Just two miles from Wembley Stadium lies Vale Farm, the home of ninth-tier Wembley Football Club. It’s where John Barnes began his semi-professional career and where England trained ahead of their historic World Cup win of 1966.
Wembley FC usually play in front of around 40 or 50 people in the Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division. Yet now the club’s future is threatened by a bizarre legal dispute with the Football Association over the fact the club’s badge contains the word “Wembley” and might be confused with Wembley Stadium.
Wembley FC’s chairman, local builder Brian Gumm, was brought up just down the road in Stonebridge. He has run the club for more than 30 years and holds dear all 10 of the teams he presides over, from the under-eights to the senior side.
Just over a year ago, Gumm was on holiday in Mexico when he received what he terms a “threatening letter” from the FA, detailing why he should sign over the trademark of Wembley FC’s badge, which has the word Wembley above a shield with a lion’s head.
Being a proud man, the 65-year-old refused and what followed has been a drawn out legal dispute with the FA.
The root cause of the issue arises from a 2012 sponsorship deal Wembley FC made with Budweiser, who, at the time, registered the club’s crest.
War over Wembley
The promotion with the beer company saw Martin Keown and David Seaman play for Wembley FC in FA Cup matches, and Terry Venables also came in as technical advisor.
However, when that deal ended, the trademark rights were then passed down to the club.
A few years later when the FA endeavoured to expand its brand in various countries in Europe and the United States, it was restricted due to the outstanding trademarks of Wembley FC.
In response, the FA applied to the European Union’s Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) to cancel Wembley FC’s European trademark.
An FA statement said: “We have never objected to their use of this logo in the UK or elsewhere.
“This case is about Wembley FC registering their logo in several countries outside of the UK, such as Russia, China and the US, and then refusing to co-exist with us in those countries. We have not asked and will not ask Wembley FC to pay the costs to date.”
As Gumm has no qualms in telling me, this dispute is very much about money and getting a fair deal for his club. He feels that the FA have been difficult to deal with and, from the outset, have never tried to be courteous or reach a sensible solution.
“The FA has spent thousands in legal fees over this,” says Gumm. “Who knows, if they made me an offer, this could have all been resolved.
“As far as I’m concerned, the FA think that we are a little club, so we shouldn’t have trademarks and that we’re not going to get anything from them. They should be trying to look after us, not fight us.”
What price a badge?
Gumm wouldn’t reveal what kind of figure would clinch a settlement. However, the publicity the legal battle has gained is certainly helping his case.
Indeed, along with all the media attention, a petition, with 31,000 signatures, has even been set up online by a mystery supporter, Susan Gale. Gumm has never met the woman who created the page, but says he will thank the campaigner if he ever sees her in person.
The FA believe the petition unjustifiably shows them in a bad light and that, as a non-profit organisation, they shouldn’t have to pay for the trademark of the badge.
Yet the fact remains that Gumm has now lost trust in the organisation who are supposed to protect grassroot clubs like his.
He says that if they are forced to alter the badge, with no compensation in return, the club, which has existed since 1947, will likely go bankrupt as the funds are not there to change all the kits and signage.
“It’s costing me, personally, a lot of money, which I can ill afford,” emphasises Gumm. “I’ve spent £3,000 already. But it’s the principle of it.
“It’s a legacy. If we do go bankrupt, ‘what have I left my grandchildren?’ I’m going to give it the best shot I can. I’m in my sixties but I’m working harder now than I ever have. If it kills me, it kills me.”
Featured image: Paul Grover
Images courtesy of Wembley FC