90s football and the forgotten art of nostalgia

90s football and the forgotten art of nostalgia

This is not a blog about memes or gifs, fan-generated content or Bayern Munich’s use of cat selfies. It’s about a more unheralded element of marketing that emerged poetically in response to the sad death of Ray Wilkins this week: nostalgia.

While the tributes of David Beckham, Joe Cole and Franco Baresi triggered the most engagement, as a lifelong QPR fan, I was more taken by the emergence on my feed of anecdotes from some of the less heralded players from the early Premier League years.

To the modern football fan the names Danny Dichio, Lee Harper and Darren Peacock are unlikely to register, but to Hoops fans from the 90s, they were footballing heroes.

Dichio, the towering striker with exotic Italian heritage; Harper, who arrived from Premier League champions Arsenal only to be our keeper when we got relegated to Division Two; and Peacock, a penalty-taking centre half with a thrash metal haircut.

Their emotive tributes triggered a deluge of memories for fans, not just of Wilkins, but of forgotten names of the past.

And why is this important?

Because it’s relevant for anyone who has been a fan of anything. Whether it be sport or music or American sitcoms, our childhood passions are hugely valuable, and the protagonists and players of the past remain with us forever.

Modern marketing is obsessed with the present and the future, but rarely the past. We’re told that social media has to be immediate and innovative, but marketers should not underestimate the power of the historical.

YouTube provides grainy highlights of matches on muddy pitches and irreverent shows obsessed with millennial ‘banter’, but it very rarely triggers emotions and memories in the way that relived childhood passions do.

For me, the standout tribute post came from midfielder Nigel Quashie, whose poignant story about how Wilkins paid for his mum’s train ticket to his debut match away at Old Trafford went viral this week.

While the story was another fine example of Wilkins’ character, the name Quashie took me back to handing him the Man of the Match award after his two goals against Huddersfield when I was the match mascot.

It was every boyhood fan’s dream, yet the memory soon faded and until this week I haven’t heard or said the name Nigel Quashie for almost 20 years.

I’ll always fondly remember Wilkins the footballer and pundit, but I also hope I remember that his sad passing taught me some new lessons about marketing and not to forget the power of nostalgia.