Thirty-two nations entered the qualifiers for the 1934 World Cup, hosted by Italy. Twelve of the sixteen teams at the Finals were European and Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, and the United States also sent teams. Uruguay declined to defend their world title. Established Italian artist, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, designed the 1934 poster with a diagonal banner of the flags in the background. At the centre, an angular, almost cubist, player is about to strike the ball. If Guillermo Laborde’s 1930 design embodied defence, Marinetti’s 1934 poster focused on attack. Marinetti had co-founded Futurism, publishing a Futurist Manifesto in Le Figaro, Paris in 1909 and football was one subject amongst many that he painted featuring large passionate crowds, struggle and velocity.
The 1934 poster unsettles the viewer as we see a tipping point; only the lettering observed vertical and horizontal planes. Marinetti frequently used poetry and lettering in his work. Some of the venue posters were more chaotic overlays of images and lettering, as if compiled and pasted together in a rush.
Marinetti was an artist in decline at the time of the 1934 World Cup. He had wanted Futurism to become the official artistic style of Italian fascism, which Mussolini resisted. The 1934 World Cup poster promoted a modern Italy, nationalistic and unafraid of political violence. Against this background Italy’s win was a major propaganda victory for the host country.
Italy not only became the second county to win a World Cup as hosts, but went on to retain the title four years later in France. As John Foot has argued ‘During the Duce’s reign, Italy won two world cups and an Olympic gold medal. Fascism was good for Italian football, and football was good for fascism (John Foot Calcio: A History of Italian Football (London: Harper Perennial, 2006) p. 33).
This was especially the case given that Olympic football lapsed from the programme of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Italy’s win in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games and the 1938 World Cup hosted by France were both also ominous victories, as World War Two loomed. The Henri Desmé lithographs for the 1938 World Cup resonate with the political climate in Europe. Heroic realist style linked with commercial advertising, designed to impress. The static player dominates the design and, with his foot on the ball, by extension, the globe. Sculptural power and force would deliver the future, perhaps.
Like many fans of football, Willy Meisl began to look forward to the 1950 World Cup in Brazil at least a year before it happened. Meisl began a debate about what ‘Soccer’s Road to Rio’ meant for global football. This was the first time that England competed. English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish fans could now muse upon what World Cup football meant for their respective national teams, unlike a combined British Olympic team.
The poster for the 1950 World Cup shows us the public image of Brazil, at home and abroad. Contemporary fans would recognise the awestruck Meisl as he tried to convey the size of the logistical challenge of those seeking to travel to Brazil. In June 1950 a fleet of planes will carry a very heavily insured cargo from many corners of the word to Rio De Janeiro. The final itself will be played in Rio’s giant stadium, a masterpiece of modern sports architecture that can hold a 155,000 crowd…Many hundred thousands of pounds are involved: transport and accommodation of the 16 teams alone will swallow £100,000 (Willy Meisl ‘Soccer’s Road to Rio’ World Sports August 1949 (London: Country and Sporting Publications Ltd, 1949) p. 5).
Football-related cultural transfer was evident. Arsenal had toured Brazil to acclaim and intensified discussions of national playing styles. While Italy had retained the third championship, and the last of the pre-war World Cup tournaments in 1938 in an intensely politicized atmosphere, there was widespread sympathy for defending champions as, in May 1949, the Superga air crash, in Turin, killed many stars. Big, modern hoist cities included Sao Paulo, Rio Grande and Bel Horizonte. Rio de Janeiro was at that time Brazil’s capital (Brazilia later became capital in 1960) and the Maracanã stadium was specially constructed. Would Italy be able to win the World Championship for a third time? Or would the host nation claim the title?
The clarity of the single leg and boot design on the poster united the flags of the competing countries on the sock that provided the main diagonal feature. The boot about to move the ball, reflected the host country’s confidence. Elements of football-related cultural transfer were much in evidence, as over 1.3 million spectators took in 22 matches. By this time FIFA had 70 member nations and there were new football countries in evidence at the thirteen team Final tournament, including Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, England, Italy, Mexico, Paraguay, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay, USA and Yugoslavia. Unlike previos World Cups, in 1950 the winner was determined by a Final Round stage. The final four teams (Spain, Sweden, Brazil Uruguay) played games against each other, instead of a knockout format. Brazil were one point ahead of Uruguay going into their match on 16 July, and needed only to avoid defeat to become world champions. English referee George Reader oversaw the Final, but although Brazil scored Friaça, Uruguay took home the World Cup trophy for the second time thanks to goals by Schiaffino and and Ghiggia. A much anticipated celebration in Brazil was not to be, and this led to national shock known as the ‘Maracanã blow’. Brazil changed their shirt design for future tournaments to the colours we now associate with the team, and the “Phantom of ‘50” would resurface many times again in World Cups and internationals.
The designer for the 1950 poster was chosen by a public competition, widely mediated in 1948, a collaboration between the World Cup organizing committee and the commission for the Brazilian society of arts, led by its President Mario Polo and a judging panel of Professors Castro Filho, Henrique Salvio, and Alberto Sims. One hundred and fourteen entries were reduced to a longlist of fourteen, with four finalists and a winner J. Ney Damasceno, from Rio de Janeiro. Damasceno won a prize of thirty seven thousand cruzeiros, although little is then subsequently known of him, and he does not seem to have been an established designer. So these processes of selection are in themselves interesting for how World Cup posters were chosen to represent the nation, not just by the respective football authorities, but also artistic experts.
In the next blog we will look at the World Cups in the 1950s and 1960s, before a special edition on 1966 and how this changed the corporate promotion of World Cup tournaments.