When it comes to giving to charity, football clubs have a reputation for propping up league tables, not topping them. A report last year by Intelligent Giving criticised Premier League clubs' "staggeringly low" levels of charitable donation - the combined giving of the 20 clubs in England's top division amounted to only £400,000, it claimed.
But according to Alex Brooks-Johnson, director of fundraising at London children's hospice Richard House, this miserly image is not entirely fair. "It might seem to strange to say it, but there isn't that much disposable income knocking about in football," he says. "The turnover of the clubs is massive, but if you look at their balance sheets, they aren't brilliant."
Brooks-Johnson's perspective may be influenced by the fact that his charity has forged a fruitful and long-standing relationship with one Premier League team, West Ham United. It's a link that goes right back to the founding of the charity 10 years ago, when former West Ham player Trevor Brooking, now director of football development at the Football Association, helped to raise the capital to build the hospice. Ex-Hammers midfielder Joe Cole, now at Chelsea, is also a patron of Richard House. The relationship was formalised when the hospice became one of West Ham's official charity partners. The partnership has been renewed for the 2008/09 season.
West Ham's contribution is not primarily financial, though it has donated an undisclosed sum. According to Miranda Nagalingam, the club's head of press and PR, it's really in raising awareness of the charity's work that the biggest difference can be made. Players such as Anton Ferdinand (now with Sunderland), Carlton Cole and Mark Noble have visited the hospice and generated media coverage. Last season's home match with Chelsea was also dedicated to Richard House. A collection raised £7,300 and the charity's work was showcased in a short film shown on the scoreboard before the match and at half-time. "The hospice told us afterwards that, although we raised a lot of money, the most important thing was that it was getting contacted by people all around the world that wanted to help out," says Nagalingam. "When you get involved with a Premier League club such as West Ham, with a big fan base nationally and internationally, the awareness is priceless."
Football clubs may appear to be the epitome of lavish lifestyles and worldwide brand reach, but ironically their significance to the charity sector lies in the fact that they may give smaller, less fashionable charities a slice of the action. Large companies usually favour charities with national reach and awareness, but football clubs tend to do the opposite. With obvious, strong links to particular areas, they seek out partners from those communities. It's no accident that West Ham chose Richard House, a charity just two miles from its Upton Park ground, as its charity partner.