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Two sides to Norwich City’s link-up with gaming company – picking a ‘winner’ isn’t easy

City versus Birmingham last season at Carrow Road - for a SkyBet Championship match with one of the teams sponsored by a betting company. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

City versus Birmingham last season at Carrow Road - for a SkyBet Championship match with one of the teams sponsored by a betting company. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

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I was watching the fascinating, and slightly disturbing, “24 Hours in Police Custody” when, during the break, up popped an ad for 777 Casino.

I made a cuppa, the ad content going completely off my radar. But for those who have taken to social media this week to berate Norwich City for holding hands with a gaming company – LeoVegas are the new club sponsors – I ask a question: should I have changed channels?

City’s sponsorship deal has kicked up a huge fuss, prompting all sorts of moral (and some not so moral) arguments.

Should City be working alongside a gaming company given the fact that addiction to gambling is something that destroys lives? According to my colleague Luke Powell, the charity GambleAware treated 8,800 people from across the UK last year.

So, we know that gambling may - and that is an important word to emphasise - not be good for you. But we also know that drinking too much alcohol can cause problems - yet there are still bars everywhere you look at football grounds.

And for those who have shouted very loudly from the rooftops about City’s new deal, plenty of others have responded by pointing out that they play in the SkyBet Championship.

The name Coral is still on the front of a stand and there are bookmakers at the ground – yet the outraged haven’t been quite as vocal about those.

Those who have expressed strong anti-gambling principles perhaps should have stayed away from Carrow Road long ago. Hence the “should I have changed the channel” question at the top of this piece? Where do you draw the line?

Without wishing to sit on the fence, I can see the issues: the problem is, you can’t pick and choose your fights. If association with gaming companies is such a problem for some fans, then they need to look at the bigger picture and be true to their principles.

Many of the complaints have centred around City’s family values and the conflict between that philosophy and the new sponsors. There is perhaps a degree of discomfort there, but would the presence of LeoVegas’ name on the front of a replica shirt make any difference to a child? A child who hears bad language on the TV, can see risque advertising on the TV at almost any time of day and, judging by what I see and hear on my drive to work, isn’t perhaps quite mummy’s little angel that leaves the family home at half eight in the morning for a day’s education.

Again, you can see both sides here.

But what cannot be ignored is the simple fact that some supporters are concerned about the link with LeoVegas – and whether they are right, wrong or misguided it matters not a jot: when the fan is angry, the fan needs placating.

Promising to work with GambleAware was a good and sensible response. Far better than pointing out that City need the money to buy players who will bring the club success – that has a touch of the mercenary about it.

We mustn’t forget that City is not acting alone here. There are others clubs who enjoy financial assistance, should we say, from gaming companies. The sport itself is not immune to associating itself with products that some find a little distasteful, but football has gone down this avenue now and there is no turning back: it will never become whiter than white sport. It is a mega-bucks business – and you don’t become that big by adhering to a strict code of morals to appease everyone.

If you are in charge of a football club with full houses at home games and a great desire to be back in the top flight and win cup games, heaven forbid, then you need money. If the best deal, after all considerations, is to get it from a gaming company, then so be it. If not, they will give it to someone else and your chances of success are diminished - and your fans are not going to be as happy as they might have been.

THIS IS NOT A SAFE BET

Intriguing that the Premier League have asked its 20 clubs to consider taking part in a trial to reintroduce safe standing.

Clubs in the Premier League and Championship have been legally required to have all-seater grounds since the publication of the 1990 Taylor Report into the Hillsborough disaster – which itself has been back in the news this week.

It is a highly sensitive subject, for obvious reasons.

I have always been an advocate of safe standing – some of my best experiences as a football fan have come standing behind a goal with lots of like-minded fans – but there are good reasons why it may be difficult for many clubs to introduce.

Whilst it may seem a simple issue to rip out seats and replace them with safety rails, it is far from that simple: there are major cost issues.

For one thing, you will lose seats through safe standings: then you have to pay to instal rails while also adhering to a whole gamut of regulations regarding access points. And if there is a cost, will clubs then pass that cost on to the consumer/customer/fan?

Then there are problems of those displaced by the removal of seats. Where do you put them if they want to continue to sit while watching the game? If there is one thing a fan can demand it is where he or she sits: they pay their money, they buy their season ticket and if you move them, you may well be moving them out for good.

There is also the element of experimentation: note that the Premier League are aksing clubs to consider trialling safe standing.

In a statement, a Premier League spokesman said: “Last November clubs tasked the Premier League with scoping out the safety, supporter, technical and legislative issues surrounding permitted standing before further discussions, based on facts, take place. This survey is part of that process.”

There is a long way to go before areas of grounds will be available for people to stand – the Government opposes it and the police are unsure.

Some clubs may be able to afford it, but for others it could become a money-losing exercise.

For some others there will be issues that go far beyond cost and comfort.

A FIGHT TOO FAR

The fights between Nigel Benn and Steve Collins were the stuff of legends – but a rematch now both men are in their 50s? Ridiculous.

These two experienced former super-middleweights have agreed to meet again, although neither has fought since the 1990s. Benn is 53 and Collins 52 – they should know better. Collins has twice beaten Benn, who retired after their second fight in 1996. Collins did attempt to come out of retirement in 1999, but those hopes ended when he collapsed during a sparring session.

Benn says they could fight in October or November, and while neither has applied to the British Boxing Board of Control for a licence, they can seek one from overseas.

They know boxing as well as anyone: they should know the dangers. They are trivialising the efforts of today’s full-time pros. Boxing is a sport very much in need of more supervision of unlicensed bouts: Benn v Collins won’t help the cause.

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