Come and have a go…

The design of football-related paraphernalia has improved but there’s still a long way to go. Tim Rich thinks there’s a great opportunity for designers to get involved.

I was in my local the other day when a family of trolls came in. Bedecked in England football shirts and sovereign rings, they were there to celebrate the birthday of their oldest daughter (14, so quite appropriate that she should ask for and get a pint of Stella). But she had another present. Refreshed by lager, she tore into the World Cup gift wrap and held aloft a stunningly hideous object: a necklace looped around a replica France 98 World Cup football. But there’s more. When she fiddled with the ball it chimed: “oléeee olé olé oléeee [pause] oléeeeee, oléeeeee’ [repeat ad infinitum]”.

This France 98 junk is everywhere and there are designers whose hands are bloody with responsibility. Supermarkets have clearly lost their marbles, stickering up every other product with some kind of football reference. So pizzas are now “perfect for that half-time snack”, while cans of beer are covered in balls (as if fans needed to have the link pointed out between watching football and drinking).

I admit, I have been seduced by some of this claptrap. A gingerbread England player sat on my mantelpiece for a couple of weeks (I christened him Scholes).

The merchandising for France 98 is part of a wider commercialisation phenomenon within foot ball. What’s ironic is that for the last few years many pundits have been bemoaning the middle-class, designerisation of the game. They say that where once stood pie-munching folk urging their heroes on with a cheer, a swish of their rattle and a whiff of Bovril, now sit fat cat professionals, a glass of club wine in one hand and a lovingly crafted match programme in the other. Bollocks. The punters going to games definitely have more money than before, and the standard of everything from seating to shirts is going up, but it’s all a long way from a Terence Conran wet dream.

For those who enjoy laughing at crap design, football remains fertile ground. Thrill to the redesigned club programme and magazine – more widows and orphans than a mafia family convention. Be enchanted by the graphic presentations on the huge TV screen, with their mannequin-style depictions of star players and cheesy sloganeering. Be seduced by the array of new “miracle merchandise” available in the club catalogue – so called because it’s a miracle anyone dares wear the stuff in public. And then there are the tickets, a visual festival of one-colour printing and cheap foil with a 3D drawing of the ground so poor you’re more likely to end up back at the train station than in your seat.

Everywhere you look, shite shite shite design. My own club, Chelsea, is far from innocent in all this. Instead of the designed-by-a-blind-printer rubbish we used to have to put up with, we now get shudderingly awful pieces of Eighties graphics. The characters on the stadium TV screen look as if they were modelled out of Play-Doh, the written-by-chimps Onside newspaper would be rejected by most fish and chip shops and the club badge – a once noble depiction of a lion with staff – has been butchered into a nonsensical mess of chaotic type thrown around a miserable clip art cat. The only respite is www.chelseafc.co.uk, one of the best designed football sites around.

I’m not saying that clubs should be home to the design avant garde, poncey floweriness or bottom-clenched typo fascism, but it is still astounding that these multimillion pound leisure businesses continue to pump out such tripe.

Surely, protecting the heritage of the logo – the key to all official merchandise – will help keep its long-term value and open up more merchandising options? Surely decent graphics on the TV would encourage big money companies to use it for advertising or sponsorship? Surely a fan who has spent hundreds of pounds on a season ticket deserves to get a decently written and designed magazine?

I think there is a role for design consultancies within football clubs. True, we’re talking about the difference between people who look at long-term value (good designers) and those who look for a return at the end of the day (mediocre businessmen). But there’s one factor that might just bring them a little close together. Money.

Could a design consultancy convince a club that a thorough design programme will make them more dosh? It would be a fascinating challenge and it would be an extraordinary effectiveness story for the design industry to hold up. I’d love to hear from those who have tried to make it happen, or anyone who thinks they’re hard enough to have a go.

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