Adverts now distract too much from action

icon brokenball10 November ~ Highlights of October’s Trabzonspor v Legia Warsaw Europa League match had me thinking about Tudor crisps. The Huseyin Avni Aker Stadium is plastered with ads for “Tudors”, actually a Turkish menswear chain. Perhaps because the hoardings were black and white I’d remembered the Newcastle-made crisps and their famous 1970s TV commercials. Subliminally or otherwise, I’d been ambushed by marketing men from different countries, decades apart. Yet pitchside advertising has embellished stadiums, goal celebrations and even your ability to watch an entire World Cup.

I had no idea what product was emblazoned on the old free-standing wooden hoarding Kenny Dalglish vaulted at Wembley in 1978. That he’d just scored Liverpool’s winner in the European Cup final was far more memorable than Miele, the German company who that very year developed the first microprocessor-controlled washing machines.

Twenty years later, as Newcastle manager, Dalglish dropped Temuri Ketsbaia from his starting line-up against Bolton at St James’ Park. Again, only surfing YouTube reminded me it was Adidas and MacDonald’s hoardings Ketsbaia viciously booted after his last-minute winner as a sub.

Even the famous dromedary silhouette logo of Camel cigarettes failed to lodge in the memory banks longer than an early instance of Gordon Strachan’s public wit, at Mexico 86. Upon giving Scotland an early lead against West Germany in Querétaro, Strachan self-deprecatingly failed to jump the three foot-high hoardings in celebration.

Elliptical stadiums, such as Napoli’s San Paolo, might accommodate extra hoardings behind the nets but we only see joyous strikers jumping them like Olympic hurdlers. Rory Delap re-contextualised adverts as mere obstacles to his throw-in prowess.

However, the recent El Clásico epitomised marketing’s revenge, distracting us from the greatest two players on the planet. Fans attending the Bernabéu would only have eyes for Cristiano Ronaldo and  Lionel Messi. But via TV it’s difficult to miss Emirates Airlines jumbo jets making regular flights along the touchline, or Spanish state trains powering round the pitch every ten minutes. LED electronic hoardings take pitchside ads to a new level. They present what often amount to animated shorts, briefly dominating three sides of the pitch.

Western Union, Adidas and Hankook tyres are cornerstone sponsors of UEFA’s lesser club tournament. But that’s where the Europa League’s corporate greed ends, and surrenders to actual hunger: Asteras Tripolis boast two ads for “Fresh Basil”. Torino’s hoardings promote Grana Padano cheese and Krasnodar’s Kuban stadium is dominated by a Norman Rockwellesque milkmaid, presenting a tray of Russian sweets.

Marketing targets your weakness. While I was trying to watch this summer’s World Cup, my tiring attention was hijacked by LED colours brighter than the strips, moving faster than the players. After 15 straight days on the couch I was reciting the tagline “qualidade em carne” every time South American meat company Marfrig hit the hoardings. I continually wondered if “Itaú” was something Brazilians eat, drink or put in their car (it’s a bank).

Luckily, most fans are inured to the evils of advertising. As a kid I stood on the “Johnny Walker End” at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park. Also in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Dundee United’s Tannadice Park was distinguished by TSB ads painted on 12-foot-high corner retaining walls. And whisky and banking – like football – are products which certainly never harmed any Scots I know. Alex Anderson

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