As part of FFFootball posts, we recently had a quick chat with James Roper who co-founded the Green Soccer Journal magazine with Adam Towle back in 2009.
The magazine is a great read and definitely puts the ‘beautiful’ into the beautiful game. But we’ll let James tell you more.
Tell us about your design background and what made you want to start the Green Soccer Journal?
Both Adam (GSJ’s co-founder) and I studied fashion at University in London where we first met, before Adam moved on to study graphic design in Leeds. Coincidentally we are both from Derby and kept in touch, meeting up at Christmas and during long mundane summers in between our studies.
When Adam moved back to London to look for work we caught up a lot and it was something he had wanted to work on for a while. We both have a passion for football and worked within creative industries and it seemed like a lightbulb moment; why wasn’t there a ‘good’ football magazine?
I was working at Burberry at the time as one of the art directors and had made a lot of contacts in photography, production and journalism and felt the itch to try something new and independent. Between the two of us we spent our free time putting together a pilot issue and it snowballed from there.
The response was incredible and before we knew it we were renting a studio on Kingsland Road and made the leap into being self-employed, working on the magazine as a full-time project.
What do you make of the relationship between football and design?
There are so many elements within football that incorporate and rely on design – some are very impressive and others extremely generic.
We work closely with brands such as Nike and Adidas, where the development and technology that goes into kit and boot design is really forward-thinking. The time and energy that goes into making their product lighter, faster, or more eco-friendly is something that evolves on a daily basis.
However, when it comes to other areas such as news, magazines, campaigns, this is where we thought there was something missing. The newsstand was full of screaming headlines, gossip and throw away content. The aim of The Green Soccer Journal was to create something timeless. We wanted to document players, stadiums, fans and the culture of football in a way that we would enjoy seeing it. Through strong photography, well-written articles and by taking a step away from the clichés associated with football.
What do you make of the current design and branding you see at football clubs and grounds? (From programmes to interiors etc.)
This is something we would love to work on as a studio project.
The new stadiums are extremely impressive, structurally and architecturally, but when it comes to the finishing touches I feel they are wasted. For example, the Club Wembley experience is overly corporate, which is a real shame as it could be given a few traditional touches and turned into something much more interesting.
It’s difficult to get the best of both worlds, though. One of the most exciting stadiums I visited was Goodison Park – it still has that nostalgic feel and feels like a family club. The commentary box was hanging in the rafters and looked like it could fall down at any moment, but it had a real sense of community. It’s hard to keep that history when you build a new stadium, and some of the modern clubs do put some effort in with their branding.
A case in point is Manchester City, where all of the advertising hoardings around the pitch are sky blue, which keeps everything nice and clean. Arsenal always have a great display of history as you enter the ground, with their various statues and memorials.
As for programmes, they serve a purpose. We know how difficult it is putting a magazine together 4 times a year, so one every fortnight must be tricky. There’s no doubt that the design could be improved, but all the information is in there and I’m not sure how much the fans worry about the aesthetics.
We’ve seen the likes of David James and Dimitar Berbatov showcase their drawing skills, but have you met any footballers that harbour design ambitions?
Would love to say yes. But have yet to meet any. Lukas Podolski was really excited by the magazine, which was great. He’s kept in touch and always mentions us on social media. If more of the players took a similar interest in the project I’m sure our following would be much bigger.
What is your favourite example of design in the world of football?
The World Cup posters from ’70,’74 and ’78 always come to mind, especially the West Germany one. I suppose it’s the same as any tour or film poster from that era. They just looked better than they do now.
Footballers have a certain public perception, how have you found art directing/interviewing them?
It’s pretty straightforward once you have them in front of the camera – it’s getting them there that is the problem. They are extremely protected individuals and arranging appearances is quite a drawn-out process. Their schedule is fairly unpredictable, for example; if they have a bad game the night before, there is a chance they will be called into practice, and a shoot you’ve had arranged for months can be cancelled just like that.
Most other magazines – fashion and music titles, for example – all work with talent that have something to promote, whether it’s an album or a new collection. These guys don’t need any promoting. They do that on the pitch, so it’s hard to get them to give up their time and, when they do, it’s a matter of cramming as much as possible into anything between 30 minutes and 2 hours.
If you could design one teams kit, who would it be?
As a Birmingham fan, I designed hundreds of kits for them as a kid. I’m sure Adam would love to get his hands on the Derby kit. They’ve just signed with Umbro again so it will be interesting to see next season’s offering.
There’s must be some great potential copywriters in football crowds. What’s the best chant you’ve heard (keep it clean!)?
Last year, we hosted an exhibition of football chants from illustrator Mark Long. There are some great ones in there. (See below a few examples. You can see them all here.)
If money was irrelevant would you rather be a designer or a footballer?
At the top level, I would say footballer. We have been privileged enough to attend training grounds around the world and there is no denying that they have a pretty special life. There’s no doubt that the pressure is high, and they might be sheltered from certain aspects of reality, but the pros seem to outweigh the cons.
And finally James, who’s your money on to win the World Cup?
Chile. (I drew them in our office sweepstake, so I’m sticking with them). It’s been a very unpredictable one so far so you can’t rule them out.
A big thanks to James for his time.
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