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Opinion

Rock solid sponsorship?

Anyone who follows the travails of England’s football, cricket and rugby teams should easily have predicted Northern Rock’s troubles.

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"From the beautiful game to the home of cricket, the Northern Rock name is fast becoming synonymous with English sport," says the bank’s website. Exactly.

The football team failed to qualify for this year’s European Championships, the cricket team followed its rare Ashes triumph in 2005 with a 5-0 whitewashing in Australia and the rugby team just lost its proud 20-year dominance over Wales with a tragicomical performance at Twickenham.

"International, national, regional. Clubs, events, individuals. We live, breathe and love sport," says the Rock.

But how can it maintain that position now that the bank is being taken into public ownership?

Northern Rock is the main sponsor of the consistently underachieving Newcastle United, which includes among its highly paid and unsuccessful squad hopeless gambler Michael Owen, who is thought to have blown £40,000 on the horses, and serial court attendee Joey Barton.

Newcastle Falcons rugby club, which the bank also sponsors, has at least won a title fairly recently – in 1998 – as well as cups in 2001 and 2004, thanks in no small part to Jonny Wilkinson, the country’s favourite rugby player.

The bank also backs the county cricket clubs of Middlesex and Durham, home of England one-day captain Paul Collingwood and flaky fast bowler Stephen Harmison.

Can all these stars rely on further support from the bank? Surely the public outcry over nationalization will prompt a tightening of the sponsorship purse.

The tipping point would come if reports prove true that Newcastle United’s boss, Kevin Keegan, is lining up David Beckham for a career swansong on Tyneside. The idea of the public purse subsidizing Posh Spice’s gruesome wardrobe is surely too much for the British public to stomach.

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