Football: Littlewoods scoop FA Cup sponsorship: Pools firm secures deal

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THE FA Cup, the greatest draw in sport according to those who would tie it with sponsors' ribbons, but which for 123 years had remained elusive to the marketing men, was finally brought into line yesterday when Littlewoods Pools signed a pounds 14m deal linking them with the knock-out competition for the next four years, writes Trevor Haylett.

The famous title, which has come to embody football's romantic appeal, remains. What the pools and mail order company get for their money is the suffix 'sponsored by Littlewoods Pools', a mouthful unlikely to find it's way into the 'Ee-ay-addio' chants traditionally rolling around Wembley on the final afternoon.

It is the biggest sponsorship agreement for an individual competition, and the jackpot swells to pounds 20m to take account of Littlewoods' additional sponsorship of the FA Charity Shield.

The Football Association has been under pressure for some time to 'sell' the Cup and that increased with England's failure to qualify for the World Cup, a folly reckoned to have lost the game pounds 10m. With the FA reluctant for any relationship with a brewery or a cigarette firm, Littlewoods were always front-runners. Indeed, Trevor Phillips, the FA's commercial director, said 'no more fitting name could be associated with the most famous cup in the world, a prize which means so much to us all'. For that reason the FA only wanted to talk to a suitor who 'cared about and cherished the value of the competition as we do'.

''Much has been written about the sponsorship of the Cup long after other institutions such as the Derby, Test matches and the Grand National have been accepted by the public as sponsored events,' Phillips said. 'We know how special this property is. It is a marvellous national asset but the reality is that the FA needs funds to safeguard the future of the game.'

Littlewoods, which through its chain-store and mail-order outlets backed the League Cup to the tune of pounds 2.3m for three seasons in the 1980s, conceded that supporters would still refer to the competition by the traditional title. The format of the Cup will remain unaltered.

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