AS Roma’s transfer tweets unite city in hunt for missing children
The fierce rivalry between AS Roma and Lazio dates back over 90 years and affects almost every aspect of life in the Italian capital.
So it speaks volumes about the brilliance of AS Roma’s Missing Children campaign that their Lazio counterparts have supported the initiative, putting competition to one side for the greater good.
The campaign is the brainchild of Paul Rogers, AS Roma’s Chief Strategy Officer, who wanted to break the mould for social media engagements.
A native of north west England, who worked as Head of Content and Head of International Development at Liverpool FC, Paul joined AS Roma in 2015 and set about planning to establish the club as digital leaders in the world of elite football.
Rather than just use tried and tested techniques to drive engagement and awareness, he wanted to do something that would make a difference as well as help the club stand out.
Paul’s team had already made their mark at the club, creating social media posts for transfers such as the announcement of Cengiz Ünder that went viral.
AS Roma have more than three million Twitter followers with accounts in 15 different languages and more than 18 million followers across all its channels, so their reach gave them a huge platform to promote positive change.
“We built a big following,” Paul added. “The only non-UK clubs with more followers than us on English-language Twitter were Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Juventus, so it was clear that people enjoyed the style of content we produced.
“We felt we had an opportunity to use social media for social good so we pushed an anti-racism agenda; climate change awareness; gender equality and the fight against homophobia.”
A magazine article about a music video produced over 25 years ago provided the club’s social media for good campaign its greatest inspiration.
Paul explained: “I read an article about rock band Soul Asylum and the video for their song ‘Runaway Train’ which featured missing adolescents in America.
“The song itself was not about missing kids but I found out that they made four different videos; for audiences on the east coast, west coast, Australia and the UK. Wherever you watched it, you saw a different video most relevant to you on MTV or The Box.
“One of the kids (Mark Garvey) was a teenager from Liverpool who was last seen near to a pub I drunk in, the Jolly Miller.
“Now that we have social media, I thought we had an opportunity as AS Roma to take this idea and very much run with it.”
The first Missing Children post went out on June 30 2019 when Leonardo Spinazzola was announced as a new signing alongside individual posts and videos for six missing children around the world.
The campaign was supported by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States and Telefono Azzurro in Italy and now works with a wide range of different organisations searching for missing children around the world.
“We wanted to raise awareness about what the charities do, rehabilitating those who come back, highlighting those who are missing.
“Some people questioned why we would do this during the transfer window but that is the most viral and newsworthy moment.
“We have found that because of social media, fans want to help, not just fans of Roma but of other clubs as well. People didn’t care about club rivalry, they just cared about helping.”
While the campaign’s intention is to shed light on those young people who are missing and may have been forgotten by all but their closest family, the fact that a number have now been found who were featured on the AS Roma videos underlines the brilliance of the initiative.
“I don’t think any of us thought a child would be found – we just felt we could raise awareness of the issue of missing kids,” Paul reflects.
“I got a call from Missing People in London telling me a missing girl in London had been found safe – I never felt such joy and pride and it was the proudest moment of my career.
“When I told the president, it was like we had won the most important match. The emotion of a child being found, that was what we set out to do.”
To date, seven children who featured in the videos have been found safe – three in the UK, two from Kenya, one from Belgium and one from Italy.
When Chris Smalling signed permanently from Manchester United on transfer deadline day, the latest child, a 17-year-old from Italy, was found safe after being reported missing, the third to be found who featured alongside his announcement posts.
With the Covid-19 pandemic limiting fans at stadia worldwide and the increasing social conscience felt by young generations of supporters, Paul believes that fans expect their clubs to do the right thing.
He said: “We have a platform and a vehicle we can use for good. We don’t believe we can change the world on our own but we do want to make a positive impact on society.
“Rather than just promote ourselves, we promote humanitarian causes and beliefs that we would like to elevate in the eyes of the public.
“I believe that fans are desperate for their clubs to do things that make them proud – what goes on the pitch is one side and what happens off the pitch is also important.
“We have given other clubs the confidence to use their platform. We never did this to get a pat on the back – we did it because we thought we could help and use football for good.”
On International Missing Children’s Day in May this year, Paul collaborated with FIFA and the European Clubs’ Association (ECA) to extend the campaign with more clubs.
He explained: “I put together an initiative where we would get together with other clubs from all over the world and put rivalry to one side.
“Over 200 clubs released videos that AS Roma made featuring missing children around the world – we had no Roma reference and just branding saying “Football Cares”. We did not want it to be club affiliated.
“We had clubs such as Manchester United, Arsenal, Marseille, Real Madrid, Barcelona and even Lazio taking part and a child in Taiwan was found as a result.
“Lazio were one of the first clubs to come back and agree to join the campaign. I wasn’t surprised by their response, as this issue transcends sporting rivalry, but it does prove the point that when it comes to trying to do good, club colours don’t even come into it.
“The campaign attracted millions of video views and showed the power of football to come together and build on what we had done at Roma.”
While the Missing Children campaign has been high profile, in these challenging times, AS Roma has also undertaken other projects to support local and international communities.
Paul added: “We live in strange and difficult times, where COVID has impacted lives in different ways and there is a growing concern for the world around us, a less selfish concern.
“During COVID we have raised money for hospitals, distributed masks, food and medical supplies - anything we can do that can use the power of Roma to do good is something we are keen to do.
“We raise issues about mental health, gender equality and the empowerment of females around the world.
“We are great admirers of what Laureus do – and like them, we do not think these humanitarian issues are political.
“We don’t believe that racism or feeding hungry kids or finding missing children is political: they are human issues and we like to approach things from a human perspective.
“What we have done is show the power that sport can have in a social context and use our position to be useful in the world.”