Design and football, part of the game’s evolution

FOOTBALL’s dynamism has long been built around spectator involvement, colourful characters on and off the field and exploitation of the mass media. Marketing the game has revolved around these elements and other more peripheral aspects such as iconography, typography and visual identity have been influenced by four things: club crests; club strips; history; and the homes of the clubs, the stadiums. These have long represented the visual representation of virtually every football institution and hence, when a club has changed any of these, it is usually accompanied by fan protest or discontent.

London’s Design Museum is currently running an interesting exhibition called Designing the Beautiful Game which looks at the various ways football has packaged itself over the decades. It’s a colourful, fascinating walk through the game’s history, including the increasing boldness of stadiums, the innovation of individuals in trying to challenge the status quo and the growing prioritisation of finance.

While we kick-off with homely Pathe films about hand-made footballs and examples of boots more suited to heavy duty building work than sport, we pass through displays of that great symbol of commercial opportunism, the ever-changing football shirt, to see models and photos of stadiums far removed from the traditional arena, such as Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena, the proposed rebuild of Stamford Bridge and the sheer brutalism and beauty of AC Milan’s San Siro or Braga’s incredible structure in Portugal. The work of architects such as Herzog & de Meuron and Populous has taken football stadium ideas to an unprecedented level.

World Cup posters were one of the first print products to combine art with football. Take a look at the first posters from the 1930s and they cannot be confused with any other period, likewise in the 1950s, they are very representative of their time. While these pieces of art were, in their own way, the future, the rest of football at the time was still stuck in its quite parochial past.

In the early 1970s, Coventry City pushed the envelope further than any other club with its match programmes. Designed by one John Elvin, who had been poached from producing West Bromwich Albion’s ALBION NEWS, Coventry’s SKY BLUE was imaginative, exciting and so far ahead of its time. In fact, football programmes today lack the vision of Elvin’s work and are full of cliché, commercial intention and carefully cultivated messaging. The Design Museum pays tribute to the work of Coventry City providing a reminder of just how forward-looking the club was in its heyday.

More recently, clubs have recognised the need to portray their identity as a corporate logo, dispensing with historical but complex heraldry and introducing easily-recognisable and eye-catching badges, a trend that started back in the 1970s. But in the age of instant gratification and distraction, the simpler the image, the easier it is to remember. The redesign of Juventus’s badge is a prime example of transformation of brand identification, their “J” has become a form of corporate ID that can be replicated with ease across media, products and digital content. Not everyone likes it, the traditionalists are always likely to complain, but Juventus have almost taken ownership of the letter J in Italy.

Design is undoubtedly moving football into a new space, although some of the football kits being produced may suggest creativity is going a little too far at times. But in many other ways, it is creating a more spectacular game, although those controlling the purse string would be wise to ensure that beneath the gloss and artistry, there is genuine substance.

The exhibition continues until August 29 at the Design Museum, Kensington High Street, London.

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