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

Sorokin’s take on Russia 2018

DESPITE recent political wranglings over Russia, the CEO of the 2018 World Cup, Alexey Sorokin, believes the competition changed the image of his country.

Speaking at the World Football Summit in Madrid, Sorokin said the World Cup was an economic and social success. “Football has a unifying power,” he said. “And the World Cup is a great remedy for every football sickness.”

He was, of course, referring to the reputation Russia had for racism and hooliganism at its football matches and the trouble in France in 2016 at the European Championship. “The hooliganism was greatly exaggerated,” he insisted. “But thanks to excellent cooperation with the police, problems were prevented.”

Sorokin pointed to the FAN ID system implemented for the World Cup as a huge success and added that anyone in possession of an ID could use it as an entry visa to Russia for the remainder of 2018.

He added the World Cup set a precedent for “universal tolerance” and that the atmosphere at games was “exceptional”.

“We gave a lot of assurances and made a lot promises and it is great to talk about something that was very successful,” said Sorokin.

Photo: PA

The statistics would appear to underline Sorokin’s upbeat message. Total attendances exceeded expectations although combined gates of just over three million was the lowest since 2002’s 2.7 million. The average crowd per game of 47,371 was also the lowest since the Japan/Korea hosted competition. That said, pre-tournament events, negative publicity and a deteriorating relationship between Russia and the west undoubtedly affected the decision-making process of many fans.

Sorkin said that stadium occupancy of 98% “surprised us a lot” along with the broad geographical distribution of match tickets. Interestingly, countries like USA and China, neither of whom qualified, dominated ticket sales. Far lower numbers came from nations that normally provided healthy support for the World Cup. “We always considered we were part of Europe, but the best support for the World Cup came from outside our own continent.”

Although fans from some countries were probably deterred by the political climate, Russia still had more tourists than ever before, in excess of one million during the World Cup period. According to TASS, there were around five million visitors to the World Cup cities during the World Cup, and FIFA said over seven million people attended the FanFests. England, however, had far fewer spectators at the World Cup than in previous years.

Sorokin added that economically, Russia had benefitted from the creation of 200,000 new jobs each year during the run-up to the World Cup, and the event had contributed 1% to Russian GDP. Most expect the affect to be short-lived, however, as the 2018 World Cup was the most expensive in history, costing some € 14 billion to stage.

There was little doubt that Russia 2018 will go down in history one of the best World Cups of recent times and the host nation even performed better than its very low ranking suggested. “We never truly expected to make it through to the quarter finals,” admitted Sorokin. “We are proud of our team.”

With plenty of excitement, good crowds and the uplifting performance of Russia, even the most sceptical commentators had to concede that the “feel good factor” returned to the World Cup. “We will be analysing 2018 for some years – what it did for Russia and how it has changed the perception of our country,” beamed Sorokin.



Iceland – coaching for the people

THE recent World Football Summit in Madrid, naturally, focused a lot on the upper echelons of European football. But one of the most interesting and warmly received sessions was about Iceland, presented by Stefan Gunnarsson, director of business development for the Icelandic FA.

Iceland captured the imagination of European football fans in 2016 during the European Championship in France. As well as the fans’ distinctive and thundering clap, which has since been aped by many groups of supporters, the Icelandic team was incredibly successful, reaching the last eight after beating England 2-1 in the round of 16.  Iceland also reached the World Cup finals in Russia, but were eliminated in the group stage. As in 2016, it was their first appearance in the competition.

“We may have peaked with this team,” said Gunnarsson. “But we are good at developing players. We have shown that.”

Gunnarsson was clearly proud of his nation’s achievements, but Iceland do seem to be doing something right with the minimum of fuss. The country has a population of 348,000 people and 7% of them are registered as players. That’s quite a high percentage.

Success has also come at a time when Iceland has emerged from a brutal financial crisis that left the country on its knees. Iceland were certainly in the eye of the storm in 2008, but a focus on tourism has helped them become one of Europe’s most popular destinations.

“We have tried to position Iceland as the world’s second team. We don’t have enemies in Iceland, nobody really dislikes us. We like this very much,” said Gunnarsson. “We are seeing, increasingly, the idea of portfolio fans, with supporters from around the world having more than one favourite club or team. We want to see Iceland as being one of the teams supporters add to their own portfolio.”

Game of the People  asked Gunnarsson if the financial crisis was detrimental to the development of football in Iceland. “Not at all…basically, when the crisis started people started to find ways to deal with a system that had broken. In that period, exercise levels went up and people started to look within themselves for ways to cope and improve their lives,” he replied. This is very much in line with expert opinion that regular, outdoor exercise can help people deal with personal crises and depression.

Given the small population, much attention is placed on developing people to become good citizens. Gunnarsson pointed out that Icelandic football coaching is not just about the player, but also the person. “We call it coaching for life, understanding and making a better individual.”

There also seems to be a high quality of coaches. Around 70% of Iceland’s football coaches are UEFA B and 30% UEFA A. There are no academies as such, but from day one of their football education, children get schooled by fully qualified coaches.

Iceland also cultivates players that become sought-after in the transfer market. Of their 2018 World Cup squad, only one player out of the 23 was based in Iceland – Birkir Már Sævarsson, a defender with Valur Reykjavik. The rest were spread out among European clubs, with the most notable being Gylfi Sigurðsson of Everton, who cost the Merseyside club £ 40 million.

Gunnarsson was mildly amused at the way many of Europe’s top clubs invest in academies in various parts of the world, yet very few players appear to come through the ranks… “It is not as if they are very good at developing players.” Iceland, are, however and their recent story is not only heartening but also a reflection of a wonderful island nation that gave us some memorable moments in Euro 2016.

Photo: PA