Having put a card reading “PRESS” in the brim of his hat and given him some sandwiches, Dotmund will be producing some World Cup previews for this site on the next ten Fridays before the tournament kicks off in South Africa in 11 weeks time. You have been warned. Today, our resident “artist” casts his “artistic” eye over the official World Cup posters from down the years. You have, as I say, been warned.
World Cups don’t need posters any more, really. In these days of saturating media coverage, combined with the explosion of information technology, the chances of someone walking round a street corner, glancing at a poster and saying, “Hmm, it seems, Milicent, that there is to be some sort of international football tournament to be held,” are minimal at best. However, to FIFA’s credit (I just wrote ‘ to FIFA’s credit’, but stick with me), they have kept up the old tradition to the current day. Being the artist asked to design the official FIFA World Cup poster must be awesome, like being asked to paint a portrait of the Queen, or designing the cover for the Radio Times Christmas edition.
Predictably enough, no-one has yet asked me. However, if England win the hosting rights to the 2018 tournament, I’ll be submitting a few sketches, don’t you worry. Until that point, I’m wittering away the hours writing this, my artistic review of the official posters of the FIFA World Cup 1930-2010. My name is Brian Sewell.
1930 Uruguay The first World Cup poster is, as you might imagine, a highly-prized and very valuable item, even though the poster is by its very nature a mass-production item. The poster itself is terrific. The crazy type! The reserved use of colour! The squiggly arrow in the number 1! The slightly wonky width of the crossbar! The unrealistically bendy goalkeeper! This excellent poster is also notable for being the only of the 19 examples here to depict a save. Come to the inaugural FIFA World Cup and see people Almost Score Goals!
1934 Italy / 1938 France Europe in the 1930s was a fairly turbulent place to be, both politically and socially. The posters for the next two World Cup tournaments reflect this fundamental dichotomy (I just legitimately used the word ‘dichotomy’, in your face, all my teachers) between fascism and the nicer one. The Italian poster is from a tournament noted for the cuddly football-loving maniac Benito Mussolini’s, shall we say, “influence”. There is something chillingly prescient about the image here. The almost featureless player, with his face further obscured by shadow, is about to kick a ball so hard with his calves of iron that there’s a reasonable chance anyone who gets betwixt it and the goal may well die of severe internal injuries. Anyone at the time viewing this poster with the benefit of hindsight would surely have invaded Italy and Germany just to be on the safe side.
The French example from four years later shows the other side of the coin in Europe’s political fate at the time, so much so that it might have been designed by Neville Chamberlain. Upstanding and triumphant as a propaganda poster from a few years down the road, there’s also a fragility to it. With all that was happening elsewhere, the last thing anyone needed was the world being conquered, be it by a footballer or anyone else. Put down your guns, it’s time for FOOTBALL.
1950 Brazil The first post-formation of the United Nations World Cup poster is typically loved-up. I love this one. Flag sock, flag sock, he’s got all the flags, on his socks. Flag sock flag sock. He’s got the whole world, on his socks. The only sour note here is that he seems likely to be about to tread on the slightly-too-small football. Someone’s going to the dentist tomorrow.
1954 Switzerland This is my favourite World Cup poster of them all. The audacious simplicity of it! This is the pinnacle of high art-as-World Cup poster, the likes of which we won’t see again until 1982. What makes it brilliant? Well, for a start, the white outlines as opposed to black. The wonderfully distorted goal net. The boldness of the shading on the ball and on the goalkeeper’s face. The beautifully understated use of text. But best of all? The forlorn expression on the be-capped goalie’s face. Oh bugger, that’s eight-nil. Again.
1958 Sweden High art makes way for cartoons in this era of World Cup posters. Pictures like this would have festooned the print media at the time in a way which, sadly, doesn’t happen so much any more. Although it can’t compete for my affections compared with its predecessor, there’s still a lot to love here. The player looks a bit like a naughty schoolboy, for one thing. Heh heh, I’ve just totally hoofed the ball IN THE AIR. But look at the size of that shadow. That ball must be massive. And the player’s name is George Jetson.
1962 Chile World Cup posters enter the post-Sputnik space age. The moon was very much on the people of the world’s radar at the time, and until 1969 when Neil Armstrong demonstrated that it was in fact made of a mixture of pumice stones and cheese, the most widely-held belief was that it was a big football. In spite of the passing of the high-art era in the posters, it’s still the era of high-design. The clarity and simplicity of these posters – there’s effectively only four colours on the thing for a start – should stand as an example to anyone making a poster for anything, ever. Microsoft Publisher has a lot to answer for, art fans.
1966 England After my impassioned speech about how computer graphics programs are ruining design three seconds ago, I am immediately proved CORRECT by this clip-art nightmare. World Cup Willie – a mascot who looked like Snagglepuss if he’d been run over by a steamroller – re-enacts the 1958 poster in this loveless and shambolic demonstration of why World Cup mascots and World Cup posters should never meet. Although, in the case of the 1954 mascot, Lugubrious and Resigned Goalkeeper, I’m willing to make an exception.
1970 Mexico High design makes a return for this monumental piece. It is magnificent, from the pulsating lino-cut ball which seems to bulge and explode as you stare at it, to the Adidas-friendly Mexico 70 lettering in white, to the ultramodern use of all lower-case lettering. I love this. All World Cup posters should be this simple from now on.
1974 West Germany See? This is why. If you look in the top corner, you’ll see that the 1974 tournament had a BRILLIANT logo, which could have served just as well as the poster in the Mexico 70 vein. Instead, it’s relegated to a supporting role whilst something that looks like what would happen if you read “You Are The Ref” on LSD goes on in the middle. I heartily approve of the typography, though. Particularly nice is the three-language approach. Oddly, German does not feature in spite of the tournament being held in Germany. A country in which German is widely spoken, by Germans.
1978 Argentina This one is great, and once again for a number of reasons. The muted colourscheme and colour palate makes a welcome return, along with the retention of simple typography, this time at a jaunty vertical orientation. However, the secret of this poster’s success is dots. Polka dots. Dot matrix. Dot Cotton. They’re all there, lending the image of what looks like Emlyn Hughes going to a fancy dress party as Tom Selleck a classic Top of the Pops edge.
1982 Spain This poster sees the welcome return of High Art. In this case, Spain exploited its artistic tradition to the absolute maximum and asked Joan Miró to produce the artwork. Had Pablo Picasso not carelessly died in 1973 aged 91, they would surely have asked him. As it was, Miró died in 1983, making this piece one of his most high-profile late works. Quite what it depicts is open to some interpretation, but who cares, it’s great. Note also that, in spite of the high-energy style, the colour palate is again restricted, saving viewers from gangsta trippin’.
1986 Mexico Considering Mexico’s first attempt, the 1986 poster is a monumental let-down. In Mexico’s defence, the organisation of the 1986 World Cup was a last-minute affair after Colombia pulled out of hosting duties after they lost their football over a fence. This poster is the first and only of the 19 to be in landscape rather than portrait orientation, and the first to use a photograph. How thick is the leg of the bloke? I think he may have elephantitis and should consult a physician. Meanwhile, I think the Mexico 86 committee should have consulted an artist.
1990 Italy Using a photograph need not be shit, mind you. Italia 90 produced this bold and very 1990s image using a negative of a overhead shot of the Colosseum in Rome and some fun-packed early computer graphics. It’s exciting, it’s clear, it’s very bold and it’s very much of its time. The only thing you could possibly want in addition is a Lugubrious and Resigned Goalkeeper wearing a hat.
1994 United States Look at the state of this. Not only was the low-gravity overhead kick outlawed by FIFA in 1991, along with the backpass to the goalkeeper, but whatever lunatic painted it has signed it in foot-high letters. Adding to the fun, they have dated it 1993. Good work, there.
I had originally planned this piece as a top five list, you know. However, there’s just too much great stuff in the annals of World Cup posters to leave things out. Along with Mexico 1986, this poster helps make a complete mockery of that last statement. But at least Mexico 86 has the excuse of being a photograph. And has Lenny “Big Knee” McGinty in it. Hate hate hate.
1998 France France seemingly took their visual cues from the Italian poster of 1990 but rendered the whole thing as a piece of art. Despite looking like an inter-title on MTV, despite how busy it is in terms of design and colour, it somehow all works as a whole. All it needs is Antoine de Caunes to pop up in front of it and introduce an item about a German shepherd who makes pornos in his shed.
2002 Japan/Korea You get the strong feeling that, after 1994, nothing actually approximating to a real piece of paper gets anywhere near a World Cup poster until they are printed. Computer design is now very much the big thing, which is possibly why this thing bothers me so much. For all the stylised brush strokes and drips, you just know it was done by a geek with a graphics tablet. There’s a modern-day cynicism about computerised paint drips which makes me want to vote Whig.
2006 Germany This astronomical recreation of the Mexico 1970 poster should work by rights, but by gum, it doesn’t. It’s somehow so completely lifeless and loveless that I can imagine it was responsible for more cricket bat sales than the entire 2005 Ashes series. World Cup posters shouldn’t be created in a laboratory by programmers. They should be made in grotty studios by filthy, unkempt chain smokers, who drink too much Limoncello and forget to feed their dog for days on end.
2010 South Africa For all my futile wailing against modern computerised design, it can be just as good as traditional media, just as traditional painting can be as dismal as the Germany 06 chaos. The 2010 World Cup poster is a fine example of modern techniques producing a worthy artistic product. Understandably, its theme is this being Africa’s first World Cup tournament. However, the inclusion of head keepy-uppy with an Adidas Telstar is above and beyond anything that was absolutely required, and should be thoroughly commended to this house. How sad it is to see the bottom completely festooned with the logos of corporate sponsors, though.
Credit to expertfootball.com for their excellent gallery of World Cup posters. They have additional world football features here. Credit also to Shine 2010‘s excellent South Africa 2010 gallery on Flickr.