OPINION: Cowen on ... football anti-racism ads

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?

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