Probably the best advert in the world: The making of a mini masterpiece

It's the World Cup ad to end World Cup ads - 11 of England's best-loved players gathered together on one pitch. And it all took place at a muddy ground in east London. Ed Caesar finds out what really went on in the changing room
Click to follow
The Independent Online

But, very occasionally, an ad turns up that's a little bit different. And this year, Carlsberg has found the magic formula. Granted, its ad still contains a group of big name football players (although you might struggle to call Des Walker "a fantastically handsome global football superstar"), and involves a kickabout.

But there is a twist: the players are superannuated legends from different generations of England sides, who play together for a pub side called the Old Lion. And their home turf isn't Barcelona. It's Barking.

The ad, made by the London agency Saatchi & Saatchi with a healthy chunk of Carlsberg's £10.5m World Cup advertising budget, has already created a huge buzz. The team at Sky Sports' Soccer AM, where it first aired in early April, called it "the best advert we've ever seen", while the full, three-minute version has graced so many e-mail inboxes it has been Googlevideo's number 1 video. Even though it has appeared sparingly on televisions, mostly in abbreviated 20-second, 40-second, and one-minute versions, most of the office-bound workers of Britain have had their fun with the full-length Old Lions.

So what's so special about the ad? It's a film that shows us World Cup winners including Sir Bobby Charlton, Jack Charlton and Alan Ball rubbing shoulders with modern heroes such as Stuart "Psycho" Pearce and Bryan Robson. Under the watchful eye of their manager, Sir Bobby Robson, they thrash a local pub team 8-0. But what gives the three-minute slot its charm is that we see these great past players going through the same routine as hundreds of pub teams up and down the country. Alan Ball sniffs his sock to see if it's washed. Terry Butcher turns up with the bacon sandwiches. Peter Reid provides the banter. "Carlsberg don't make pub teams," says a voiceover at the end of the ad. "But if they did, they'd probably be the best pub team in the world."

The project started in the autumn of last year. "We knew that every man and his dog was going to be doing a World Cup ad," says Kate Stanners, the executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi who oversaw the project. "So we needed to do something a bit different. We wanted to make something very grassroots, very English. Rooted in the pub. Something that real football fans would love and get a kick out of. And we needed something that wasn't just a TV spot - it had to be something that gained a bit of cultural momentum." Eventually, they hit upon their killer concept - the best pub side in the world. The ad would be filmed in November, in Barking. But, as yet, they had no "Old Lions" and no opposition.

"We knew everyone else would want these guys in the lead up to the World Cup. If we were going to get them, we had to get them early," says Dave Henderson, who, with Richard Denny, wrote and art-directed the ad. "So Richard and I sat there and designed our ultimate team. It was the greatest manager's job of all time."

The fun was only just starting. Having decided which players they wanted, Denny and Henderson, who are working with Saatchi & Saatchi, flushed with the success of their recent Busta Rhymes "Idle Thumbs" campaign, needed a way of securing them. For that, they needed Linda Beattie, who secures talent for the agency, and who, according to Kate Stanners "played a blinder".

"It was incredibly stressful," says Henderson. "We'd get 10 of them, but not the 11th, and then we'd get 11, and then one of them wouldn't be sure. We were talking people into doing it for about two or three months." Stanners adds: "The Charltons were the big ones. After we got them - and it was either both of them, or neither of them - their agents phoned us up and said, 'I don't know how you did it.'"

Were there any names that they would have liked to appear, who were unavailable? "No," says Henderson. "There were one or two who we couldn't select. For instance, Tony Adams and Gazza. They would have been great. But because they have been alcoholics, and we're making an alcohol ad, it wouldn't have been right really. In the end, though, we got a really good mix - youngsters and old guys all together."

This unlikely assembly of England players in various stages of retirement gathered on a bleak November day in Barking to lock horns with a real pub team, for whom the ad's director, Chris Palmer, regularly plays. Palmer, who was also the director behind the enormously successful "Kicking It" ads for Adidas, featuring David Beckham and Jonny Wilkinson, is an England fan and collector of 1966 World Cup memorabilia. He admits to being awestruck when he turned up for filming. In fact, the director, egged on by his team-mates, came on to the field for the last minutes of filming, only to suffer the ignominy of being nutmegged by Chris Waddle.

"Let me put it this way," says the director. "It's the sort of job I would have paid to do. But it was a kick, bollock and scramble to get it all done. We only had some of these guys for the day, and Bobby Charlton had to leave early. In that time, we filmed six hours of football, scenes in the changing room, running out on to the pitch, and going down the pub after the game." Palmer explains that some sections had been carefully scripted - Alan Ball's smelly socks for instance - but there were some areas where improvisation proved much more profitable.

"I had a checklist of things I wanted to get in there. For instance, I knew I wanted to get Jackie booked. So I went over to the ref, who was a real ref, and had a word in his ear. It was the same thing with the bacon sarnies. We gave the boys their food and then just told them to get on with it. The stuff that happens when we let them get on with it in the back of the van is priceless. But some things, we had to really set up - the Pearce tackle, for instance. I got this friend of mine, Lester, who's a Rastafarian who's built like a brick shithouse. I knew he would just get up and brush himself down afterwards, and say, 'No problem.' Trouble was, the other guy who got flattened - Billy - that wasn't set up. Pearce absolutely walloped him, and he was rolling around on the ground in pain. That was for real. But it looked really funny." Another moment where the Manchester City manager performs a starring role is during Bobby Robson's pre-match speech, when Pearce's phone goes off. Only Pearce knew that his phone was going to go off.

"We just let the cameras roll," says Palmer. "Everyone knows that footballers can't act, so we just let them relax and be themselves. As it turns out, some of them are better than actors. We had to cut so much stuff that was amazing. We didn't have enough tape for what these guys were producing. Waddle, Butcher, Reid - they should be on the stage. They're stand-up material." There is, apparently, more footage still to come from this most unusual day's filming. And, during the World Cup, if and when England progress, the public will be treated to more 20-second nuggets. Highlights include Bobby Robson's approach to tactics ("I think we'll play 4-4-4"), and a World Cup song called "It's a Grand Old Team to Play For", sung in the pub afterwards.

The whole three-minute ad will be screened one more time, possibly around the time of a potential England v Brazil semi-final. It's unlikely to run during half-time - that space would cost about £1.5m for three minutes - but during one of the pre-game programmes the previous night. Still, for £1.5m, a manager would struggle to buy a second-rate defender from the Bundesliga. For that price, you get a 30-yard Bobby Charlton screamer; a Peter Reid one-liner; and a Stuart Pearce challenge to make you wince.

To see the full ad visit www.oldlions.co.uk. To see the "Making of" the advert film, and listen to the team song, visit knowyourhistory.co.uk

One nation, one trophy, twelve old lions

By Simon Usborne

* SIR BOBBY ROBSON

Born: 18 February 1933
Managerial career: 1967-2004 (England 1982-1990)
Long-serving club manager who came closest to replicating Sir Alf Ramsey's 1966 success.

* STUART PEARCE MBE

Born: 24 April 1962
Caps/goals: 78/5 (1987-99)
Haunted by penalty miss in the semi-final against West Germany in 1990, "Psycho" laid his ghosts to rest in Euro '96. Coaches Man City.

* CHRIS WADDLE

Born: 14 December 1960
Caps/goals: 62/6 (1986-91)
Missed the penalty that sealed England's fate at Italia '90.

* JACK CHARLTON OBE

Born: 8 May 1935
Caps/goals: 35/6 (1965-70)
Overshadowed by brother Bobby, Jack "Giraffe" Charlton entered football folklore as a member of the '66 squad.

* PETER REID

Born: 20 June 1956
Caps/Goals: 13/0 (1985-1988)
The lynchpin of the 1986 World Cup squad, Reid managed Sunderland after hanging up his boots.

* PETER SHILTON OBE

Born: 18 September 1949
Caps/goals: 125/0 (1970-90)
England's most capped player. Made his debut at 16 and retired in 1997.

* ALAN BALL MBE

Born: 12 May 1945
Caps/goals: 72/8 (1965-75)
Youngest of the '66 squad, Ball's red hair, fiery temperament and midfield prowess earned him enduring fame.

* TERRY BUTCHER

Born: 28 December 1968
Caps/goals: 77/3 (1980-90)
Became a true England hero in 1989 after he refused to allow a gashed head in the match against Sweden to threaten qualification for Italia '90.

* SIR BOBBY CHARLTON

Born: 11 October 1937
Caps/goals: 106/49 (1958-1970)
Busby Babe, Munich survivor, World Cup winner and knight of the realm. England's best-loved player.

* PETER BEARDSLEY MBE

Born: 18 January 1961
Caps/goals: 59/9 (1986-96)
Described by Gary Lineker as "the best partner I could ever have". Scored only non-Lineker goal at Mexico '86.

* DES WALKER

Born: 26 November 1965
Caps/goals: 59/0 (1988-93)
A legend at Nottingham Forest, he impressed England fans at Italia '90.

* BRYAN ROBSON OBE

Born: 11 January 1957
Caps/goals: 90/26 (1980-91)
"Captain Marvel" clocked up 65 games as the team's on-field leader.

Comments