What Might Have Been: Classic Shirt Sponsor Logos

Detail from a Liverpool shirt showing the logo of the company Candy

If you're a fan of branding and visual design like me, you can do far worse than to visit a website called BrandNew. It has a regularly updated feed showing new logos that have been launched by companies around the world, and the other day, one such logo caught my eye.

It belonged to an Italian company renowned for making dishwashers, washing machines and other appliances - Candy. As a football fan that has never owned any of Candy's products, my appreciation of the brand is luckily strengthened by its one-time association with Liverpool FC.

It seemed such a surprise for me as a 17-year-old when this company, of whom I knew nothing at the time, replaced the ever-familiar Crown Paints on Liverpool's shirts. Living in the UK as I was in 1988, Candy was a corporate non-entity to myself and just about everyone else back then, but at least they had a reasonably good logo.

And now, some 36 years later, Candy has a new one. It looks much more modern, yet is somehow lacking in character. It's an occasional moan of mine, but the clean lines of current corporate typefaces are a trade-off: what you gain in clarity, you lose in distinction and individuality. Yet one thing bothered me: what would it look like on a Liverpool shirt now, as if the connection between club and sponsor had never ended in 1992?

I quickly set to work on mocking up a picture to find out, and truth be told, it doesn't look too bad. It just looks like someone lazily removed two lines from the name in an attempt to make it look enigmatic. But does that really matter, and is it fair to say that shirt sponsor logos were a little boring anyway, even back in the 1970s and 80s?

Clearly I needed to do a bit more research. Looking back at a decent selection of the 'classic' logos of yore, several things became apparent. Firstly, some of the brands we used to see as main shirt sponsors no longer exist, including those representing old video game consoles or dial-up internet services. Of those that remain, a considerable number still use essentially the same logo now as they did many decades ago. For the likes of Carlsberg or JVC, for instance, there seems to be little appetite to change something that so many people around the world recognise easily.

Some logos have changed, however, and I present a small selection here, inviting you to imagine that the team in question stayed with the featured sponsor from that day to this.

Images of players wearing eight shirts during the 2023-24 season, each one with the new logo of that team's old sponsors superimposed

A selection of shirts from 2023-24 and how they might have looked with updated 'old' logos.

First, there's a brand that, even now, causes people to be bemused and confused in equal measure. Nobo, sponsors of Brighton & Hove Albion between 1986 and 1991, are the makers of office supplies. Their name, if pronounced in a certain way, is enough to send some people into suppressed giggles, but their old wordmark was fairly perfunctory, back in the day. Its modern equivalent fits in with 2024 design sensibilities much better, but without its accompanying speech bubble around the lettering, it also looks weak and retro for no real reason.

Coventry City were sponsored by Peugeot between 1989 and 1997, just after the glamour of Granada Bingo had worn off. Since those heady pre-millennial times, Peugeot have made a point of changing their corporate logo on a relentlessly frequent basis, and it's entirely possible it will have changed again by the time you finish reading this article. At time of writing, however, they no longer seem to have a wordmark that's separate from its 'lion's head in a shield' device, so one presumes the whole thing would've appeared on Cov's shirts in recent times. Whether it would have looked good or not depends on whether the Sky Blues had chosen a plain or striped home shirt. The latter somewhat distracts from quite a strong Peugeot logo, for what it's worth.

Pioneer were the first shirt sponsors of Ipswich Town at a time when the East Anglian club were second only to Liverpool in the old First Division. For such a high-flying team, a big player in the world of home electronics seemed apt as their shirt sponsor, and they certainly got it in the form of one of Japan's leading makers of hi-fi equipment. The wordmark that served Ipswich Town for four years until 1985 was a dignified one (if stretched vertically, to some extent), and was certainly better than the basic text of 'Radio Orwell' that followed it. The current Pioneer logo, introduced in 1999, unquestionably seems a better fit with what we're used to today, but I wonder if it now looks like something you'd see on the back of a reasonably-priced family car. Either way, its lower profile is not so easy to see on that royal blue background.

When Leeds United first started wearing Top Man as their shirt sponsor logo in 1989, the brand was owned by Burton, the menswear shop on the high street that had sponsored Leeds itself for the three years before. The six letters of the wordmark were depicted in a Clarendon-style slab serif font and looked about as trustworthy and reliable as logos got in the late 1980s. How fitting, then, that they first wore it in the season that saw Leeds gain promotion back to the First Division after a long absence. Alas, Leeds United find themselves back in the second tier of domestic football, and if they were wearing the current Top Man lettering on their shirt, it may not inspire them much to repeat their feat of 1989-90. The text is simple to the point of being almost insulting, but that's modern visual design for you, etc, etc...

Many football fans remember with fondness the shirts of Queen's Park Rangers that bore the name of Guinness between 1983 and 1986. Always in black on one of the white hoops (on the home shirts, at least), the wordmark of the famous Irish stout brand no longer has a stencilled look and instead uses a fine, classical serif font. It's not a million miles away from what it once was, yet for some reason it looks like a million other Times New Romans. The old stencil lettering had a bit more quirkiness to it (for a major brand), and in my view looked better on the shirt than my new mock-up suggests. Perhaps that's because I've had to add the Guinness name to a blue hoop, not a white one...?

Anyone that made photocopiers in the 1980s almost certainly ended up with their name on a football shirt several decades ago. Along with the likes of Sharp (Manchester United), Xerox (Southampton) and Panasonic (Nottingham Forest) were Ricoh. They partnered with Stoke City in 1981 and despite being a big name in Japanese electronics, they were a fairly ordinary one when it came to shirt sponsorship. Their basic sans-serif Futura-style lettering was bold and clear, but fundamentally quite dull. Perhaps inevitably, Ricoh changed its logo in 1986, a year after their partnership with Stoke City ended, then changed it again in 2005 to its current form. Unfortunately, it's also a little uninspiring - just in a different way. As with Pioneer earlier, this flattened, squat style of lettering doesn't make for high visibility on a shirt, but then again, they no longer have such worries in the world of modern-day football. Probably just as well.

Finally to Watford, who had the highly recognisable Solvite branding on their shirts from 1985 to 1988. Back then, Solvite managed to retain the green colouring for its name as seen on packets of its powdered wallpaper paste which, coincidentally, were also yellow. Being of a rather chunky nature, it was easy to see and contrasted well with the shirt. What's changed in the interim period, ironically, is not so much the logo as the shirt. During 2023-24, Watford's home shirt became almost more black than yellow, and that rather minimises the ability for the Solvite logo to stand out. If Watford were still with the Henkel sub-brand, Solvite's name would have to have been displayed in yellow or white. As you can see above, green doesn't work quite so well, but that's modern shirt design for you, etc, etc...

All of which leaves me to make sense of it all, and I'm not sure I can. Typefaces have certainly reduced in complexity, but they don't seem to have as much personality as they once did. Looking around at the sponsor logos of the 2023-24 Premier League, however, it seems that better alternatives do exist, so what's my verdict? In short, the logos of the 1980s looked great then, and the logos of the 2020s look great now. Context is everything, and mixing new with old doesn't necessarily create a magical fantasy scenario of what might have been. Sorry Candy.

Image source: x.com.