Way back in 2007 while working on my first football blogsite, Some People Are On The Pitch, I created a weekly feature called ‘The Friday List of Little or No Consequence.’ It took the form of a trivia list featuring silly and irrelevant facts on a given subject you wouldn’t find in an ordinary football reference book. In order to get the Friday List off and running, I started with a list of 11 names that used to be seen on pitchside advertising boards in the late-1970’s, and therein the rather daft tone was set for the 200 or more lists that followed.
As it is, that first Friday List was probably an inspired choice because the humble advertising board, despite being largely overlooked and taken for granted over the years, has actually become an evocative way of dating the football we see on our TV screens.
It wasn’t always thus and to prove a point, we take you back to a time when ‘corporate partner’ usually meant the bloke outside the ground selling official programmes, and 'targeted advertising' meant wearing a tracksuit with the name of a local central heating supplier on the back.
|World Cup '66: Jets and gin|
And what fine companies we saw back then on those grainy black-and-white TV pictures. Brylcreem and Gordon’s Gin were writ large at many grounds during the 1966 tournament, conjuring up an era of style and quiet sophistication, as did Zeiss of Jena, makers of fine watches and timepieces who can’t have made many sales through the clientele of Manchester and Sheffield. During the Portugal v Hungary match, however, we see further evidence of an aspirational age – BOAC VC10 signalling the arrival of air travel for the masses and the perfect place on which to knock back a glass or two of Haig Scotch whiskey.
Up at Ayresome Park, however, the board advertising Newcastle Brown Ale showed there was one part of Britain still keeping a firm grip on its priorities although other grounds were happy to promote the likes of The Sun and the Anglers Mail as the reading material of choice for the ordinary man on the street.
The 1966 World Cup was the first to see live TV pictures being beamed around the planet via satellite and with it came the first real chance to generate revenue through a truly international range of companies. Names like Dortmunder Union can be seen cropping up in one or two places, but it was in 1970 that the practice became properly commonplace.
|World Cup '70: Anytime, anyplace, any... frozen fish?|
Strangely enough, you could have often been mistaken for thinking the 1970 World Cup had actually been held in England given the pitchside boards on display. Names like Daily Mirror, Lipton’s Tea and even that of John Stephen, Carnaby Street fashion designer, were often seen.
Let’s not forget, however, that this was also the year when Esso had their most successful marketing campaign with their World Cup Coin Collection, and they too must have gained greatly from having such huge exposure during Mexico ‘70. Hell, even Mothercare and NatWest were getting in on the act during the England v Brazil match.
|World Cup '70: Papers and Petrol|
|World Cup '74: Fizz 'n' mints|
The matches involving Scotland threw up some particularly splendid combinations the like of which haven’t been seen before or since. Against Brazil it’s possible to spot advertising boards for Chessington Zoo, Woolworth and Sinclair Calculators as well as Skol lager and Alka Seltzer (arguably a match made in heaven).
In the 2-0 win over Zaire in Dortmund, one board urges us to ‘Go to Zaire’ while another elsewhere in the ground proclaims ‘Let’s go British Caledonian’. Had the latter flown to Kinshasa, it might have been possible to do both at the same time, we can only presume.
|World Cup '74: Zaire and the Zoo|
The 1978 World Cup was the last time we saw any kind of irregularity in the names appearing on pitchside advertising boards, but once again we had a mixture of old familiar brands mixed up with those targeted at a more local level.
|World Cup '78: Bubble Yum and Iran Air|
And so it was that in 1982 we entered the world of ‘official partners’ like JVC, Canon and Gillette, although we were still a short distance from having blanket coverage by the worldwide companies we know today. Winston cigarettes were a surprise choice in Spain, as was Sport Billy, an American cartoon series that was adopted by FIFA to promote health and fitness in the young that had originally appeared on advertising boards during the 1978 World Cup.
Essentially, however, that was it. No more would brands like C&A and Weetabix decorate a World Cup pitch and with it we lost the innocence that football once had. Where was the harm in confusing foreign audiences with advertising boards for Ferguson TVs and Rizla cigarette papers? The answer: there was none, for back then the world was a different place and in our view, no worse off for it either.