We all have to earn a living somehow, and I earn mine in advertising, making ads that, for the most part, nobody gives a shit about. 

There is one exception to that rule: ads about football. 

Mostly thanks to Nike’s landmark campaigns of the 90s, football ads remain one of the few genres of advertising that people want to see. Some are better than others, but the finest appeal to that unique, meaningful relationship between people and football.

Ask any of my clients what they desire most for their brand, and their answer would be some kind of meaningful relationship with its customers. Advertising agencies bend over backwards to try and achieve this for them, but unless we’re selling football (or products made by Apple) the chances of that are pretty slim no matter how hard we try.


5. PaddyPower - “Loyalty’s Dead. Live for Rewards” (2019)

And I start with an ad for a grubby bookmaker, selling gambling. Hardly an example of advertising that people want in their lives…

That is true, but the product plays second fiddle in this outrageously personal dig at Ryan Giggs. Indeed, I’m still not quite sure what PaddyPower is selling to me here but who cares? Even as a lifelong Man United fan I can’t help but admire the audacity of getting Rhodri Giggs to pump out gag after gag based entirely on a sordid affair involving his wife and his own brother. I mean, WTF!?

As far as airing one’s dirty laundry in public goes, this set a new bar.


4. John Smiths - “‘Ave It” (2002)

Again, I’m bending the rules here slightly as this is an ad selling a pretty average beer. But let’s not get caught up with technicalities - this is football humour at its best.

Some might say “‘Ave It” is where ‘Peter Kay’ began. Phoenix Nights was an excellent, scruffy sitcom turning heads on Channel 4 but it was this ad for John Smiths that introduced Kay’s comedic genius to the masses. 

It’s as close to a perfect ad as you can probably get, football or otherwise. From the cold and muddy Sunday morning setting, to Kay’s impeccable timing when he wellies one into the terraced houses in the distance, it’s easy to forget just how fun this was to watch. And watch again. Some of us are still watching it nearly 20 years later.


3. Carlsberg - “Old Lions” (2006)

If Nike didn’t exist, this would be the best football ad of all time. 

Carlsberg had been putting out ads under their “Probably…” end-line for years and still do, and most of them are superb. But this remains the jewel in their crown. 

Their depiction of the greatest pub football team - a band of white-haired, pot-bellied England legends managed by Sir Bobby Robson - is so good it hurts. Especially the unscripted moments during their 8-0 thrashing of the “Dog and Duck”, like Jack Charlton’s incredulous response to being booked for a ‘shirt pull’. 

Watch the extended version for the full experience, otherwise you miss Stuart Pearce’s mum interrupting a rousing pre-match speech from Sir Bob. 


2. Nike - “Airport” (1998)

In truth, all five of these picks could be from Nike, so deciding on just two felt like an impossible task.

However, the Brazilian national team and Nike feel like they were made for each other, and this ad was the first time that love affair bloomed in all its glory in front of the world.

Sure, later Nike ads were conceptually more elaborate than this. Today, the simple idea of a team juggling a football through an airport would probably get dismissed fairly quickly. But even now nothing is quite as feel-good as watching the likes of Ronaldo, Denilson and Romario do just this to the sound of Sérgio Mendes’s “Mas Que Nada”.

An Eric Cantona cameo doesn’t do any harm, either.

1. Nike - “Parklife” (1997)

I was born in the 90s, and as such I was too young to really appreciate what a bloody great decade it was. Not least because it produced ads like this. 

Oh how I wish I remembered seeing “Parklife” on our portable telly as a kid. Watching it now, I can feel the 90s. Cantona. Britpop. Wrighty. Goalkeepers with moustaches. Players like Robbie Fowler. Baggy kits. The birth of the Premier League…

However, when you remember football in the 90s, “Parklife” did so much more than just flog sportswear. It captured a feeling for the game that may never be matched again. 



Words by: Dom Kocur


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