The announcement on Thursday of the club’s new sponsorship deal with the newly formed British Steel is the best news to come out of the club in a long, long time. If, like me, you believe that a football club should retain close links with the community it represents, then you will be particularly delighted. Outside the global investment vehicles of the Premier League, small clubs really rely on their home towns to survive. After all, if kids in Ashby aren’t interested in the Iron, who will be?
As for the steelworks, it remains to be seen whether the new British Steel can provide a solid future in an incredibly challenging steel market and a post-Brexit world but I’m sure everyone hopes that they can make a success of it. Now, Scunthorpe United can be part of that. The details of the new tie-up remain, understandably, confidential so who knows how much the new company has paid to put their name on our shirts. Equally, who knows whether the club decided that, like the Prostate Cancer UK charity last year, they viewed the PR as more valuable than the relatively minor sum shirt sponsorship can raise at our level.
Something more significant than the shirt sponsorship is buried in the detail of the announcement: “The agreement between British Steel and Scunthorpe United will also see the two organisations work together on a series of community projects, with a particular focus on schools, education and training”. I imagine that the details of this part of the partnership have still to be finalised but I sincerely hope that it bears some significant fruit. There is the potential for both organisations to support schools and clubs, which often struggle to afford equipment and facilities, providing a true community benefit and hopefully generating plenty of goodwill.
For the club, I firmly believe that being active in the town, particularly amongst amateur sports clubs, will do much to bring people through the turnstiles, something which will be even more important with the plans to move the ground nearer to Keadby than Scunthorpe town centre. I hope that the new ground development will also include training facilities available for public hire, similar to the pitches next to Doncaster’s Keepmoat stadium. These could then also be used for the club’s outreach programmes.
The third and arguably most significant part of the press release is the news that Scunthorpe steel will be used to build the new stadium. Teesside Beam Mill, which rolls the sorts of heavy sections which are crucial for this type of construction, is supplied by slabs cast in our town. For the club, this must have been something of a no-brainer: great PR and a high-quality product. You would imagine that negotiations must have been fairly easy, with both parties very keen to secure the deal. It would be easy to be cynical and point out it would have been a massive own-goal to overlook British Steel for the new stadium but praise should be given where it’s due. Well done to all involved for making it happen.
Of course, it is not the club which will actually be building the stadium, that work has already been contracted to the Buckingham Group. Presumably, a clause will be inserted into the contract insisting on the use of British Steel sections though it is important to know how exclusive their deal is. Whether any other manufacturer’s steel products be used as well is not clear in today’s announcements. Perhaps something to raise at a future fans’ forum?
In addition, it would be fantastic to secure a commitment from the club to use construction products and services from other local companies to support employment in the area. Once the stadium is open, let’s get Golden Wonder or Piper’s crisps, local butchers’ Lincolnshire sausages and locally brewed beers in the catering points. Let’s make this a stadium for the whole of Scunthorpe and North Lincolnshire. The Iron like to tell us it’s “our club, our team, our support”, it would be fantastic to see that put into action and for everyone in the town to feel that Scunthorpe is United. The region’s not had much to shout about in recent years, so let’s do everything we can to make ourselves the Pride of Humberside.