10 Modest Proposals for a Greener Football

Posted by on Dec 26, 2010 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

In the modern Business School, Corporate Social Responsibility is probably the single most debated topic of the past couple of years. We aim to cast a spotlight on how the business of football has faced up to this challenge in 2011; but for now, the sport’s impact on the Environment, a crucial element of this overall whole, deserves the most pressing concern.

Any study of how we can be greener demands collaboration from a number of actors. So, although it seem that clubs and the game’s governing bodies have been remiss in paying attention to the natural world at large, it’s also incumbent on fans to change their behaviour. A dual pronged approach is required, both top-down and bottom-up, whilst acknowledging the role environmental Cost-Benefit Analysis can play, which goals are realistic short term, which need root and branch reform, and which should be enacted via regulation or market forces. Here is a modest list of 10 areas where I think football can improve in its attitude to the Environment:

Parking

It won’t make me very popular to call for less parking space at grounds but the example of the Emirates Stadium illustrates a more enlightened way of thinking. BBC Radio commentators are often heard to complain of the paucity of spaces laid on by the Gunners but a trip to the Arsenal practically forces people to use public transport. Hence, congestion on match days is greatly reduced and emissions prevented.

One of the most influential books in the social sciences of the past few years was Donald C. Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking. The plethora of free parking in the United States has led to an economy that consumes one eighth of the world’s oil. So, although £7 to station your waggon at the Madejski Stadium seems steep, I would defend clubs’ rights to charge a premium for the privilege of parking near to the ground, with caveats for elderly and disabled people.

Public Transport

Of course any diminishing in one’s willingness to drive to a football match requires public transport to be efficient and affordable. Bus services to out of town stadia are useful but unscrupulous operators have hiked prices beyond that of a regular journey within a city. As an example, it now costs £4 to travel from Reading railway station to the Mad Stad.

A privatized economy can lack cohesion and the excuse a club will often give is that they have no control over the pricing policy of other companies; But, lobbying and support, and sometimes even direct subsidy, might encourage people to think differently and opt to take that double decker.

On a wider scale and longer term, I remember visiting Old Trafford in the Eighties and arriving under the very eaves of the arena itself. When clubs move to new grounds, noises are often made about the intention to build a new branch line or train station to service the stadium. Some of these plans have been followed up – Horwich Parkway opened next to the Reebok in 1999 – but many have been left dusty in the bottom of drawers. Clubs should still see collaboration with the railways as a medium term plan – and those companies themselves could help by scheduling trains that allow one to return home after midweek games.

Pedestrianism

Related to the above two points, my earliest memories of matches involve strolling among seas of scarf-sporting supporters through Victorian back streets. Even now, the communal thrill is strong, especially on a big match day and if floodlights are now less common than they were; their slow coming into focus as one negotiates the emittances of police horses does heighten anticipation.

There are a number of stadia which, though far from adjacent to public transport, are an enjoyable short stroll away. Sheffield United is one, Cardiff City is another. As supporters, a journey of under two miles should not be seen as a trek of Odyssean proportions – and leaving the car behind allows you to have as many pints of Harvey’s as you like.

Energy use

I’m as a keen a fan of a floodlit experience as anyone and Two Hundred Percent’s recently republished eulogy to this was persuasive, but scheduling more games earlier might save on lighting and other energy costs. The 3pm Saturday kick off is sacrosanct in my book but I have never been a fan of Sky’s 4pm Super Sunday timing, not least because actually making it back from attending one of these games can be highly problematic. Not many of us enjoy 1pm matches on a Sunday but the bullet may have to be bitten for more matches to be finished before nightfall.

The Fixture List

This is related to my last point, as well as that other cause célèbre, the gargantuan size of the leagues. 24 really is horrendously huge for each of the npower divisions and absolutely at the limit of acceptability. Trimmer leagues would make for less midweek fixtures and less floodlighting and ergo, greater energy savings.

Fans would then be able to attend the majority of matches in daylight and travel to them by public transport. Derby fans who had to endure midweek trips to both Doncaster and Ipswich earlier this Autumn might then have to spend less time buying filofaxes to manage their commitments – and the too high proportion of fixtures scheduled for wintry months would also save on heating bills – the whys and wherefores of a mid-season break deserve a whole additional post of course.

Land Use

The words “Carrington” and “Cobham” are voiced in hushed tones by the media these days but aside from the land use elements of monstrous car parks at stadia (as mentioned above), the unnecessarily large dimensions of these supposedly “state of the art” training facilities could surely be less of a blight on the green belt.

Cobham occupies a veritable Bermuda triangle of Surrey countryside on the map with the delightful environs of the eponymous Park restricted to the left bank of the Hogsmill River. I haven’t been to the complex itself but no doubt it comes replete with watchtowers and Alsatians.

Long Distance Travel

While we are on the subject of big clubs, the too frequent tendency to resort to air travel to ferry players to games could also be cut down upon. Indeed, the one time I have employed this method as a fan was for a Reading away game at Newcastle in 2006. After four hours sitting in the terminal before boarding the morning after the encounter, I was left rueing the decision not to take the 3 hour train journey from King’s Cross. Don’t do it.

Poor Sam Allardyce used to have his admin staff reserve a carriage on the train for London away games when he was at Bolton. Happy as sandboys with their nintendos and miniature DVD players, his squad were delighted to let “the train take the strain”. This is an example that should be followed more often – Jay Tabb would certainly agree after arriving back four hours before his Reading team mates after last Saturday’s freezathon at Derby.

Kits

Artificial fibres, nipple rash – simply grim to wear. How sustainable are these nylons anyway? Fans at least can resort to shirts of the old fashioned, cotton variety even if received wisdom claims that they become too heavy in the rain – it doesn’t seem to bother Dan Biggar or Delon Armitage. One has visions of archaeologists trying to guess which replica shirt is which on visits to landfill sites half a century from now.

Paper

Just as some clubs have been tardy with the application of under soil heating (I excuse Blackpool; though not Portsmouth), electronic ticketing schemes have been very unevenly applied across the 92.

A system akin to London’s Oyster card could be applied across all clubs that would obviate the need to purchase paper tickets for both home and away matches. The saving on printing and paper would be enormous and if many clubs themselves would struggle to meet the costs, then the millions being scooped by the Premier League (that’s not even mentioning FIFA) might be put to use in this area.

On the subject of the paper trail, match day programmes could cut down on the gloss and sheen or be put out of their misery altogether.

Food

A recent spell in the United States allowed me to sample the almost unimaginably superior nourishment on offer at that nation’s sporting arenas. At the New York Mets’ spanking new Citi Field stadium, zeitgeisty burger joint Shake Shack have a stand, with every item containing organic ingredients and the arena in Newark shared by the New Jersey Devils and Nets has a selection of outlets devoted to local Jersey franchises.

The “localvore” movement is gathering pace on both sides of the Atlantic and how refreshing would it be to have the option of Melton Mowbray pork pies at Leicester City, Kendal Mint Cake at Carlisle and Bakewell puddings at Chesterfield (you can of course get pasties at Plymouth), not to mention a greater selection of vegetarian and organic food. Roy Keane might not approve of course.

The cost of transporting mass produced bangers, burgers and buns the length of the country would be cut down and an improved attitude towards packaging instilled. Why do pies have to come in a plastic jacket anyway?

So these are just a few pointers and don’t be surprised if some of the items on this list crop up again in the pages of The Two Unfortunates next year. To date, examples of football paying any attention to the environment can be counted on the fingers of one hand and if clubs are (as they like to tell us) businesses like any other, heightened responsibility needs to emerge. We can also do our bit.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham (pen name: Lanterne Rouge) is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 47 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Football Attic, The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.

8 Comments

  1. Lloyd
    December 26, 2010

    Have to chuckle at the Cobham comment, not least because Chelsea probably did build a watchtower.

    The call for cotton kitwear is perhaps a little tenuous but, floodlights excepting, I agree with your other points. The call for locally produced food reminds me of a recent trip to Whitstable where an unscrupulous bunch were flogging king prawns and the like from a barbie, all pulled out of an imported box of frozen shellfish. Madness. Best not to bring up the subject of pasties at Plymouth, though. There's still a bit of a Pasty War being waged down this way.

    I'm with you on the parking issue, but this is problematic in some ways. Like your average Green’s pasty preference, many supporters’ drive to the ground is a part of their match-day ritual and it'll take a lot of persuasion for some to hop on a bus instead. If clubs such as Reading are going to build new stadia in the middle of nowhere, then they can’t expect a proportion of fans not to drive if the public transport is undesirable. If you’re going to relocate out of town, then it’s surely best to do a Brighton by building a ground right by an existing train line.

    Finally, some form of universal electronic ticketing would go down well but I doubt the infrastructure or will is in place. I’ve lost countless hours to queuing on the phone for tickets, and I’m sure that it would be easier to seek a refund electronically for all these postponed games. Reading’s Member Card thing has always impressed me, but it just feels wrong to become a member of another club so I’ve never actually joined up, preferring instead to pay a couple quid extra for the odd game I make it to. Make it universal, however, and I would be the first to sign up.

    Reply
  2. Bill Turianski
    December 26, 2010

    More please! I hope you didn't photoshop that windmill in front of the Madejski, though, LR. Nope, I just saw it on Bing.com/maps/Bird's Eye view. So brilliant idea for an illustration, that.

    I'm glad you brought up the car culture/anti-public transportation mentality so pervasive in most of the USA. People who commute to work via public transportation end up reading more, and better read citizens make better choices at the voting booth.

    Reply
  3. Michael
    December 26, 2010

    FC Tokyo have just adopted something very similar to your Oyster Card idea, called the OneTouchPass. Season ticket holders get a plastic swipe card with their games pre-loaded. If you buy tickets online, they're added to the cardholder's account.

    Closer to home, Newcastle Council have set up the horrifically named Altoonative Travel, a journey planner which not only has public transport timetables but also route maps for cyclists and walkers. Every club should have one.

    Reply
  4. Lanterne Rouge
    December 26, 2010

    Thanks for the comments folks. In answer to Bill, I am actually not sure if the wind turbine is used to power any part of the Mad Stad's operations – it just happens to be there, looming over Costco. I do rather like it though. In addition, the railway branch line to Basingstoke is only a few hundred yards away from the Madejski and I do feel that the originally mooted plans for a line detouring to the stadium could be revisited – the land is marshy, but it's not an impossibility.

    Point taken on the kits Lloyd. A minor consideration among my proposals. Indeed, for most to come into being, it would need a lot of change in infrastructure and in clubs' attitudes before we fans can do our bit. It's quite simply impossible to get from mid Devon to almost any ground in the country without a car of course and that is leaving aside the unhelpful train company schedules.

    And Michael – the FC Tokyo idea sounds akin to the membership card scheme at Reading. I also like the Altoonative travel idea – Newcastle United remains one of the most enjoyable of all gtrounds to visit in England thanks to its wonderful city centre location.

    Reply
  5. mirkobolesan
    December 27, 2010

    Cardiff's City's ground has two railway stations within half a mile of it. Ninian Park and Grangetown. Though you can easily walk the mile or so from Cardiff Central if you fancy a stroll.

    Talking of Green issues in football the obvious example is Dartford FC, whose new ground is apparently the first “sustainable” ground ever.

    As you mention in your article, there is very little effort to embrace anything environmentally friendly in football. It's no surprise really considering the excesses shown in football. You only have to look at the car park at any football ground in the country to see how much footballers worry about their carbon footprint!

    Reply
  6. Lanterne Rouge
    December 28, 2010

    Not to mention the owner of the club I support with his fleet of Bentleys and the like.

    A number of people have drawn our attention to Dartford's ground. There will be a follow up post in 2011 based on a visit to the Kent Estuary.

    Reply
  7. Stanley
    December 28, 2010

    Princes Park is indeed worth a visit, if you are interested in these issues. The only gripe I would have with it is the location: it's a fair distance from the nearest railway station, although local buses will drop you right outside. Dartford's fans, however, will be glad that they have a stadium within the borough's boundaries at all.

    Of the points mentioned, e-ticketing is the one which has gained most ground in recent years. At the beginning of last season, Millwall introduced a system for online purchasing and loading tickets onto season tickets and membership cards, which I believe is modelled on that employed at the Mad Stad.

    Reply
  8. gerschenkron
    January 4, 2011

    Some sensible suggestions here, especially so given the satire suggested by the title – I thought this was referring to Swift.

    Reply

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