Sheffield Wednesday have a unique sponsorship arrangement in that their kit is ‘made’ by Elev8, a company run by the club’s owner, Dejphon Chansiri, but for this article we are delving into the past.
It’s not completely unknown for an English top-flight team to be without a shirt sponsor – West Browich Albion didn’t have one in 2008-09 and West Ham United were also sponsorless for part of that campaign. However, given the global shop window that the Premier League is, there’s always someone ready to step in when a vacancy occurs.
Three decades ago, football wasn’t such big business and teams not having a brand on the front of their shirts wasn’t as remarkable – after all, it was still a relatively new phenomenon and the businesses involved tended to be local rather than international.
In 1989-90, when Sheffield Wednesday were relegated from Division 1 of the Football League on goal-difference, they were sponsored by VT Plastics, the second of a two-year deal. With no replacement to be found, they were without a sponsor during the 1990-91 Division 2 promotion campaign.
We say “throughout the promotion campaign”, but not throughout the season itself. That was because Wednesday reached the final of the Rumbelows Cup and beat Manchester United 1-0 – the last team from outside the top division to win a major domestic trophy in England. For that game, they entered into a one-off sponsorship deal with Asda. While the supermarket firm’s logo was normally green, on the Owls’ shirts it was rendered in black.
Not even the return to the top tier could elicit a sponsorship deal in the summer of 1991, and a resurgent Wednesday stayed near the top of the table in early 1991-92 with blank advertising space on their new shirts, albeit very similar to the old ones.
However, for the home game with Leeds United in January 1992, Wednesday had the logo of confectionery item Mr Tom on the shirts. While there was an inauspicious start, losing 6-1 to their Yorkshire and title rivals, Wednesday managed to finish third behind Leeds and Manchester United. Initially placed on a patch, Mr Tom was later sublimated, as the previous sponsors had been.
The Mr Tom deal was a short-term one and expired at the end of the season, with Yorkshire-based software firm Sanderson coming in for an alliance that would last until 2000 – they would later partner Southampton too, so that, while David Hirst changed teams in 1997, he kept the same shirt sponsor.
Back in 1992, Hirst was an England hopeful and Wednesday were flying high, with a European campaign to look forward to. While they had missed out in 1991, they were the last league cup winners to be denied a spot in Europe, but there was some karma. Manchester United won the Rumbelows Cup in 1992 as well as finishing second, meaning that Wednesday got the extra place due to finishing third – with Uefa slowly reintegrating English sides after the Heysel ban, third placed wasn’t guaranteed a Uefa Cup slot, meaning Crystal Palace missed out the previous year.
The Sanderson logo was applied on a patch, though there were to versions of the shirt used in the league. The first had the Premier League sleeve patches very high – so as not to obscure the pattern on the arm – with the Umbro logo (amended for 1992, with the wording in caps) and club crest placed where blue and white stripes met; the second, used later in the campaign, had the sleeve patches low, as the Football League ones had been, with the Umbro marking and crest more towards the centre, in the middle of white stripes.
Wednesday’s opponents in the first round of the Uefa Cup were Spora Luxembourg and they came through the test easily, winning 10-2 on aggregate, though there was another sponsorship issue.
With the full Sanderson logo too large for Uefa’s strict rules, the company’s red, white and blue insignia was covered for the first leg in mid-September – an 8-1 win – with a white patch, though one would think blue would have been more suitable.
Two weeks later in Luxembourg, the second leg would see a different approach as the insignia was worked into the Sanderson wordmark, replacing the letter ‘o’. This is how it would appear in the two legs of the second-round defeat to German side Kaiserslautern, too.
While Wednesday couldn’t repeat their 1991-92 feat of finishing third, they still finished a creditable seventh and came close to silverware, reaching both domestic finals, only to lose to Arsenal in each.
For the Coca-Cola Cup decider at Wembley in April, the Sanderson wordmark was coloured black – perhaps seeking a 1991 Asda-style omen? – and there were no Premier League patch. A month later, for the drawn FA Cup final and replay, the patches were present and Sanderson was back to red, although sublimated rather than one a patch.
The replay was Wednesday’s last game in Umbro, with a new manufacturing deal with Puma beginning in the summer of 1993.