Spinning the Spinnaker

Sam Ward takes a satirical swipe at new proposals to sponsor our defining landmark.

The news broke the way it does these days. Cut-up and quoted, trickling out from the source, repurposed and ridiculed, a William S Burroughs newsfeed. Portsmouth’s newly beloved Spinnaker Tower, misunderstood concept piece and yin to the beleaguered Lipstick Building’s yang, is going to be sponsored by Emirates.

This city, proud of its rich maritime history, is going to have its biggest monument to that heritage sponsored by a luxury airline company. The usual suspects were there: the flashy press conference, and the grinning local politicians sniffing around the corporate bigwig like dogs at a banquet. How did such an unlikely and unsuitable partnership arise? My best guess is that it was an opportunistic sabotage. One council undercutting another.

Sir Tim Clark, godfather of the luxury Gulf state airline, was most probably sat comfortably in the back of his luxury car, being whisked from London to pull off another glorious corporate coup and continue his great services to British prosperity. His destination: a large south coast city with an airport and a football team that plays in red and white, just begging to be rebranded ‘Emirates Southampton’, home of the historical Emirates City Walls.

Unbeknownst to Tim, Pompey had someone on the inside who quickly got word back to the bosses. A big deal was about to go down in Southampton. They couldn’t have that. The people of Portsmouth might be able to survive slash and burn Tory cuts, but they would never stand for the city losing out to Southampton. Showing poise and clarity, with a great nose for quick money, the Pompey lot got Harry Redknapp on the blower and he explained to them the ins-and-outs of a last minute swoop. ‘Set up a press conference, get ‘em on the dog and bone as soon as you can, and completely outbid the other party, pay well over the odds.’

So that’s what they had to do. Get that car diverted and offer Sir Tim Clark of the Realm whatever he wanted – Whatever Southampton’s paying, we’ll take half…we’ll give you the tower – but our company colours are red and white, we’re an airline… Sure sure, whatever you want, it’s just the tower. People will understand. It’s business!

That’s what I presumed happened, or something equally bungled/sinister (delete as appropriate). Whenever I am forced to think about corporate money mingling with public bodies, I imagine The Sopranos meets The Thick of It. Desperate scrambling politicians eager to do good by the party and Faustian business executives in well-fitted Italian suits, all oak-panelled walls and brandy decanters.

Then, like the serpent in Genesis, they emerge into the sun, and hold a press conference up the Spinnaker Tower. Councillor Donna Jones and her Conservative council chums gushed about how good a deal this was for the city (and great spin for the Conservatives, free to cut away for the duration of their term).

Unfortunately for Donna and co they underestimated just how much people here in Pompey hate red and white and all that it stands for (until St George’s Day of course, that’s different). “It’s not about football,” she protested, showing just how little she understands the whole farce. Public spending cuts and budget problems can be dressed up, obfuscated, and hidden. But turning the most visible modern icon of the city into a giant manikin of a Southampton FC player really isn’t going to play well. To get a little serious for a moment, it at best shows a comic lack of connection to the people of the city they represent, and at its worst, and most likely, it shows a wilful ignorance for the petit superstitions of those uppity proles and their games. I wouldn’t even put it past them to have done it as revenge for all the income Portsmouth FC lost the city by so inconsiderately being run into the ground by charlatan owners. Red and White Spinnaker, that’ll learn ‘em for getting relegated.

Personally the colour of the tower is the least of my concerns. What worries me is the precedent the sponsorship deal sets. Removing public funding of services and putting them at the mercy of corporate sponsorship is putting the whole city out to freelance and sell itself to any willing bidder just to secure the public services we should all expect from our council. This isn’t privatisation by the back door, it’s going through the cat-flap.

What is most upsetting is that no one cared about that. There was such organised fury against those colour proposals. Such a unified opposition to red stripes on a giant pretend sail that the council has had to reconsider the colour. Only the colour though, not the cuts or the dangerous policy of hinging future services on the eagerness of luxury brands to rename any possible city landmark. No, only the colour.

What I’ve learned from this saga is that Bill Shankly was right, football is much more than a matter of life and death, and if you can’t beat them join them. So I’m going to head on down to the soon to be Coca-Cola Common and paint one leg blue, one leg red, and start a bidding war on my future.

Photography by Sarah Cheverton.