least the Club supports me, and I can always guarantee player attendance at League events such as these.

Wednesday 29th May 1996     

In the afternoon Graham Walker and I went over to meet Nationwide’s consultants MGA in the Edit Suite in Soho to see how the launch video was progressing. It looked fantastic and the choice of music, ‘Little Britain’ was just a perfect fit. I felt a huge sense of pride when I saw how well the music matched the film footage. Nationwide are great to work with and I can’t wait for tomorrow to come.

Thursday 30th May 1996  

The big day. The day I have been looking forward to for so long, the day when we officially announce a major new partner for The Football League. After calling in at the office and collecting some Mitre footballs and the Nationwide-branded kit, I set off for ‘Football, Football’. I arrived at 8.30am. The Nationwide team had been working through the night to get the restaurant looking corporate for the launch and they did a marvellous job. The place looked fabulous; it was obvious that no expense had been spared. Nationwide obviously wanted to use the launch as a credentials statement, and it worked.

As for the video, the MGA boys had done us proud. The music perfectly fitted the action and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up with pride. The players all turned up on time – Stuart Balmer, Mike Salmon and Carl Leaburn from Charlton and Simon Barker from QPR. After a short rehearsal when Richard Keys put the top table through their paces, the guests and the media were let in. There was a brilliant turn-out. The presentation went well; only one journalist asked what I call ‘sniffy’ questions relating to the gap with the Premier League however League President Gordon McKeag answered them extremely well. Why journalists constantly try to put The League down I do not know. The Premier League is the elite, no one disputes that, but the Game needs a thriving Football League if it is to survive and there is undoubted quality in our League. We will never be able to command the same fees as the Premier League, that is impossible; however, we have now shown that The Football League can command and fully expect to receive, sponsorship income of a much higher level than previously.

My colleague Graham Walker and I went out on a limb to get a major brand like Nationwide Building Society (whose brand values perfectly aligned with ours) to sponsor The League, but I was totally convinced that Nationwide would become a very important and influential brand; not just for The Football League but for football in general, and for many years to come.

I wasn’t wrong, was I.