Could Pelé’s Brazil have won the World Cup with stripes, hoops or even a belt? A new exhibition tells the story of football through design

Looking back at the sheer entertainment and drama that the game of football as we know it has provided for over 150 years, the role design and innovation have played in the sport cannot be understated.

If it hadn’t been for the constant modernization of all aspects of the game, we’d still be watching teams clad in burlap knickerbockers whipping heavy, rain-soaked pigskin balls around the pitches. closer to plowed fields than the pristine hybrid turf of the 21st century. Thankfully, the sport has come a long way from such humble beginnings and these incredible advancements are showcased in a new exhibition at the Design Museum in London.

‘Designing the Beautiful Game’, which runs until the end of August, explores the pivotal role design has played in transforming gaming from a serious Victorian pastime into the stylish global industry of gaming. today – from kits and boots to the architecture of modern super-stadiums.

The installation was curated in partnership with the National Football Museum in Manchester, who provided a treasure trove of historically significant artefacts with back stories linking them to luminaries such as Lionel Messi, George Best, Pelé and Diego Maradona .

These prized artifacts sit alongside a host of contemporary design projects involving many of the sportswear brands responsible for revolutionizing football clothing over the years, such as Nike, Adidas, Puma, Hummel and Umbro.

The show is divided into five sections covering the different aspects in which design and technology have influenced association football around the world: Performance, Identity, Crowds, Spectacle and Game.

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Beginning with the basic fundamentals, the Performance section examines how the relentless global pursuit of top athleticism has advanced football in tactics, training and the various clothing and equipment used to play the game. shifting from rugged natural materials to near-weightless synthetics has only helped to improve performance, even as it puts into context the extraordinary talent of all those legendary players who scored goals through hateful and stunned crowds in the past.

Indeed, one of the most exceptional memorabilia on display in the Performance area is a pair of vintage leather boots worn by none other than Manchester United legend George Best. Although heavy and lumpy compared to today’s thin boots worn at elite level, Best was able to float across the grass and zip past defenders at full throttle as he played for United and Northern Ireland in the 1960s. Additionally, the boots are also hand-stamped with the names of the teams Best scored against while wearing them during his teenage years – which oddly seems to include the fictional Melchester Rovers side, made famous by the comic strip” King of the Rovers”. undress.


The Identity section of the exhibition focuses on the graphic design used by leading clubs and organizations throughout their history, from crests and badges to fanzines and banners.

There is also a range of classic shirts on display which demonstrate the lineage between their original use – a direct sign of the team you played for – and the cutting-edge modern designs with replicas worn in the millions by fans all over the world. Indeed, the contrast between the plain and simple Brazilian shirt worn by Pelé during the 1958 World Cup and the sinister and light designs of the current kits is particularly striking.

We are also treated to a portfolio of hand drawn designs for a new Brazil international kit by artist Aldyr Garcia Schlee in 1953. The Seleçao wanted to ditch the white kit worn in their shock World Cup final defeat to neighbors Uruguay at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro three years earlier in favor of a more patriotic palette using yellow, green and national flag blue. As well as offering a window into the design process involved in changing a national team’s entire visual identity, the charming sketches also reveal how Brazil have come to play with stripes, hoops and even a diagonal belt! But it was one of Schlee’s other designs that was chosen, and Brazil won the 1958 World Cup wearing their now iconic Camisa Canarinho.

Italian giants Juventus swapped their famous club crest for a modern, clean logo in 2017, which club president Andrea Agnelli touted as a “symbol of the Juventus way of life”. So it’s interesting to look at the timeline of the badges used by Juventus over the years, as it traces the journey from ornate heraldry to sleek, clean and minimalist graphics.

Fan-generated iconography is also highlighted, in particular the famous ‘Scouse Bayeux Tapestry’ – a moving commemorative banner created by Liverpool supporter Peter Carney following the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, as well as the second drawing he produced in collaboration with Christine Waygood on the occasion of the 20th anniversary in 2009.


Here’s a history of the incredible technical feats that went into building some of the best football stadiums in the world, plus the groundbreaking work that went into giving modern match fans the best experience possible. From infrastructure to acoustics, this section focuses on the architectural feats that have given rise to a number of the greatest sports arenas in the game.

This includes fascinating scale models of Chelsea’s home at Stamford Bridge and the Estadio Municipal de Braga, home to Portuguese club SC Braga, which was built facing a disused quarry using a ingenious cantilever system that continues to keep the adjacent stands in the air.

There’s also a stunning photographic tribute to Borussia Dortmund’s famous ‘yellow wall’. The impressive 328 x 131ft Sudtribune Stand at Signal Iduna Park accommodates almost 25,000 fans on a single tier, making it one of the most atmospheric and revered terraces in world football.


Football has long been the most popular spectator sport in the world, and although the rules of the game played on the pitch have not changed much in the past 100 or so years, the way we consume the game is almost unrecognizable.

The arc begins with the official setting of tournaments and competitions in the early 20th century, exemplified by a fine gallery of official World Cup posters and the lavish artwork of the era that was used as promotional material for each.

Also on display are several stellar examples of the elaborate and coveted trophies that have been contested at the highest levels of the game, including the original 1911 FA Cup (which has been housed in the National Football Museum since 2005) and the current Women’s FA Cup. .

With the ever-changing nature of football fandom, a light is also shed on the effects that technological advancements in television, games and social media have all simultaneously had on the way we interact with the game in the age in line.


The fifth and final part of the exhibition celebrates the many ways in which people from all walks of life engage with football outside of the sport itself, from memorabilia collecting and online gaming to ownership by fans of clubs and community projects.

While ‘Sensible Soccer’, ‘Football Manager’ and the ‘FIFA’ series have seen football video games grow into a massive multi-billion dollar industry since the 1990s, football-based games are not a new phenomenon. as venerable followers of tabletop classics such as “Blow Football” and “Subbuteo” will duly attest to this.

The latter is duly celebrated in a nostalgia-tinged art installation by Julian Germain, who took a series of classic “Subbuteo” action figures and repainted them to look like blockbuster superheroes such as Captain America and Spider-Man.

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