Sunday, 1 July 2012

UEFA Euros - in captions

Switch on your TV to watch any football match these days and you won't fail to notice the continuous presence of the score in the top corner of your screen. A handy facility for those who can't remember the score or can't wait for the commentator to utter it again among a billion random statistics, but it's still a relatively recent addition to our televised football coverage.

Once upon a time, you'd have been hard pressed to see any information presented to you on-screen while a game was being broadcast, be it the score, a player's name or the time remaining during the match.

Where the European Championships are concerned, we can trace a line back to 1980 to see the first regular use of captions and from there to the present day we can plot a steady improvement all the way forward to today's animated masterpieces.


Throughout the first five European Championships, the most you could have expected to see was a token 'R' in the corner of the screen to denote an action replay. In the very early days, it's likely you wouldn't even have seen that, but every long journey begins with a small step (as they say), so here's an example of a replay 'R' from 1976 courtesy of RTV Zagreb.

Euro 80

By 1980, Italian state broadcaster RAI felt the time had come to show us some primitive computer-generated captions. These usually displayed the names of key players on whom the camera lingered for more than a few seconds while the ball was out of play or perhaps the word 'Replay' as shown above. Very basic, but certainly very clear and on a par with the sort of captions occasionally seen during the 1978 World Cup.

Euro 84

The seventh iteration of the Euros were held in France but from what we can tell, TV coverage was divided up between several of the country's broadcasters. This assumption has been derived from the fact that all available footage shows captions of different styles as shown on the right.

That said, the captions seen most often (and consequently most synonymous with the tournament) are these ones featuring a tall yellow fixed-width font. These captions showed the time elapsed, current score and player names and numbers.

Euro 88

Before the next European Championships got underway in West Germany, a global audience had witnessed the colourful and captivating captions seen during the 1986 World Cup. National flags, 3D plinths upon which names were displayed and colourful kit diagrams had set a very high bar for the German broadcasters ARD and ZDF to beat two years later.

As it turned out, they did a comparable job repeating many of those eye-catching techniques. As in Mexico 86, we saw team line-ups before the match using a video window showing the players' faces, plus we had a nice bold font clearly displaying all the important information during the games complete with flags and symbols.

Euro 92

Swedish broadcaster SVT had the job of bringing us coverage of the ninth Euro competition, but compared to Euro 88, they provided a slightly toned down style of on-screen caption.

Shadow panels were the order of the day upon which were displayed team sheets, scorelines and player captions in a bulky, slightly quirky font. Where those team sheets were concerned, we were even treated to the sight of mascot 'Rabbit' in the top left corner of the screen along with severed hands holding yellow cards next to those players that had previously been booked. Even the broadcaster's logo got in on the act from time to time.

Euro 96

With England as the hosts of Euro 96 some of us (well, me certainly) were wondering whether the job of providing captions and graphics would be down to the BBC or ITV. In the end it was both as the two parties joined forces to broadcast coverage of the event around the world.

What we got as far as captions were concerned was nothing like what we were used to on either channel at the time. There was a plethora of blue round-cornered panels with a moulded effect showing clear, simple details and no animation whatsoever. Though easy to read with its occasional use of national flags or yellow/red card symbols, it lacked something in excitement value and didn't exactly set the world on fire where visual presentation was concerned.

Euro 2000

Come the new millennium, that was all to change as a new era in on-screen imagery came to the fore. Though the blue colour scheme was retained from 1996 (and indeed coverage of World Cup '98), we were now treated to a degree of imagination as an oval motif was used to show flags and elapsed time.

A simple, stylish font was used to complete the effect and the overall impression was one of slickness and smartness for the tournament in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Euro 2004

With the arrival of the 12th Euros, we also had a strong sense of branding that permeated every aspect of the television coverage from Portugal.

The 'throbbing heart' symbol was a regular sight on our screens during live games and could often be seen on the vivid captions showing player names. A scroll motif was also employed to great effect showing full-screen team listings and formations before every game and the scoreline at regular intervals too.

Small ball-like flags were a subtle approach to identifying the nationalities of teams whereas a simple sans-serif font completed a polished, original look throughout the competition.

Euro 2008

Such was the popularity of the blue panels in Euro 96 and Euro 2000, it shouldn't have come as a surprise to see them return for Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland, albeit with a splash of red here and there.

By now we were well into the widescreen/HD era of TV broadcasting and the captions for UEFA's 13th continental cavalcade made full use of the technology appearing in our homes. Team sheets were crisply displayed in a clear white font on blue backgrounds and the slanted oval flag symbols had revolving white dots of light to add visual interest.

Continuing on from Euro 2004, the red and green tournament logo also cropped up here and there to reinforce the ever-present UEFA branding.

Euro 2012

And so to the current tournament which has wonderfully applied a sumptuous purple colour scheme to everything it touches. Coupled with a beautifully illustrated flower design, the presentation of captions during Euro 2012 has been taken to a new level.

Team sheets unfurl before us (much as they did during Euro 2004) and here again those lists of player names also rearrange to show the suggested formations for both teams. Sadly in this HD age, those of us watching in SD have had difficulty reading the numbers on the back of the shirt symbols, but I guess you can't have everything...

Breaking completely away from all that's gone before, the flags of the competing nations have been displayed on flower leaves rather than ovals or circles. You can say what you like about UEFA, but there's little doubt they really picked a more than competent design agency based on their output for this tournament.

The future...

So with television graphics having developed to such a high level, what can we expect for Euro 2016?  Not only that, what can we expect if Michel Platini gets his way and allows Euro 2020 to be held in a wide range of countries?

The answer is up for debate, but all we know is that things have moved on dramatically from those primitive 'Replay R' days prior to 1980.


  1. The bulky, slightly quirky font used at Euro 92 was an upright version of Crillee.

    SVT must have been fond of this font: they had first used the original italic version in 1983, introduced this upright version in 1986, and were still using it at the end of 1997!

    Of course, in the English-speaking world at least, the best-known use of Crillee is in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

    Note also the blue and yellow gradient strips on each shadow panel - a rather nifty touch.

    Have to agree, meanwhile, that the Euro 96 package wasn't tremendously exciting - if it's going to have a three-dimensional effect, then really it should be given *some* animation.

    It was rather clunky, too - especially during the penalty shootouts, where the pairs of takers were listed line by line.

    That meant that what you saw after Gareth Southgate's miss took up about half the screen, with the score above the middle...

    The BBC must have liked this package to some extent, though, for it used the same Helvetica Bold Italic font on all of its sports programmes for the next three years.

  2. Des - thank you so much for your feedback about this post. You have great knowledge about the fonts, I must say!

    Interesting that the BBC used the Helvetica-style font after Euro 96 even though ITV had helped them film and broadcast the tournament. If ITV had used the font afterwards as well, we could have had some very boring looking football on TV for a while!

  3. Well, Chris, I must admit to being a bit of a font fan. ;)

    For the record, the font used at Euro 88 was the upright version of Helvetica Bold, while the one used at Euro 2000 was Frutiger.

    Neue Helvetica Condensed was used at Euro 2004, and ITC Avant Garde Gothic (wordy, I know) at Euro 2008.

    The font used at Euro 2012, meanwhile, was PF Beau Sans Pro, which is still a relatively new font - designed as recently as 2002. So yes, there is indeed little doubt that UEFA picked a more-than-competent design agency here... ;)

  4. I do miss having captions in the language of the host country. On holiday in Italy as recently as 2 years ago, I still recalled that if I was asked where I was from, I would be able to say 'Inghilterra', thanks to the Euro 80 captions. Although come to think of it, if someone was saying 'where are you from?' to me in Italian, I wouldn't have been able to understand them in the first place...

    1. Me too, Matthew. It adds to the internationalness of it all when you have to decipher the language being used. In a similar way, I now know that Magyaroszag is Hungarian for 'Hungary' and Helvetia is Latin for Switzerland, all thanks to my Panini albums... :)

  5. The captions seen in Euro 1984 when they show the lineups there is a transparent flag of the respective team and when they show the reserves, they state also the colours of Shirt, Shorts and Socks with which the respective teams are playing

  6. The arrow like symbol used to look back at goalmouth incidents during the final stages of Euro 72 was classified as inadequate to us and many people recommended substituting the more substantial 'ACTION REPLAY' caption. Also I preferred the BBC scoreline graphics because they were easier to understand.

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  8. Euro 72 television coverage had a < sign instead of 'R', 'Replay' or 'ACTION REPLAY' for rerunning goal scoring opportunities and goals.

  9. During Euro 68, the Italian broadcaster RAI (that got the coverage of the event) signed the action replays with a lower-cased and bordered word "ripetizione" (a core Italian translation of "Replay"), roughly placed at the center of the screen.