McDonald’s, milk, Ronaldo: the top 10 football adverts of the 90s
10) Scott Parker, McDonald’s (1994)
Scott Parker before he was Scott Parker, or rather when he was a lad called Jimmy who loved doing keepie-uppies in his back garden, and what impressive keepie-uppies they were. Indeed historians believe this may have been the first sighting of sick tekkers on British television, and it’s what made this ad, used by McDonald’s to promote itself as an official sponsor of the 1994 World Cup, catch attention. It is simple and cool, and because of who Jimmy grew up to be it is memorable. Not that Parker, who was 13 and at Charlton’s academy when the ad was made, looks back at it with huge fondness. “I was known as the McDonald’s boy for large parts,” he said in a recent interview. “It was horrendous.”
9) Pearce/Waddle/Southgate, Pizza Hut (1996)
This isn’t a great ad. The acting is terrible while the jokes it’s built around are lame to say the least. But none of that matters because of this ad’s legacy, capturing a time when an England player missing a penalty at a major tournament was such a big deal it could be part of a global pizza chain’s marketing campaign, and so few men had gone through that particular trauma that they could be fitted around a small table. Film this ad now and you’d need to hire an entire restaurant floor to get everyone in – David Batty sitting next to Darius Vassell, sitting next to Frank Lampard, sitting next to Bukayo Saka … – and while that would make it undeniably eye-catching it would also make it less significant.
8) René Higuita, Frutiño (1990)
I’ve never tripped on magic mushrooms but if ever I did, I imagine this ad is what it would feel like. There’s René Higuita, in full goalkeeper’s kit, buying juice mix from a kid in a Colombian convenience store. There’s René Higuita playing football with the same kid, as well as others, in a park. And there’s René Higuita drinking juice – a Frutiño – while delivering the most terrifying look to camera since that bit at the the end of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. All in all, mental. And brilliant. On a side note, it’s interesting to see Higuita perform the scorpion kick five years before he did so in that friendly against England at Wembley, which for most English people was definitely the first time he did it. Turns out, it definitely wasn’t.
7) England managers, Yellow Pages (1994)
I’m not crying, you’re crying. An ad that was lovely the second it was broadcast and has become increasingly moving with the passing of two of the men involved. It’s especially great to see some daytime drinking from Bobby Robson, and that really is a nice joke about not liking orange from Graham Taylor, all of which comes before Terry Venables’ sweet reaction to the gift his predecessors as England manager have sent him. And fair play to Clara for the design work on that cake – can’t have been easy but she nailed it. That this ad is for Yellow Pages adds to its warm nostalgia, that piano music a reminder of a simpler time when we spoke to each other on landlines and thought Barry Venison could be the answer in midfield.
6) Gary Lineker, Walkers Crisps (1995)
It’s now taken for granted that Gary Lineker is so bullish and forthright he can annoy the government and plunge the BBC into crisis with one opinion. That was not the case in the mid-90s. Back then he was a recently retired footballer who was very safe, neutral and, well, boring. This ad changed that in memorably funny fashion. No more Mr Nice Guy, indeed. The final scene is well played from start to finish, and kudos to whoever came up with the shift from monochrome to colour. A nice, effective touch. Lineker has appeared in more than 150 ads for Walkers and names the one he did with Paul Gascoigne as his favourite. It’s undeniably excellent but, for me, the first remains the standout.
5) Howay Honey Monster, Sugar Puffs (1996)
An ad that perfectly sums up the mid-90s in that it’s fast, loud and contains a fair amount of Kevin Keegan. Newcastle’s then manager plays Newcastle’s then manager in a tale as old as time – enormous monster scores winning goal at Wembley, immediately celebrates with a bowl of cereal in the dressing room before rushing back outside to lift a nondescript trophy. Truly sensational stuff that should have been too crazy to pull off but absolutely was, in large part because of Keegan’s cracking acting and Jonathan Pearce’s cracking commentary. “He’s in the money! It’s the Honey!” really is an excellent line. Speaking of which, that’s some header at the back post by the big man in black and white. Call him up, Gareth.
4) John Barnes, Lucozade Sport (1992)
England have just finished a match but we have no idea against who. Players can be seen returning to the dressing room but John Barnes is the only one who isn’t, quite clearly, an extra. The entire scene is also weirdly dark and eerily echoey. All in all this ad probably shouldn’t work but does, in part because of its intriguingly mysterious feel and in part because of Barnes. Forget Maracanã 84, this was the former winger at his thrilling best – topless, breathy, cool and composed, talking straight to camera about “90 minutes of sheer hell” and how Lucozade Sport “gets to your thirst, fast”. And that’s before you get to him booting a can into a bin with the precision of a hitman. Mesmerising stuff.
3) Good vs Evil, Nike (1996)
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment football’s modern age began but this feels like it. Quite simply there was no going back after seeing Paolo Maldini, Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Jorge Campos, Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids, Eric Cantona, Ian Wright and Ronaldo come together to take on the forces of hell. A game changer from a marketing point of view and proof the sport was now not only exciting but epic. The scale and storytelling of this thing is incredible, and to see that generation of superstars side by side in those shirts … chills, literal chills. This will be many people’s favourite ad of the 90s. Not quite mine, though. Indeed it’s not even my favourite Nike ad of the 90s.
2) Accrington Stanley, Milk (1989)
Not technically from the 90s but close enough and the first football-related ad I remember watching, so it not only makes the list but is high up. Good grief, the wave of childhood nostalgia that sweeps over me every time I see this, and I won’t be the only one affected in that way. An unforgettable bit of television for an entire generation and proof that simple ideas done simply can often be the most effective way into people’s hearts and minds. A single shot of two lads, only one of whom can properly be seen, talking about milk. Milk! It works because of how real they are and how unreal their exchange is. “Ian Rush”, “Accrington Stanley”, “Exactly!” – scouse gold that has gone down in national folklore.
1) Brazil airport, Nike (1998)
An ad that is quarter of a century old but whose joyous magic remains undimmed. It’s a masterpiece, and for those of us who were there at the time there is no forgetting how incredible it was to see a load of Brazilians doing flicks and tricks inside an airport to the sound of Sérgio Mendes’s Mas que nada. It was our man landing on the moon moment, only with samba music. And Denílson. More than anything this ad captures the thrill of an upcoming World Cup, and is testimony to the creativity of director John Woo, the man behind Face/Off and Mission: Impossible II. “It was like being in an action movie,” said Ronaldo, the star of the show and for whom sadly there would be a dark irony to appearing in a Nike ad for France 98. At least he’ll always have departures.
This article was inspired and influenced by recent episodes of the 90s football podcast Quickly Kevin; Will He Score? For more information, visit: https://www.quicklykevin.com