By Brad Rees, CEO, Mediacells
Bespoke ‘shoe artist’ Zebra Customs produced a pair of Nike Air Zoom Mercurial football boots for Wrexham AFC striker Paul Mullin last week, with the custom message ‘F*** The Tories’ [FTT] emblazoned across the left (naturally) outstep of the boot.
The football club swiftly took to Twitter and banned Mullin from wearing the offending ‘studs’, adding “the club has adopted a neutral position on many matters with a political dimension”.
Mediacells applied its deep learning model True Sentiment, estimating fan responses to Zebra Customs’ FTT tweet.
The early results indicated strong fan support for Mullin’s individual political views and superlative acclaim for the custom bootmaker whose craftsmanship is described as ‘f**king beautiful’ by one impressed fan.
It was a tough call for the club to make and they acted swiftly and decisively in what at the end of the day was a no-brainer. Players and fans have a responsibility to uphold the integrity of the club and its community, particularly younger fans.
Clubs are neither political institutions nor influencers – if anything, their fans buy into the stadium experience as an escape from the increasingly disturbing reality of real life, not unlike going to the movies or a gig as a means of being uplifted from the bullshit of the everyday.
It was a potential Sex Pistols moment for Wrexham AFC which they have avoided, to a certain extent.
In 1976 punk rock bad boys the Sex Pistols dropped the C-bomb on live TV, and were pilloried by the press and interviewer Reg Grundy (who went on to be sacked for allowing the incident to hurtle out of broadcast control) as well as transforming the group into overnight stars with rocketing vinyl record sales.
Acclaimed punk writer Jon Savage said that the incident had a “a totally disastrous effect on the group: from then until their demise in January 1978, they added only four new songs to their repertoire.”
The FTT incident has transformed Paul Mullin from low-profile, lower-league striker to being most-talked-about Brit football player on prime-time American TV.
The immediate impact of the ban has had a similar effect on the terraces with the ‘inevitable chant’ resonating through the Racecourse Ground the same day as ‘Bootgate’ hit social media.
Although true sentiment may have been on Mullins’ side, on this occasion, if the custom slogan was permitted and set as precedent, younger fans could be exposed to more unsavoury messaging on football players’ boots, making the FTT ‘scandal’ as quaint and anodyne as the Sex Pistols saying ‘Shit’ on primetime, 1970s TV.