Play for the draw

While the Jules Rimet cup eluded England FC on its recent foray in the Far East the PFA scored with its shrewd art commissioning, says Hannah Booth

Do you remember where you were on 21 June? Chances are, like me, you were sobbing into a croissant watching replays of Ronaldinho’s lucky goal against England in the World Cup quarter final. Not Tim Vyner.

Commissioned by the Professional Footballers’ Association’s forward-thinking chief executive Gordon Taylor to spend June in Japan recording England’s passage through the tournament, Vyner, an illustrator and graphic design lecturer, had it luckier than most. On 21 June, he boarded a train to the Shizuoka stadium to soak up the atmosphere before England versus Brazil. By chance, he bumped into Taylor, who gave him a free ticket – black market value, £1000.

We know how it ended that day. But Vyner’s illustrations, which go on show tomorrow at London’s New Academy Gallery, provide a longer-lasting legacy of one of the most vibrant World Cups in recent history.

Vyner followed all England’s games in Japan. As a result, he covered a lot of ground, from the temples of Kyoto to the Bladerunner districts of Shibuya. ‘The Japanese took England to heart,’ he says. ‘There were Scream masks, Buddha masks and footballer masks everywhere – it was a carnival.’

The fruits of his labour feature Zen gardens with a Beckham-shirted supporter grabbing a moment’s solace, oceans of screaming Korean fans, kids kicking a ball beneath posters of millionaire footballers and fans draped in England flags.

All Vyner’s sketches, over 30 in total, feature Japanese imagery, including rows of plastic painted sushi, rickshaws and Buddhist temples. He drew on location, never leaving his hotel without a sketch pad, crayons and inks, and occasionally filling in details later. Some of his work is collage, such as a cut-out shot of Beckham singing (or miming?) the national anthem.

Vyner says the fact he mingled with crowds lends his work authenticity. ‘I was too late to get Fifa press accreditation, but it worked in my favour. It meant I was in with the fans in the build up to games rather than drinking with sponsors,’ he says.

The illustrations cover a side of the World Cup not seen by the viewing public at home, says Vyner. Of course, anyone glued to the television in June would have seen many behind-the-scenes reports. And while much of his work is upbeat and funny, he doesn’t offer analysis or criticism. But then he doesn’t claim to.

One of his most humorous works is a sea of England flags in a park, local allegiances from Crawley to West Bromwich Albion emblazoned across the red cross. In another, three Ireland fans mingle with Japanese going about their daily business outside a temple.

It is testament to the far-sightedness of the PFA, and Taylor in particular, that Vyner was given the opportunity to record the World Cup. Taylor is amassing a football art and memorabilia archive for the PFA (he is selecting a few Vyner pieces for it) and is keen to nurture artists. If only more organisations were this supportive.

For some, the misery of 21 June may still be fresh, but Vyner’s illustrations transcend the football scores. Instead, they show the best side of the World Cup and the exhibition is an opportunity to re-live that.

Buddhist Temples, Football Shrines runs from 5 to 24 December at the New Academy Gallery, 34 Windmill Street, London W1

Latest articles