England to wave the flag for £4m
Although virtually everything in the game has succumbed to the lure of cash in recent years, the national team - give or take an Admiral kit or two - had remained above such things.
Until yesterday that is, when at a slightly subdued and chaotic press conference at Old Trafford, it was announced that until 1998, the words England and the name of their new sponsors, Green Flag, are likely to become as synonymous as the team was with a white flag under Graham Taylor.
In return for their £4m investment, the company will have its logo emblazoned on England's training kit and track suits, it will sponsor internationals at Wembley and pay bonuses for the players in games during Euro '96 and through to the next World Cup.
All of which, of course, prompts the natural question: what is Green Flag and why did the Football Association sell the England team to a company very few had heard of?
It may be a vehicle, home, and medical assistance company on a broader front, but its most renowned component is National Breakdown, and even an international team boasting Paul Gascoigne would have been holding itself hostage to ridicule with that emblazoned on its training gear.
In accepting the deal, England's football team is following in the well-worn corporate footsteps of the national cricket (Tetley Bitter and Whittingdales) and rugby union (Scrumpy Jack and Courage) teams.
Since 1981, football's sponsorship bandwagon has seen the League Cup disappear under a multitude of monikers, the springing up of a long line of Auto Windscreens Shields, and other esoterically named cup competitions and even, last September, the FA Cup
lose its titular virginity in a deal with Littlewoods Pools.
"It is easy to say the FA and players should have gone with a better-known company," Trevor Phillips, the FA's commercial director, said of yesterday's deal, "but Green Flag's credentials and ambitions impressed everyone and they are a British company. Nobody had heard of Cornhill Insurance when they came into cricket."
So Green Flag it is, and there were Andy Cole, Paul Ince, John Barnes, Ian Wright and Gary Pallister standing sheepishly on the Manchester United pitch, holding an appropriately coloured standard for the photographers.
Perhaps someone should have pointed out the incongruity of Cole's appearance, as he has yet to win a full England cap, sponsored or otherwise, but when you have just been transferred for a British record fee of £7m, such trifles are probably irrelevant.
After all, money talks. The Football Association knows that better than anyone.
Latest in Sport
New day (slowly) rising – As Brasileirão gets underway, Brazilian football stumbles, rather than leaps into the future
The average Serie A crowd last year was 13,000 - comparable to Australia’s A-League.
by James Young
24 May 2013 04:31 PM
Monaco is a street circuit where driver ability is more important than anywhere else and if we take ...
by Gareth Purnell
24 May 2013 02:00 AM
Three weeks ago as I drove off the Eurostar, I remember thinking what a very long time it was until ...
by Martin Ayres
23 May 2013 05:29 PM
Why Manchester City were willing to fork out $500m on stake in MLS
Champions League final: Biggest German invasion since the fifth century as Borussia Dortmund face Bayern Munich
Borussia Dortmund v Bayern Munich: 50 things you should know about the Champions League final
Champions League final preview: Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund
Champions League Final: Can Jürgen Klopp and Borussia Dortmund stop the Bayern Munich machine?
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.