A design history of the world’s most popular sport

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Jacopo Prisco, CNN

(CNN) — The first-ever FIFA World Cup final, contested by Uruguay and Argentina in 1930, began with a disagreement: who would provide the ball?

Both teams wanted him, because they were used to playing with their own equipment and didn’t trust each other. In the end, a compromise was found: the first half would be played with the ball of the Argentines and the second half with that of the Uruguayans.

The contrast was striking. Argentina led 2-1 at half-time, but after switching the ball, Uruguay prevailed 4-2, lifting the inaugural trophy in football’s premier international competition.

“One (of the balloons) had 12 panels while the other had 11, and they had a slightly different weight and texture due to the difference in panels and seams,” said Eleanor Watson, senior curator at “Football: designing the beautiful game”. a new exhibition at the Design Museum in London. “So from a technical point of view, it really had an influence on the outcome of the match.”

The show greets visitors with the same two balls used in that legendary final. They beautifully embody the stereotypical vintage football, their rough surfaces and chunky stitching are a far cry from the sleek, lightweight designs used in the modern game. And these are just two of more than 500 objects – equipment, uniforms, badges, photographs, banners, posters and even pieces of stadiums – that illustrate how design has shaped the world’s most popular sport.

It’s not an easy relationship to explore, or even to exhibit, Watson said. “To be honest with you, when I first proposed it, our marketing manager at the time told me that it was a very bad idea and that people associate design and football with this presence. highly undesirable commercial – whatever they feel and find problematic about the current state of the game.”

The exhibition aims to set the record straight, unpacking the role played by designers and architects since the emergence of professionalism in football in the 1880s. Its scope ranges from banners and shirts to the less expected, such as stadium architecture, graphic design, collectibles and new developments like eSports.

Boots, including several designed specifically for women, are well represented in the range of items, which includes pairs worn by two of the game’s most revered players, George Best and Lionel Messi. Elsewhere, the first Adidas and Puma boots not only represent the rivalry between the two German sportswear brands – founded by brothers Adi and Rudi Dassler respectively, and part of a complex family feud – but another key moment in the design in the history of sport. : the development of screwed studs.

“In 1954, West Germany played in the FIFA World Cup final against Hungary, the darlings of the tournament and unquestionably the best team at the time. They won and then, as is well known, it started to rain really hard,” Watson said.

At half-time, Adi Dassler, West Germany’s official shoe supplier, unscrewed the studs from the players’ boots and replaced them with longer studs that offered better grip on the soggy pitch. West Germany won the final, an unexpected victory dubbed the “Miracle of Bern”, a reference to the Swiss city that hosted the game. “At that point, everyone really understood that these pieces of performance gear played a really important role in giving teams a competitive edge,” Watson said.

A more subtle contribution to the game – but one that has proven to be paramount to the identity of players and fans – is that of graphic design. Its influence is particularly evident in the evolution of team badges and logos. “As with many aspects of football design, these started from a basic practical consideration: in the early days of football, people couldn’t afford football kits, so a very simple way to to produce one was to tell everyone to wear a badge. You would sew one on normal clothes and presto, you would have a uniform,” Watson said.

Several iconic jerseys are on display at the exhibition, including the one worn by Brazilian legend Pelé when he made his World Cup debut in 1958 at the age of 17. signed) belonging to legendary carriers of the magic number, such as Diego Maradona, Roberto Baggio, Zico and Michelle Akers, who led the American women’s soccer team to two World Cup victories and an Olympic gold medal in the 1990s.

Two of the largest objects in the collection come from stadiums: a slice of the iconic facade of the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany, whose exterior is the largest membrane shell in the world, and a former turnstile, an object which represents the arrival of the era of football – the monetization that has transformed fans from supporters into customers.

And, just like a football match, the show has an intermission: a half-time space reminiscent of the stands of a stadium, where visitors can sit and enjoy a video installation of the crowd at the famous Maracanã stadium. from Rio de Janeiro.

In the final section, the exhibition showcases the work of football charities like Goal Click, which send disposable cameras to sporting communities around the world – including the Gilgit-Baltistan Girls Football League, the first-ever girls’ league in northern Pakistan – and asks them to document their experiences. “It’s a way to shine a light on different kinds of people who use football as a way to express themselves,” Watson said.

“Football: Designing the Beautiful Game” is at the Design Museum in London from April 8 to August 29, 2022.

Top image: A pair of Puma Super Atoms, originating in 1952 and one of the first football boots to feature removable studs.

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