9 November ~ A couple of years ago in a small corner of Middlesbrough's club shop, I became transfixed by a pack of club-branded salt and pepper shakers, reduced from £10 to £6 because they carried the old club crest. I'm not against buying other clubs' merchandise if the price if right – I still own a Blackburn Rovers optical mouse bought a few years ago at a knockdown price. However, after much soul searching I decided not to buy these shakers, but it got me thinking that I've never seen such a product in any other club shop before or since.
With most official websites now identically bland and soulless affairs with slightly differing colour schemes, and team kits based upon three or four manufacturer templates, the club shop is one of the small areas of football where a little piece of individuality is still permitted. It fascinates me to wonder what made Birmingham City, for example, say yes to stocking that nodding dog for the car while Aston Villa appear to have passed on the opportunity. My theory was borne out by perusing the various club shop sections of websites: Coventry City will sell you a sky blue, crest-emblazoned hard hat; you can get your very own pair of gleaming silver and white QPR trainers; and Mansfield do their own limited edition white wine with a team photo proudly displayed across the label.
My knowledge of the business world, which granted is loosely based upon occasional viewings of The Apprentice and Dragons' Den, tells me that such differences in stock shouldn't really exist in the modern world, as manufacturers are normally only willing to produce bespoke items such as these in large quantities. And I can't imagine that Walsall sell enough of their branded binoculars to make such a venture viable. However, there they are, available at £2.99 on the website, the mini sales pitch proclaiming that "You won't miss a thing at Bank's(sic) Stadium with these essential binoculars".
In today's world where town and cities are all filled with the same old chains of sandwich shops, coffee houses and express supermarkets, it is oddly comforting that football still clings onto a sliver of uniqueness and variety. The only question remaining is whether the perfume on sale at Arsenal is in fact the same branded scent you can buy at Everton. Joel McClelland