You might expect that buying naming rights to the second oldest football league in the world would cost a small fortune — certainly enough cash to count out your average punter. But the new name of the Northern League is up for grabs for possibly as little as £250.
The 119-year-old league, the home of 44 teams in the north-east of England, is need of a new sponsor after the withdrawal of the incumbent, the construction company Arngrove. The pull-out was officially due to illness of its owner, Brooks Mileson, who also owns the recently sunk Gretna FC, although it was reported as long ago as March that three of Mileson’s other companies were in financial difficulty, owing more than £370,000.
In hard financial times generally and for small football clubs in particular — stories of teams folding being painfully commonplace — finding one man to stump up all the required cash was always likely to prove difficult. The league has hit on an innovative solution: a raffle.
They intend to raise up to £40,000 by selling a maximum of 160 stakes at £250 each. The winner of the right to choose the league’s new name will be drawn at a dinner on 6 August, with all stakeholders becoming “Friends of the Northern League”. According to the chairman, the Northern Echo journalist Mike Amos, they’ve had 42 takers at the time of writing, and are hoping to shift at least 80 before the dinner.
In a bid to buy three or four stakes themselves, Amos and the league chaplain, Leo Osborn, are planning a sponsored 20-mile walk around Whitehaven, whose team is a newcomer to the league. Being sensible chaps, I’m sure their choice of name should they win, will be fitting to a league with this kind of pedigree — certainly more so than I suspect many suggestions will turn out to be.
And there’s the rub: the league has said that it will accept any name so long as it contains the words “Northern League” — a decision bound to attract one or two ‘hilarious’ inappropriate names.
The potential irony will not be lost on fans of one of the league’s members. Spennymoor Town was formed in 2005 from Evenwood Town and the ashes of the Unibond League’s Spennymoor United. (“Ashes” almost literally, too: Spennymoor’s clubhouse burned down on Christmas Eve 2003; it has not yet been rebuilt as there are newts living in it. Most pubs have regulars they can’t get rid of, but Spennymoor is perhaps unique in this respect.)
Despite the name change, the club is still known to its fans as United; the iron-wrought words “Spennymoor United” remain above the entrance and a recent book on the team’s history was entitled We’ll Always Be United in reference to supporters’ defiant terrace chant. But they were forbidden from formally reverting to their original name in 2006 when the FA blocked the proposal while the Northern League rejected a continental-style iteration with “F.C.” as a prefix.
Is this a chance for the Moors to gain the ultimate revenge and have the entire competition named after themselves? Possibly, though £250 is perhaps out of their, er, league.
To find out more or to buy a stake contact Northern League chairman Mike Amos on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Chris White.