Football Murals

Football and Art – Special Feature

For many people across various social strata street art is an eyesore.  

The media paints it as a product of American hip-hop culture and something more appropriate to the Bronx in New York or an east coast Urban American centers.  

In Europe its development and spread is generally frowned upon by society. Seen as an act of senseless vandalism and a chaotic discontent to every day scenes of natural beauty, corporate architecture and property ownership it can be viewed as a blot on rural or urban innocence.   

Despite its unique creativity, color and impressionism the general everyday public disdain for what is wall vandalism has seen public outrage and allowed for a selection of anti-graffiti laws to be created by politicians with little fuss, political obstruction or public protest.  

In the media we have seen a wide variety of high profile graffiti artists being convicted over artwork and thereafter turned into public outlaws, portrayed as nothing more than anti-social pests simply through this medium and skill they have of colorful creativity and message making.   

Football is not immune; the game touches on many spheres of life and creativity.  Across many parts of the world there is artwork dedicated to football from Rio to Athens.

Like football hooligans who continue to follow clubs despite laws that reach out to punish and restrain, still many artists continue to paint in the streets, near train stations and tunnels choosing to disregard the laws designed to jail, punish or outlaw.

Metro trains such as underground rolling stock or local train carriages are often the main area targeted as are stations, waiting platforms or other railway property.

Graffiti occurs on fences, walls, buildings, and property visible to the community or to other graffitists as a form of competition. 

Just as the subculture of football violence and its associated unwritten codes of dress, actions and views continue to exist so graffiti can be seen wherever we are, and wherever we travel in the world. 

It can be seen either from trains or in urban areas by rivers. The mere existence of it and its continuation shows an impulse to communicate that far outweighs any efforts designed to stop it as an art form.

Football graffiti in the United Kingdom may be lacking creatively and lagging somewhat behind that of foreign clubs but it’s still exists only less evidently. To some extent football graffiti in the UK is still at the ‘Kilroy was here stage’ in general bar a few examples in Bristol – and even that is a hint to the city being home to some of the best graffiti in the UK. 

Possibly the largest collection of street art dedicated to football exists in Northern Ireland through wall murals in Belfast with images dedicated to iconic figures such as George Best, Linfield and Glentoran.

The word we know as Graffiti is said to come from the Italian word graffiato or “scratched”. Modern graffiti is applied to art work produced by spraying a design into a surface such as a wall or pavement.

Another word used in artistic terminology is graffito which involves scratching through one layer of pigment or stencil to reveal another images beneath it.  Historically, this technique was primarily first used by potters who would glaze wares and thereafter scratch a design into it.

Through history man has long left images on walls to communicate with others either through writing or via symbolic imagery. In ancient times such as in Egypt messaging was carved on walls with a sharp object such as chalk or coal.  In China, large graffiti type murals were used in the Mao Zedong era in the 1920s.  

The regime used revolutionary slogans and paintings in public places to galvanize the country’s communist revolution through ideological imagery.

This form of artwork has developed through various stages through to the more modern artwork or graffiti we see on decaying urban environments today.  Some have identified graffiti as a phenomenon and art form that began in New York’s outer boroughs and reached great heights in the early ’80s.

Some art historians perceive graffiti as a method of ‘reclaiming public space’ or displaying an art form for wide appreciation for free.  Against this opponents regard it as an unwanted nuisance, or as expensive vandalism requiring repair of consumer or civic property.  

To counter such accusations graffiti artists suggest that the presence of graffiti contributes to a general sense of creativity or urban enhancement where only squalor and  crime exists.

Some of the ideological ideas behind graffiti can be summarised as below:

  • Anarchism
  • Anti-Consumerism
  • Community Ownership/Sharing
  • Contemporary Art
  • Property is theft!
  • Anti-modernisation
  • Subversion

Football graffiti of some sort going back in time is nothing new. 

It’s fair to say that its artistic creativity as a statement of contemporary art, especially in the seventies, would be negligible. Whilst today most football graffiti seen in mainland Europe is a high level piece of art work that transmits coded statements, in the past it was mostly a question of simple messages, plain speaking and more often than not bad spelling attempts.

Away fans arriving via football train specials would spray comments about opposition fans in strategically positioned areas of a town or when visiting rival towns.  Likewise, home fans would spray semi-threatening messages near railway stations that were meant for visiting fans to see upon entering the city.

In Manchester in the 1970’s ‘MUFC rules OK’ was often sprayed on old buildings.

With the appearance in England of modern sanitized stadiums all closely guarded by CCTV positions and modern fencing it has been a long time since spray paint played an active part in the British football supporters repertoire.

Whilst abroad some stadia will have areas set aside for fan graffiti, the UK’s new approach to football watching means that vandalism of this type is mostly strictly off limits.  Football graffiti had its heyday in the early 1970s when it gave the former crumbling stadiums that extra almost indefinable character and feel.  

Worn out red brick and corrugated iron surrounds of the terraces became a per­fect canvas for budding artists with something to say about a club or rivals.

Graffiti and its relation to football in the UK has almost certainly declined due to closed-circuit television and increased ground patrol procedures. Supporters today even struggle to be allowed to use other outlets to express their feelings via banners, flags and at some clubs even scarfs have become unfashionable.

Today, urban graffiti doesn’t sit well against local authorities environmentally friendly policies and even less so when football fans are involved.

The 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act effectively became Britain’s foremost anti-graffiti legislation.  On top of this the Keep Britain Tidy movement has a high profile anti-graffiti manifesto and has forwarded supporting proposals via press releases, to publications such as the Daily Mail.  These bodies have predominantly pushed for the issuing of on the spot fines for graffiti offenders.

Some countries have a less draconian approach to stopping vandalism.  

In an effort to reduce graffiti in public space, many cities will have designated walls or stadium areas exclusively for use by graffiti artists. With the movement to the Amsterdam Arena, Ajax Amsterdam took the opportunity to allow supporters to spray paint club symbols via graffiti on an area of the new stadium.  This wall behind one goal can be removed when the Dutch international team or European finals are being played at the ground and repositioned once again come domestic matches.

In Europe and South America football graffiti is still highly visible.

Many prominent teams across Europe have stadia where fan murals, dedicated to club ‘ultra’ groups or team legends, are displayed around the stadia either inside or outside.   Clubs themselves have made extra efforts to make specified area of the stadium areas where murals are allowed.

The street art backlash has however turned into becoming a source of positivity. Many clubs are reconciling themselves to the needs for more color and wider fan inclusion.

In the urban landscapes murals have become less coded instead transmitting an everyday statement in an less abstract format.  Messages previously made interpretation difficult yet stark images and words now transmit football relevant themes in ways that are informed by football values and fandom if not by wider sections of society and authority.

Click here to see our album dedicated to football artwork – updated monthly.