A Football Campaign

Mr Off the Ground (a.k.a. Jon Paget) picked up his favourite mug at a charity shop years ago. It says “Liverpool Supporter’s Mug. WARNING: This product is likely wobble and fall from the top of the table”. As long as I’ve known him, this has proven to be a surprisingly prescient piece of crockery, but, as you can imagine, he was very happy this past week to see Liverpool Football Club win the Premier League.

The images of a litter-strewn Liverpool that followed the celebrations, however, were less pleasing. Coming immediately after the scenes of littered beaches and coastal areas from around the country, it is clear that the UK’s relationship to rubbish and waste management needs to be re-thought, and quickly.

I’ve written before about the importance of enforcement and education, of changing the culture from the current uncertainty to one where there is no doubt about how to dispose of rubbish: you take it home or put it in a bin. Football in particular is one area where I think we can make inroads on this last point because, at present, it unintentionally contributes to the “someone else’ll clean up” mindset.

Every time Japan plays in an international context, the media discuss how supporters clean up the stadium after the game. The reason this is newsworthy is because it’s such a foreign concept in the UK. Stadiums—and theatres and cinemas—are common places where rubbish is left behind to be collected later. It sets the expectation that litter is someone else’s responsibility.

But imagine if every team in the Premier League, Championship, League I, League II, and beyond had clear messaging at games that was explicit about the behaviour expected. From loudspeaker announcements and on-field banners to player endorsements and social media buzz, the message is that if you want to support your team, you can do it by taking your rubbish home or binning it. Not leaving it at your seat. Not abandoning it in the car park. Not chucking it from your vehicle on the way home. Could this be a way to emulate the successful Don’t Mess with Texas campaign and potentially shift the behaviour of the British Bubbas?

The Premier League has tried to tackle racism and homophobia amongst its supporters; why shouldn’t littering be added to the list of anti-social behaviour? If we are serious about wanting to bring an end to litter by 2030, we must look at the nation as a whole and find which areas will amplify the message beyond those unlikely to litter. We must make not littering part of everyday life and entertainment. If we want a cultural auto-pilot to be in play, where people automatically take their rubbish home or bin it, we must make the message part of British culture … and what better way to do this than with football?

Painting a grand vision is easy. Turning it into reality is far more challenging. How would we actually make this happen? I don’t have any guaranteed solutions, but I do have plenty of thoughts:

  • Networking: What contacts do we have? Does someone in the anti-litter community know someone who works for any of the leagues or teams? A foot in the door to see what is possible could see whether this idea has legs.
  • Social Media: The power of persistence through Twitter, Facebook, or even letters could be harnessed to see if players or managers were willing to champion the idea or, at the very least, share anti-litter messages with their followers.
  • Supporter Clubs: Could fans take on this cause themselves? An anti-litter message coming from inside the team would be incredibly impactful and potentially influence other supporters to change their behaviour. The importance of highlighting that “people like me” behave in a particular way cannot be underestimated.
  • Sponsors and Advertisers: Appealing to sponsors and advertisers seems like a potential win-win solution for everyone: they would get positive PR and anti-litter messaging would be broadcast far and wide. The slight problem? Budweiser, Cadbury, and Coca-Cola are official partners, and thus far haven’t appeared willing to directly address their customers regarding littering. Likewise, I imagine that some advertisers would want to distance themselves from the fact their packaging ends up splashed across roadways and communities throughout the country.

Regardless of how we approach this, we must get the ball rolling now if we want to have any hopes of bringing an end to the current littered state of the country.

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