Unprofessional Foul


March 3, 2010

The Good, The Bad, The WTF

If you clicked through The Sun link in last night’s Backpasses (and I know some of you are naturally inclined not to do so), you would have come across this week’s shirt. It’s from Scarborough United and, and it is not nearly as bad as their previous effort here.  In fact, it’s not bad at all, just a little bland, if not for the super-dodgy shirt sponsor–a definite relic from the time.

Ooh, scary.

The story form The Sun goes that Scarborough–then in the old Fourth Division–signed on with Black Death Vodka as club sponsor in 1989 or so. The next year, the Football League set up an outright ban of such brands as sponsors, and this shirt became forever frozen in time.

Black Death infamously went on to use Slash from Guns ‘n’ Roses as their main spokesman. Well, he signed on, they paid him, and then, is his words: “they disappeared”.

That’s not far off from what happened. This article traces the history of the brand, from its founding in 1906 to its odd and oddly complete disappearance in the 1990s. Black Death was a beet-based vodka which started out in Iceland. For 80 years, nothing much happened with the brand. Then, in 1987, they won a rather prestigious tasting in London. That was the beginning of the end.

The owners then started aggressively marketing the vodka, producing the sponsorship with Scarborough and the deal with Slash. But then the Football League stepped in and, in the US, so did the ATF. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms banned the spirit for “misleading advertising, since the brand seems to promise poison and plague but delivers only vodka.” Your government at work, America.

Shortly after, Black Death appealed the ruling and won, though ultimately it was at too much of a cost. By the mid-90s, the vodka had disappeared from the US. Though a distributor still holds the rights to import the vodka, none has hit the shores in at least a decade.

Let that be a lesson to all football clubs. Watch who you allow to sponsor you. Sometimes, like in Lyon right now, ruling bodies like to make themselves known through action or inaction.

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