Fancy footwork

A new book timed to cash in on the current high profile of football examines the sport’s imagery. Peter McCready gives his view from the commentary box.

FC Football Graphics is described on its back cover as “an indispensable sourcebook of vibrant imagery”. Unfortunately, sourcebooks all too often gather dust on the coffee table. The publishers of this volume must hope that the fans’ blind dedication to their sport will ensure a longer life.

After a feverish introduction, the text takes the form of explanations and picture captions. The chapters are headed in football jargon, with the build up, the game and the aftermath used as devices to illustrate graphics trends in footballing history. The book addresses football’s place as an international game and cultural reference point, using 380 illustrations to make its point that the sport is now a vehicle for art and communication.

The first chapter is the most instantly memorable. It covers team badges, tournament logos and sponsorship. The badge illustrations, being the real icons of the game, are heraldic in nature, often dating back to the 19th century. These appear simplistic, but it is this simplicity that makes them endure. The advertising and branding sections, are flashier, but their impact is shorter lived. The aftermath finishes with a look at the graphics of terrestrial and satellite television, computer games, pop songs and on-line coverage.

The book charts the rise of commercialisation in and around the game. As a guide to how it has progressed this is informative. But for those of us who resent having to pay exorbitant prices to see our beloved game, the book reflects money’s domination of “the World’s Game”.

The high production values of the advertisements become overwhelming as you progress through the book. A beautiful black and white photograph by Nadav Kander of an impromptu soccer game in a South African township leaps off the page and restores our faith in the simple pleasures and passions of the game. The text reveals that Umbro used it in an ad campaign.

Football has usurped the car as advertising’s new sex symbol. It’s big business, as shown by the success of subscription-only sports channels. The authors describe how in contrast to the organic growth of European football, Japanese and North American football leagues have been set up from scratch by marketing agencies, kit suppliers, and major corporations.

The ever-changing nature of kit design means that the only consistent identifying mark between teams strips is often the sponsors name. Hence Sharp has become synonymous with Manchester United and JVC with Arsenal. Clubs change their strips every two years and have four strips at any one time. For fans this can mean forking out at least once a year to keep up with terrace fashions. Yet classic kits from the Sixties and Seventies still sell well. Except maybe in crisis-stricken Newcastle. Perhaps it’s time for fans to reclaim their design heritage.

FC Football Graphics by Jeremy Leslie and Patrick Burgoyne is published by Thames and Hudson, priced 12.95

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