Reflecting the times – World Cup posters

THE 2018 World Cup was notable for a number of reasons: the competition was of a high quality and therefore, enjoyable; there was harmony off the pitch; and Russia, with one eye on Soviet-style graphic design, produced an excellent poster representing the event.

The image of Lev Yashin was modern, but also nostalgic – it could easily have been an album cover for Kraftwerk, a band that combined modernism with high respect for the past.

This poster came at a time when Russia was displaying some Soviet-type traits and Vladimir Putin had shown a liking for Kremlin muscle. Perhaps it was no coincidence that the poster should have a trace of the type of propaganda products that typified the USSR.

The World Cup was, of course, an opportunity for Russia to meet and greet the world, dispel any preconceived ideas about the nation being full of two-headed monsters and Mafia influence and also to demonstrate it could put on a show worthy of the competition’s heritage.

The inclusion of Yashin was useful in more ways than one. Firstly, it reminded the public that here was a local star who was known the world over and secondly, Russia did not really have a contemporary player who would be as recognisable among visiting fans, even though Yashin last played in a World Cup in 1966.

The 2018 poster is undoubtedly one of the best of a series that dates back to the very start of the World Cup in 1930. As a record of changing styles, artistic trends and political backdrops, the posters, to some extent, can be seen as social history documents.

The very early efforts combined art nouveau and Art Deco with the last pre-WW2 poster really mirroring the political climate. Not only is the imagery dark, but it has a boot-clad foot standing on the World – the fascists of the Mussolini era perhaps stamping on opponents and conquering all.

By the time 1950 came around, the poster was more jolly and symbolised a united world after the horrors of war. The flags of the nations, implying a more harmonious global community, although there was still a boot featured.

The 1958 poster, all bright, simple and worldly, maintained the spirit of unity. Four years on, with the space race in full flow, Chile’s poster depicted a football almost like a heavenly object – if ever a sport summed up a planet, it is surely football. The “battle of Santiago”, a violent clash between Italy and Chile, was probably more symbolic of the time than any attempt to link man’s mission to go further than any man had gone before.

England used a gormless lion, World Cup Willie, a Union Jack-clad figure that was meant to characature British pluck and fortitude. Mascots became commonplace, some merely stereotyping popular images of a nation while others lent themselves to mass production.

By 1970, the inevitable sombreros we’re playing to the cartoon interpretation of Mexico, who built on their Olympics of 1968 (who recalls Long John Baldry’s song?). Mexico was clearly proud to host the World Cup and their poster was simple and nationalistic, including “Mexico 1970” against a brightly-coloured background. It worked.

Then the artists and designers started to get all arty. 1974 was Germanic, dark and confusing, while 1978 reflected what Argentina wanted to see, blue and white striped footballers celebrating – presumably winning a trophy. This was the first to illustrate the host nation winning, possibly because the artists were fearful of the right-wing regime in Argentina. If Hitler’s Germany had hosted 1942, which was a possibility before war broke out, we might have seen a similar scenario.

1982 was Jean Miro meets Spanish tourist board, colourful and sunny and could easily have come with a free bottle of Sangria. In 1986 and 1990, Mexico and Italy went down a similar route, although they used photography to achieve their aim.

The US could not resist bringing out the flag to highlight their tournament, but did not try any clever imagery, similar to a obvious and literal American paperback book cover.

Some posters do not work that well, France 98 was a mess, the Japan/Korea gig in 2002 nondescript. Similarly, Germany 2006 was disappointing, not representative of a well-hosted World Cup that changed many people’s view of the country. Likewise, 2010 was too simple and 2014 failed to exploit the potential of a Latin American event. Russia 2018, by contrast, was superb.

Nevertheless, despite some flops, World Cup posters are colourful, evocative and important by-products of the competition – nostalgic, iconic and, with a little thought, memorable. 2018’s effort certainly revived the concept of this type of media.

Photos: GOTP, PA

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