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World Cup Mascots – and the winner is…

June 13th, 2006 by · No Comments · Features, Football

Attempting to link the host nation to the tournament while selling a whole heap of replicas to children, and those who should know better, has always been a job for experts. As mentioned this shameful marketing started with the 1966 tournament in England and featured World Cup Willie, a chirpy looking lion wearing a strange composite England/British football kit in the act of either shooting like Bobby Charlton or rearranging an opposing winger a la Nobby Stiles.

The following three tournaments took a safe approach to mascot design and featured children in the national kit of the host nation. Juanito [Mexico 1970] was adorned with a sombrero while Gauchito [Argentina 1978] had the riding whip, neckerchief and hat of a Gaucho. For 1974 the West Germans used two small boys, Tip and Tap, so that they didn’t have to compromise on font size in order to fit the whole message onto the shirts. If only the unified Germany of 2006 had taken such a sensible approach, although more of that later.

The 1980?s saw a move away from kids in footie strips. The Spanish mascot for 1982 was a cheeky, smiling little orange called Naranjito holding a football. Not only was Naranjito kitted out in the Spanish strip he was also symbolic of one of Spain?s biggest fruit exports. Unlike most of the previous mascots he was also ideally shaped for the production of soft toy replicas to cash in on the appeal of the tournament.

Mexico 1986 featured Pique a chilli pepper wearing an outsize sombrero with an even more outsize football at his feet. Again, he was synonymous with Mexico and Mexican cuisine in particular. If only the ball used in the England v. Argentina game had been similarly oversized. It would have been far too heavy for the ‘Hand of God’ incident, being twice the size of one Diego Maradona.

The 1990’s brought us three tournaments, two in Europe and one in the United States. The first was Italia 1990, Gazza’s tears, England’s best performance since winning the title and possibly one of the worst finals ever. It also brought us the most abstract mascot to date. Think Italian design, think Pininfarina, Prada and Gucci. A whole nation of talented designers and they came up with ……….Ciao, a stick figure made from cubes in the colours of the Italian tricolour with a football for a head. The only good thing I can say is that it looks like a pre post-modern sculpture for the reception area of a corporate headquarters or that it was designed by the fella responsible for 1970’s Lancia cars. Looks great but doesn’t work.

The next tournament [USA 94] brought us Striker, a cheery looking cartoon dog, think better dressed Scooby Doo. While taking the tournament to the States was a bit of a gamble the marketing department that created Striker was obviously staffed with the very finest creative talent. Instead of trying to tap into the American sporting male psyche they went straight for the marketing jugular?Soccer Mom.

While the male population of the States can’t get their collective heads around any sport that doesn’t require huge amounts of equipment, a rule book that makes golf look simple or a world championship that only involves American teams, a huge number of women and girls playing ‘soccer’ the event was a marketing man’s dream.

The final tournament of the nineties was France 98 and the debut of, possibly, the very best of all mascots, Footix. A blue cockerel with a ball tucked under his wing and a bright red comb, how much would Zidane have paid for such luxurious head coverage? His name was a combination of football and the ?ix? from the internationally famous, and somewhat fabulous, Asterix series of cartoon books. Just like Asterix the French team went on to defeat the big boys from Brazil in a final that actually featured goals scored in open play.

The next tournament was the Korea/Japan 2002 hybrid games. Fittingly, for a tournament with two hosts, they had three mascots Ato, Kaz and Nik also known as the Spheriks. These bizarre little chaps played a futuristic game called Atmoball and their names were chosen from a poll in McDonalds restaurants, and online. Quite where the designers were coming from I can only guess but compared to our final entrants they look like a stroke of genius to me.

Germany 2006, the games return to Europe and for mascots we have Goleo VI and Pille. One an overweight transsexual lion with no pants on, wearing a German football shirt, and his friend, a talking football. Why? They’ve even gone as far as to publish biographies of these two which must’ve been written Chinese whispers style during a drug-addled creative writing workshop. Deservedly Nici, the firm who paid ?19m for the sole rights to produce cuddly versions of Goleo, has recently gone bust siting that poor demand.

And so, the finalists.

1. World Cup Willie

2. Footix

3. Striker

Anyone of these would be worthy title holders but, patriotism aside, Willie scores on three levels. He summed up the spirit of the host nation, he was the first and set a level not many have been able to match since, and England won the tournament. What more could you ask from a mascot?

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