There are good reasons why football's anti-racism ads have never
made it on to TV before. First, football airtime is expensive and such
campaigns don't tend to have big budgets. Second, there's every reason
to believe fans won't listen to the message if it's broadcast to them at
Campaigners are faced with two types of potential trouble causer - the
fanatical, unrepentant hooligans and those who follow their lead with a
bit of chanting or possibly something worse. The first set are unlikely
to be converted by an ad, while the behaviour of the second lot is
fairly spontaneous and needs to be addressed on the spot.
Credit then to Walker Media for developing a schedule that gets the
moving image to where the potentially unpleasant action is. M&C
Saatchi's 60-second ad for the Kick Racism out of Football campaign,
which is backed by the Professional Footballers Association and the
Commission for Racial Equality, ran on cable stations such as E4 and
FilmFour over Christmas, but it's also playing throughout the season on
the giant screens at Premiership clubs.
M&C Saatchi's work is beautifully worded (from a poem by Benjamin
Its images from the lives of black and white football fans emphasise how
similarities outweigh differences in a nicely crafted way. However, I
can't help thinking that the campaign is something of a Glenn Hoddle or
Matt Le Tissier. It's beautiful to look at, skillful and potentially
award-winning but it's also a luxury player - operating best in an
environment that has been tamed and subdued by more biting pieces of
work. There's no real shock value in the spot - nothing to shame a fan
out of singing along with his mates or stun him into changing his
Anti-racist advertising has arguably been moving in a more
positive-minded direction for some years. Back in 1997, Maher Bird
produced deeply moving radio and cinema ads for the Anti-Racist Alliance
based on the 1991 stabbing of Rolan Adams. In contrast, Euro RSCG Wnek
Gosper's more recent work for the CRE aims to provoke thought without
showing the consequences of racial hatred. This lighter approach avoids
depressing us, helps us feel society is moving in the right direction,
yet tends to lack urgency. In M&C Saatchi's case it has produced an ad
that can charm the converted but too easily passes over the heads of
those it really needs to address.
Part of the problem is that many remain in denial about racism in
football, believing that the bad old days of the 80s are now safely
behind us. Excuses vary from club to club. Everton fans could tell
themselves that their Ghanian midfielder, Alex Nyarko, was hounded out
of the club because he wasn't putting enough effort in. Leeds fans could
tell themselves that Bradford's Stan Collymore deserved to be called a
gorilla because he's a nasty girlfriend-beater.
This ad lacks the muscle to make such individuals think differently
about their actions.
The media schedule, for all its intelligence, also lacks weight. Many of
the clubs with bad reputations for racism lie in the lower leagues and
don't have the technology to play the ad. In the Premiership, the
campaign depends on the collaboration of clubs which have often been far
from proactive when it comes to encouraging minorities. Everton, for
example, signed their first black player as recently as the 90s, blaming
the delay on foreigners' inability to adapt to English conditions. As
long as such attitudes float around at the game's highest level, a
campaign can't rely on the clubs to give it a proper airing.
Dead cert for a Pencil? It could pick up silver, but not hearts and
File under ... G for gentle.
What would the chairman's wife say? Will our fans really understand it?