A photo emerged last summer of beaming England footballer Bukayo Saka jumping into a swimming pool astride an inflatable unicorn. Such was the sheer joy captured by the image that it quickly achieved cult status and, as these things do, spawned a thousand memes.
Well, everyone who joked on social media to “hang in the Louvre” has now gotten their wish – almost – thanks to the Design Museum. Saka’s photo is part of a new exhibition titled Football: Designing the Beautiful Game, which taps into a rich seam connecting sport and the creative world.
Photography is a relatively small part of the show, which opened on Friday and covers footballs, shoes, kits, graphic art for posters, fanzines and brands, as well as architecture and the stadium engineering.
So we get the evolution of the ball from the leather-wrapped animal bladder thrown by public schoolchildren in the late 19th century to the multicolored space-age spheres of today.
We trace the journey from calf-high work boots to Stanley Matthews’ groundbreaking Continental-style shoes and modern all-synthetic pairs that graced Lionel Messi and the impossibly small feet of Spanish playmaker Xavi Hernandez.
And we get a glimpse of plans by Archibald Leitch, the prolific Scottish architect who designed Highbury, the former Art Deco home of Arsenal, Glasgow Rangers’ Ibrox and almost every other football ground in Britain.
Perhaps the best bits are the football shirt wall – a visual banquet of classic early designs as well as some of the wackiest guilty pleasures that have become collectibles (and, in a shrewd commercial move, can be bought in the gift shop) – and the panoply of World Cup posters, a sort of modern history of graphic art.
The business cards of 1980s hooligan groups, which often satirized establishment imagery, such as West Ham United’s famous Inter City Firm, which copied the British Rail logo, scene fanzines Casuals obsessed with luxury sportswear, and archival photography exploring women’s fashion icons. game, the Premier League’s global footprint and homophobia in Brazilian football, meanwhile, are truly illuminating cultural artifacts.
Football has shed its working-class attributes to become a huge business over the past 30 years, but this is the first spectacle of its kind, indicating that it remains ghettoized in some circles.
“I was really surprised that there hadn’t been an exhibition like this before,” said its curator, Eleanor Watson. “There are amazing football museums around the world and there have been lots of art and football exhibitions, and some smaller scale pop-up style exhibitions on individual aspects of design – usually kits – but nothing that looked at him in the round. ”
Watson spent two years assembling the collection and had to convince some in art circles that the football design deserved the serious treatment this show is proving it deserves.
“A former colleague said ‘it’s a really bad idea because everyone sees design as an unwanted presence in football, a sign of its total commercialization,'” Watson said.
“I thought that was inaccurate and wanted to show that design is not a post-1991 Premier League phenomenon and that designers and architects have played a very important role in shaping football from the early days. professionalization until today.”
Watson and the Design Museum deserve huge credit for elevating the world of football with a spectacle that fascinates, captivates and – above all – celebrates the game. I spent much of it with a smile as wide as Bukayo Saka’s. .