With Conference Premier football club Kettering Town FC on their financial knees and with their very existence at threat, there was only one place to look for redemption; to a time of bigger hair, shorter shorts and fatter ‘taches. I’m of course talking about the 1970s.
To celebrate Kettering Town’s status as the first English club to adopt a football shirt sponsor in 1976, Betfair threw ‘The Poppies’ a lifeline by agreeing a one-off shirt sponsorship deal and cash injection, just days ahead of their visit to the Royal Courts of Justice to face an HMRC winding-up petition.
At the home fixture with Stockport County on Saturday 31st March, the struggling club agreed to wear a specially made retro playing strip, faithful to the original 1976 design and featuring vintage ‘short’ shorts. Betfair was also set to offer season-ticket holders unbeatable value with a rebate to attend the match for just £1 – the cost of entry in 1976 – with fans able to pocket the difference or donate it back to the club.
To get the Kettering squad in the mood for the fixture, we visited the club to undertake a transformation back to the spirit of the 1970s, as brought to life in this exclusive photo shoot. The players were enthusiastic and willing models, with player-manager Ashley Westwood and midfielder David Bridges proving more than a little comfortable in the ‘70s ensemble.
It’s impossible, however, to recall the nostalgia of 1970s football, and not bring to mind images of stirring broadcast coverage. In a tribute to the Dickie Davies-anchored ‘World of Sport’ and other such TV gems, we created “Betfair’s Big Match”, following hapless sports reporter Dave Mandelson as he visited the team in preparation for the crucial Stockport County fixture.
The story sought to raise awareness of Kettering Town’s financial plight, with football fans encouraged to back a campaign run by The Poppies Trust, looking to raise funds to safeguard the future of the club. National press were fully behind the move, with The Metro and Daily Mirror running stories on launch day, and the likes of DailyMail.co.uk, DailyStar.co.uk as well as football bloggers such as WhoAteAllThePies and 101GreatGoals running the video, in addition to local broadcasters ITV Anglia.
The surge of media interest caused quite a stir in the Football Conference, however, with league sponsors Blue Square Bet objecting to a rival betting brand operating within their apparent space. On Friday 30th March, and just 24 hours ahead of the crucial fixture, Kettering Town were faced with the threat of possible league expulsion if they went ahead with the unique deal. In light of this development Betfair reluctantly withdrew the shirts from the match itself, whilst still donating the much needed cash to the club.
The club were delighted with the generous contribution, helping ensure a club with a unique role in UK’s football history lived to fight another day.
We’ll never know if those shirts would have inspired the team to victory, as sadly Kettering succumbed to a 1-3 home defeat, and face an uphill battle to remain in the division next season.
From all at Betfair and Synergy (and of course Dave Mandelson), we wish the club all the best. “COME ON YOU POPPIES!”
By Donald Parish on April 4th, 2012