Hijacking Our Heritage

With numerous Jack Wills-sponsored events approaching, CHRIS McKEON reckons the brand doesn’t fit Cambridge sport.

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Back in September 2011, the U21s went up to Scotland to face St Andrews in a pre-season friendly. But when they trotted out onto the pitch for their warm-up, I am told, the Scots were more than a little amused.

The cause of their amusement was two words, newly emblazoned on the Cambridge kit that season: Jack Wills.

The Mark of the Beast

They are two words that are becoming increasingly common in Cambridge sport. The Varsity Polo match, an annual fixture since 1878, has since 2007 been the Jack Wills Varsity Polo. In 2011, Jack attached his name to the Varsity Rugby Union match and now he’s got his hands on the cricket.

He’s a generous man, is Jack, and given the serious underfunding of Cambridge sport, it isn’t a surprise that his generosity has been largely welcomed. After all, who could refuse a kit bag of free stash and a Land Rover?

The colleges, that’s who. Before they signed the deal with the University rugby clubs, Jack Wills wanted a similar arrangement with the colleges, providing stash and playing kit in exchange for the right to sell college branded shirts to sloanes for £80.

This Land Rover was probably only slightly more expensive than their clothes

The deal never happened, allegedly because the colleges didn’t want their names and crests used by the Jack Wills marketing department.

They didn’t need the money, but unfortunately the University clubs did. I say unfortunately because Jack Wills isn’t just supporting us, we’re supporting them as well. And that’s a problem.

It’s a problem because the ethos of Jack Wills is contrary to everything Cambridge sport is supposed to be about.

You can’t buy your way onto a Blues team and nobody cares about your background; it only matters how hard you’re willing to work for your teammates and your University.

At Jack Wills, on the other hand, class and snobbery is everything. Peter Williams, one of their founders, has admitted that they sell average clothing at a huge mark-up because of the associations not with achievement but with social exclusivity.

This is what our name has been attached to. On Saturday, as at previous Polo Varsities, Oxbridge students will be in the minority – mostly it’s the Made in Chelsea crowd who have come to see and be seen, darling.

Not pictured: Sport

Almost none of the coverage mentions the actual sport on offer at the event. Instead, it’s a sideshow for the Jack Wills marketing campaign, over a century of sporting rivalry hijacked to sell clothes.

Instead of emphasising merit, then, kit deals with the likes of Jack Wills make us part of the lifestyle they’re trying to sell. And when that lifestyle is one so sloaney even Prince William’s alma mater laughs at us, we’ve got a problem.