Last night, in front of a crowd of 42,000 people, Gary Neville called time on his football career. But it was neither defeat to Juventus nor the re-appearance of David Beckham in a Manchester United shirt that was of interest. Rather it was the floodlights, the hot water and the ovens.
For Neville’s testimonial had been billed as the first football game to be entirely powered by renewable energy. Wind energy to be precise. This was a game of football that was not just green on the pitch. Neville stated that “to produce the first wind-powered match is something I’m proud of”.
The function of the testimonial game in football has changed. In previous eras the testimonial was to send the player off with a retirement fund. But in a time of six-figure weekly incomes for footballers the testimonial is now an exercise in promotion, in many cases for charity. Neville chose to promote renewable energy; not just in the attention grabbing declaration that the game would be entirely powered by the wind; with 52 turbines across the country matching all electricity used by the game. Promotion in the appearance of Blue Square Premier team Forest Green for a half time penalty shoot out. Forest Green, who offer half-time vegetarian burgers and intend to have Britain’s first organically seeded football pitch, who seek to position themselves as a green and sustainable club. The most significant promotion came before the game itself when Neville announced that profits from his testimonial will be used to build and erect a series of 300-500kW community-scale wind projects across the country. The revenue from these turbines is then intended to be used by his Sustainability in Sports fund to help reduce the environmental impact of sports.
It seems that Neville has a real passion for renewable energy. This can be seen in the announcement that after 17 months in the planning process he has been granted permission to build what has been described as the first zero-carbon house in North-West England and one of the country’s most energy-efficient residential developments. Dubbed the teletubbies house in the popular press the home will feature its own 40m wind turbine, ground source heat pump, solar panels, and rainwater recovery systems. The turbine will be used to generate electricity to serve 12 or 13 local farms. The development of such a high profile eco-home will serve to put small scale renewable energy well into the public eye.
Neville had this to say about the development of his new home; “I have recognised in the last two to three years the need to make personal changes in my life and reducing my environmental impact is going to be a five year transition for me and my family, but with planning permission for my new eco-home being granted and my association with wind turbines, I’m on track to complete this journey.”