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Airlines, electronics, beer, and Autoglass: A brief history of Chelsea shirt sponsors

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Charlie Crowhurst

There's a story in the Daily Mail about Turkish Airlines coming in to replace Samsung as our shirt sponsor starting next season.  Plausible?  I suppose; it wouldn't be the first time (or the second) that we've had an airline as a sponsor and apparently the Turkish one is the third largest in Europe (who knew?), so presumably they have the money to outbid Samsung, whose contract is up this summer.

Since I'm in no position to comment on the validity of this rumor, let's take a trip down memory lane instead.  Here then is a quick overview of the nine different companies (eleven brands total) that have sponsored a Chelsea shirt since we first adorned the Royal Blue with a trademark in 1983.

To see most of these shirts in one place, I highly recommend checking out the Flickr account of @wiltshire711.  He's got a shirt collection to put all other collections to shame.  Warning: you might get VERY jealous after clicking here.

GULF AIR (1983-84)

A few years after Liverpool or Derby County or Kettering wore a sponsored shirt (didn't feel like researching beyond this bit), Chelsea trotted out with one for the last five months of the 1983-84 campaign.  It wouldn't be the first time we'd take flight on the wings of an airline from the Near East.  The simple, almost understated design (outside of the contrasting color, obviously) would set another precedent as well.

While the sponsorship would last only the one season -- to the tune of £150,000 -- it proved a successful one as Chelsea won the second division.

GRANGE FARM (1986-87)

If you thought modern football's oligarchs and sultans and other assorted rich men were the first to sponsor themselves, here's Ken Bates to prove you wrong by putting his own Home Counties farm on the shirt for a few games.  Whenever not shoving the fact that he owned a 300-acre farm in journalists' faces, Ken Bates's enterprise made ice creams and yoghurts.  Legend goes that he managed to sell the farm along with all the livestock just a few months before the start of the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

You can see a picture of the shirt emblazoned with the red, horror movie-esque font of Grange Farm here, as worn by the rather obscure Irishman John Coady.

BAI LIN TEA (1986-87)

The second sponsor of the season was something called Bai Lin Tea, a slimming tea, i.e. snake-oil.  Here's Rick Glanvill with the scandalous details:

The brainchild of well-connected fraudster Peter Foster, the Chinese tea's alleged slimming claims were later proved utterly bogus.  This was a shock because the product had been endorsed by Page 3 sensation [and Foster's girlfriend] Samantha Fox, tax-evading jockey Lester Piggott and notoriously money-averse Sarah Ferguson [i.e. "Fergie," Duchess of York] -- all renowned nutritionists.  Foster was later jailed for fraud.

-source: The Chelsea FC Miscellany by Rick Glanvill

Awesome.  Here's the overly nice John McNaught (2 reds, 11 yellows, 1 tunnel brawl in 34 Chelsea & Chelsea Reserves appearances) in this controversial beauty.

SIMOD (1986-87)

For the last few months of the season, Bates looked toward Italian casual sportswear company Simod, who were much more of a thing back then, even sponsoring a Formula 1 team (albeit just Minardi).  It's unclear whether they're still in business nowadays.

Note the "brand" of the shirt as well, which were produced by Chelsea in-house that season.

COMMODORE (1987-93)

After all the false starts, Chelsea finally secured a long-term, proper shirt sponsor, Bates once again working some financial magic to eke out a then-record for British football £1.25m (over three years) from the personal computing pioneers.  While the partnership brought disaster at first as Chelsea were relegated from the first division, we'd bounce straight back the next season.  Since then, Chelsea have remained in the top flight.

AMIGA (1993-94)

Technically the same company as the previous six years, we featured Commodore's Amiga brand for the last season of their sponsorship.

Two weeks before Chelsea were broken 4-0 in the FA Cup Final by Manchester United, Commodore International figured out that they were broke as well and declared bankruptcy.

COORS (1994-97)

Unlike Amiga, the USA-based beer giants would end their tenure on the Chelsea shirt on a winning note with the 1997 FA Cup Final.

They are also associated with the greatest-worst/greatest-greatest shirt of all time, the graphite-tangerine dream:

AUTOGLASS (1997-01)

No, the name doesn't lie, it's a company that manufactures and sells automobile windscreens.  The US-based equivalent would be a sports team sponsored by Safelite (who are nowadays owned by the same multi-billion dollar parent company as Autoglass, incidentally).  Glamorous!  Random.  Cool.

FLY EMIRATES (2001-05)

After engineering the biggest deal in British football history in 1987, Bates engineered the second biggest at the time in 2001 with another Gulf-based airline (four years, £24m).  Incidentally, one of the companies that Emirates eclipsed in their meteoric rise into the upper echelons of the international airfare game was Gulf Air.

Nowadays Emirates is more closely associated with Arsenal and their stadium, but the distinctive font should be familiar to all Chelsea fans, young and old, old and new.

SAMSUNG mobile (2005-2008)

For the first three years of our still ongoing association with Samsung, we were sponsored by their mobile phone division.  Mobile phones were all the rage those days; Chelsea's deal with Samsung (five years; £50m) brought us in line with Vodafone and Manchester United (four years; £36m).

SAMSUNG (2008-?)

As much as I appreciate the simplicity of the logo -- we just have to look at United at their horrendously large and awful-looking Chevrolet badge for how much worse things could get -- it's possibly time for a change.  The current deal, valued at £18m/year puts us just fifth in the Premier League, so unless Samsung are willing to fork out upwards of twice as much (Chevrolet did set the bar high at £47m/year), this year may be the last year for the South Korean conglomerate on the Chelsea shirt.  We had some good times though...