The glory of the Manchester United x Sharp relationship

Our shirts don’t need saving – Episode 1

Last year, a certain bookmaker called for the end to shirt sponsorship as we know it.

As a series of joke shirt release and PR stunts unfolded, thousands upon thousands joined in with the “Save Our Shirt” campaign. Sponsors were lambasted by many as a symbol of everything that was wrong with the modern game.

And I hated it.

I hated the thought of losing shirt sponsors completely. 

Many of my memories of a particular team or a particular kit are tied intrinsically to the sponsor(s) on the front of a shirt. Even the ugliest of sponsors have a place in the kit ecosystem in my eyes (yes, even the gambling ones), and there’s even a place at the table for kits with several sponsors slapped on.

In an effort to celebrate the vibrant world of shirt sponsorship, we’re starting a new fightback in SUPPORT of sponsors.

Welcome to the first edition of “Our shirts don’t need saving”. 


Halcyon days on the red side of Manchester

Without wanting to sound cliché, I grew up at a time when Manchester United were one of the pillars of the English game. Even as a kid growing up in Essex, you were guaranteed to have at least a few Red Devils fans in your class during any given school year.

Though I only caught the end of the Sharp x United relationship, the legacy of the partnership echoed on for a long time. I would argue that it’s a tandem that remains oen the great examples of a sponsorship that just works.

From a longevity perspective, we saw Sharp on the front of Manchester United kits from as early as 1982. Shirt sponsors were a relative novelty during the early 80s, but the introduction of Sharp made a tonne of sense for the red side of Manchester.

Sharp had a factory right in the heart of Newton Heath, the spiritual home of the Red Devils, and the global ambition both parties shared was strong. Most importantly though, success on the pitch was about to arrive in bucketloads.

Yorke, Cole, Solskjaer, Beckham, Neville, Schmeichel, Robson, Keane, Cantona, Scholes, Giggs. The list of greats who wore a Sharp sponsored shirt is long and illustrious, and virtually every possible club trophy passed through these players hands during the Sharp years.

Of course the most famous of these was one which was minutes away from never reaching Manchester. That fateful comeback on the evening of 26 May 1999 will go down as one of the most incredible footballing moments of all time, and Sharp were lucky enough (or perhaps smart enough) to be there for every step. 

In 10, 20, 50 years time, what images will jump to the forefront of our minds when someone mentions the Manchester United team of the Alex Ferguson years? For me, if it’s not the annoyingly unwavering ability to just win, it’s Sharp.


Check back for more episode of Our shirts don’t need saving, and thanks to designer Ifrha for the wonderful illustration of the Sharp kits. You can see more of Ifrha’s work over on Twitter or Insta.

Phil Delves

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