A team without fans?

Prostate cancer survivor and football fan John Walker on why he doesn't support Men United.

I love football. I do, really. A choice was made and, some 50 years later, the passion is as strong as ever. Manchester City is my drug of choice. I’ve had a season ticket for most of this time.

I’ve also had prostate cancer (PC) and have lived to tell the tale. Perhaps the survival brought with it a few issues, but I remain, kicking and screaming.

These two facts place me in a position to justifiably pass comment on Prostate Cancer UK’s current advertising campaign. You know – the one with Bill Bailey wandering around a sports stadium. The strap-line is Men United. I’m afraid I have a big problem with it.

Whilst I’m sure Mr Bailey’s services were freely provided - I seem to recall reading an article about PC affecting a relative - I’m similarly sure the advertising agency involved was handsomely paid for its creative initiative.

I’d love to have been a fly on the wall at the agency HQ. Right chaps, what do we know about PC? Well, it generally affects older males and can kill them without medical intervention. It can be symptomless – the first many men know about it is following tests for something else. Men, being men, ignore any symptoms they do have, attributing them to getting old. The actual cause remains unknown, but there are numerous theories.

OK then…what leisure pursuits do older men have? Let’s say 40 +. Tricky age that. Playing sport will be diminishing, waistlines expanding, good nights out finishing earlier. 

But if men aged 40 + don’t play sport as much, then they watch it. What’s the national game? Football. Which team is the most famous in the country? Manchester United, of course! In punning terms, it’s only a small step and there’s the strap-line. Man. Utd. Men Utd. Geddit. Every male within this age group will not only appreciate the connection, but will more importantly become instantaneously more aware of PC. That will be £500,000 please!

The agency may know a massive amount about the advertising industry, but the square root of bugger all about football and the mindsets of true supporters. You see, at heart football is a tribal thing: your team; your town; your mates; shared experiences, good and bad. 

In my younger days I watched City home and away all over the country. The bloody team was rubbish yet I couldn't, wouldn't stop. The recent successes simply justify my loyalty. It's the same for all real supporters. Manchester United having a bad season won't diminish them in the eyes of their real fans. 

Being tribal means belonging, being part of a group, and that’s where this campaign loses it for me. Men are prepared to put their arms around each other when drunk and celebrating, but any suggestion they are prepared to share personal concerns, whether vast or insignificant, is simply mad.

Being tribal also means a choice has been made. In football terms, you follow Team A rather than B or C. There may be room for a soft spot for a lesser team (in my case its Rochdale, as it happens), but that’s not a prerequisite. The Men United strap-line will alienate more football supporters than it encourages, precisely because most football supporters don’t follow Manchester United and will therefore respond accordingly: by ignoring the advertisement.

If football is the vehicle of choice for Prostate Cancer UK, I believe they are misguided. The target audience won’t take the message on board. The individuals most in tune with the game, and most malleable, are kids who hopefully won’t be considering the possibility of getting PC just yet.

Money is killing football; is it killing creativity too?

Prostate Cancer UK is all over the papers and TV at the moment. I know there’s been a recession, but the costs involved in achieving this must be astronomic. I’d like some questions answered please:

  •  Who decided football would be a suitable vehicle to convey the message?
  •  What will this media blitz cost?
  •  Is it a justifiable use of resources?

I love football but that doesn’t make me blind to its limitations though. There is too much money involved, all being spent on overpaid drama queens with little or no loyalty to anything but themselves in pursuit of that elusive Premier League or Champions League crown. The demise of the FA Cup is testimony to mindsets of owners, managers and players nowadays.

Football is a flawed sport which retains the capacity to excite and frustrate in equal measure. It’s inhabited by some of the worst role models currently available, and yet has been chosen as the best way to put across a message about one of the biggest killers of males in the world. There’s only one loser here, and it’s not football.

I wonder what Sir Tom Finney would have said. 

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