Half a chance?

Why Chelsea’s branding of their name might not mean an end to the much-scorned half-and-half ‘friendship’ scarf

Ask most regular football match attendees about the half-and-half scarf and you’ll likely be met with a grimaced expression and a few choice words in response. Us ‘football purists’ – you know, the sort who grumble about increasingly bizarre kick off times, unreasonable Luddites that we are – have made no secret of the fact that we’ve long-hated the sight of people wearing the name of our club and that of the opponent, together with fixture date, around their necks. ‘It’s really for the kids,’ some of the traders who sell these scarves have argued. In my young days – and yes, I am aware that this renders me an old biddy – we were content with a match programme which we took proudly to school on Monday mornings, perhaps with a player signature or two on it. (Unless we’d lost, of course, and then we might just file it away and hope that the next one could be waved around the playground in triumph.) Yes, times have moved on, but with camera phones having been the norm for over a decade, you don’t need a replica scarf which, let’s face it, you aren’t going to wear ever again, as a reminder, or proof, that you attended a particular match. The game is still essentially tribal. Other clubs are our competitors and our rivals, some more than others. Most of us have good friends who support other clubs, but they would no more want to be adorned with our club’s name than we would theirs.

It has just been announced, to the delight of many, that Chelsea FC are to ban the half-and-half scarf being sold by independent stallholders around the ground. The club have won a court decision to trademark the word ‘Chelsea’ on clothing items.

The word ‘Chelsea’ is now trademarked in Class 25 – which covers clothing, replica football kits and headgear – but in a letter to traders Hammersmith and Fulham council specified scarves being sold outside Stamford Bridge would fall under the ruling. [getwestlondon, 11 Aug 2016, by Ryan O’Donovan]

(Caution: this link to the getwestlondon article will display two photographs of half-and-half scarves, which some readers may find offensive.)

The club’s official crest has, of course, been a licensed product for a long time, but the half-and-half scarves use the word ‘Chelsea’ on a blue-background half with (e g) ‘United’ on a red-background half, each bordered with a generic shirt.

On first hearing this news, it’s understandable to think, ‘Hurrah, no more half-and-half scarves, brilliant!’ That was my first reaction. Maybe the club have actually taken the opinions of the die-hard supporters into account. Maybe they’ve listened. Unfortunately though, the likelihood of this is on a par with the chances of Arsène Wenger admitting he’s seen an incident. I dislike the concept of brand altogether, but sadly, it’s a component of the modern club’s marketing strategy. They are a brand, we are customers. (Another of my pet hates!)

But being unable to use the word ‘Chelsea’ could cause problems for the indies on the Fulham Road. I still believe there is room for both the official products and the stall-holders’ unofficial merchandise. You aren’t ever going to see a tee-shirt on sale in the megastore with our song about Willian emblazoned on it. Well, not that bit of it. But a lot of supporters want to wear it. I have friends who produce some imaginative, good quality unofficial products, but they’re what the real fans ask for. And no, they’re not always vulgar, nor displaying derogatory slogans aimed at rival clubs. And here’s the other advantage: they are affordable. In the last few years, the Chelsea megastore has become bland and drab, even in decor. The recent ‘makeover’ has rendered it not dissimilar to a Sports Direct warehouse. All black and metal. You walk around and what do you see? Row upon row of replica shirts. I’m not anti replica shirt. I wear one with a personalised nickname on the back, but it’s obvious that the club’s merchandising department are mainly interested in shirt sales, because they provide the most lucrative return. Most of the other products are aimed at the tourists and what we refer to as day-trippers, the once-a-season match goers. There is insufficient imagination going into the official merchandise, and the few items which do appeal are overpriced.

If you go back to the early noughties, immediately prior to Roman Abramovich’s takeover, you could walk around the megastore to find a reasonable range of clothing and accessories. It wasn’t quite the good old days of the infamous satin scarves, but it was palatable. People who know me will remember how euphoric I was at all the pink tee-shirts, toiletry bags, scarves and jackets in the ladies’ range. Not everyone’s taste, granted, but it gave rise to my nickname. One day, I was cornered by Ken Bates outside the store, and virtually put on display so he could show me off to some cronies he was entertaining. ‘This ladies’ range is very popular for our growing female fan base,’ he told them, squeezing my shoulder energetically, as was his way, almost flooring me. Well, I was hardly a newbie, but I understood what he was saying. And roguish as he may have been, he did wander around, watching and listening, talking. He asked me what I liked about these new goods. He was a far-from-perfect owner, and he didn’t always endear himself to the supporters, but still, credit where credit’s due.

Whilst I do abhor the half-and-half scarf, I wouldn’t want to see the demise of the independent traders either. They have long been part of the match-day experience, from the bygone days of the rosettes to the current comic tee-shirts and bibs with ‘I’m a Chelsea baby’ on. These traders are entitled to make their money, and, half-and-half scarves aside, they largely do that by being imaginative and providing supporters with what they really want at affordable prices. Chelsea FC have quite simply ‘cottoned on’ to the fact that the day-trippers have been spending more of their money outside of the megastore than in and, unfortunately, a sizeable proportion of it has been on the half-and-half scarves. Call me cynical (you cannot be a Chelsea die-hard for 46 years without an element of cynicism) but don’t rule out the appearance in the megastore of official club ‘friendship’ scarves sometime soon. And, in this instance, nothing would give me more pleasure than being wrong.

© Carol Ann Wood
August 2016

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