Finance firms love taking football fans for suckers. The latest is Virgin Money which has this week launched a Manchester United savings bond.
It pays just 1.25 per cent for 12 months which is roughly two-thirds the interest you could get at the current best buy account. So far, so rubbish.
But it has a neat gimmick designed to reel in optimistic fans. If Manchester United win the title next season, the interest rate paid doubles to 2.5 per cent.
Sound attractive? It’s meant to. But in reality it’s a total con. And it’s just the latest in a long line of football-related finance deals that take fans for mugs.
What’s the problem? If you saved, say, £2,000 into the bond, you’d earn £25. But save the same amount into Charter Savings Bank’s one-year bond and you’d earn £35.80 interest. In other words, backing your team’s savings bond would cost you a shade over a tenner.
But what if United do win the 2016-17 Premier league? Surely the account would prove a winner then as you’d get £50 interest, just over £14 more than with Charter Savings Bank.
While that’s true, encouraging people to gamble with their savings doesn’t strike me as the act of a responsible savings institution. That’s because it’s not behaving responsibly.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with having a gamble. If you reckon United will win the title you can get 3-1 or better odds at the moment.
So you’d be better off sticking say £1,990 into the Charter account plus lumping a tenner at the bookies on a United win. If United fail to win the Premier League, you’d still get around £25 interest, leaving you slightly better off than with the Virgin Money deal.
But if Mourinho’s United team do romp home you’d pocket an extra £40 from your gamble, leaving you £15 better off than in the Virgin account. You can juggle the figures slightly to ensure you’re always better off avoiding the Virgin plan.
And that’s my beef with it. Sure, it also promises the ‘chance to win a range of prizes’ but, frankly, you’ve got practically no chance of winning any of them.
Yes, someone will, so why not you. But it’s that kind of thinking that these unscrupulous finance firms bank on. They’re using your dreams to boost their profits.
And that makes me sick. It’s upsetting enough being a football fan at the moment – unless you’re a Leicester City supporter – but having a finance firm you hope could be trusted which then tricks you into a poor deal on the back of your support, well, that’s a slap in the face.
But, as I said earlier, finance companies have always thought of supports as easy targets.
Take credit cards. Most clubs have signed up for deals with plastic card companies to offer team-linked credit to fans. But almost all are terrible deals.
Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham, for instance, all offer credit cards to their fans with a typical rate of 18.9 per cent.
But there are five low-rate credit cards on the market at the moment that charge less than 7 per cent. It means if you borrow through your football club, you’ll be charged almost three times as much for the privilege.
Or take finance firms and sponsorship. In the case of payday lender Wonga it’s proved catastrophic. It first sponsored Blackpool when they rose to the Premier League. Where is the club now? In League Two, the fourth tier of the English football.
Then there was Scottish club Hearts. Soon after it agreed to play with shirts emblazoned with the name of the high-cost credit company, it fell into financial difficulty, and then into relegation and administration.
Newcastle United is the latest team to be hit by the Wonga curse. The club has just been relegated from the Premier League leaving fans cheering the news that the loan firm’s sponsorship will end after the coming season.
Finance companies should stop seeing supporters as easy targets. Instead they should act responsibly towards them by helping to improve their financial education and capability.
That’s the kind of football programme I would buy into.
Simon Read is a writer and broadcaster and former Personal Finance Editor of The Independent