Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
As this year’s Champions League final has shown, the best of the best in Europe play football in red but perhaps going green is the future for these big clubs. When we think of football, we think of goals, the Match of the Day theme tune, “MAN ON!”, Messi and Ronaldo, the offside rule, millionaires with more money than sense, and fans, chanting, at the top of their lungs, win or lose, rain or shine. We do not think about the environment. Fans sit in pubs, on trains and pilgrimage to stadiums, home or away, like a swarm of bees disrupting a quiet afternoon, discussing last week’s performance, today’s performance and next season’s ambitions, buzzing for the referee’s whistle to blow. They forget about everything that exists outside of football because, on a Saturday afternoon, nothing else really matters.
Football, and sport generally, is a phenomenon that hypnotises millions. Rather than simply churning out game after game on our screens, there seems to be conversations circulating about positive messages sport can spread throughout society. As we have seen through the Black Lives Matter movement, sports across the world are striking up conversations about the importance of black lives.
An issue that members of the English Football Leagues are beginning to tackle is their responsibility to reduce their carbon footprint and their environmental impact. Sport Positive Summit has collected data from all Premier League clubs to rank the most sustainable top-flight football club. Clean energy, single use plastic reduction and water efficiency are just some of the areas these football clubs are now paying attention to, with 17 out of the 20 clubs having vegan food options within the stadium.
The Premier League’s most recent ambassador for environmental sustainability comes in the form of Hector Bellerin, Arsenal’s right-back, who recently planted 50,000 trees, alongside One Tree Plant, a non-profit environmental charity, in his attempt to “raise awareness of a global need to plant trees and offset carbon emissions”. This month, the Spain international also invested in Forest Green Rovers, and is now the club’s second largest shareholder.
Found in League Two, the aptly named Forest Green Rovers are leading the way for other football clubs, with FIFA describing them as the “greenest football club in the world” and being the first carbon neutral club according to the UN. They proudly claim that they are 100% powered by green electricity and carbon neutral gas from Ecotricity, their football pitch is organic, and they collect rainwater to use for pitch irrigation. As well as being the first vegan club, FGR have left the world of football in their wake and continue to set the pace for the environmentally conscious.
Big sporting corporations seem to be doing their bit, with Nike having released kits for the 2020/21 season made from 100% recycled polyester fabrics, which is made from recycled plastic bottles. However, with the fashion industry being the second largest polluter in the world, Nike’s claim to be reducing plastic bottles from landfills is only realistically delaying the problem.
Their never-ending stream of football shirts, with most having a life span of just one year, are still made of polyester which can take up to 200 years to decompose. As one new season begins and another ends, out with the old shirt and in with the new. Only 15% of clothing in the western world is recycled or donated and the rest goes directly to the landfill or is incinerated. Over the years, your average football fan probably contributes to these landfill sites that Nike are trying to reduce by dumping their old shirts and buying next season’s. This cycle continues and so does the problem. More needs to be done.
It seems that, in most cases, everyone is simply going through the motions of being environmentally conscious rather than making an effort to make a big change. Perhaps the FGR way of life is a step too far for now, but over the next few decades this is a club that others should emulate. FGR is the future of environmentally sustainable sport. Forget your pre-season friendly. Urge your team to be environmentally friendly.