Tuesday, 6 May 2014

FIFA World Cup - In captions (Part 2)

Continuing our series looking at the way information was displayed on our TV screens during the World Cups of the past...

World Cup 1982

The 1980's had finally arrived and Spain welcomed football fans around the planet as host nation of the 12th World Cup. With 24 teams now involved, the competition looked set to be more exciting than ever before, but if TV viewers were hoping that the on-screen presentation had moved on to a higher level too, they'd have been a little disappointed.

Yet again, a standard, fixed-width yellow font was used throughout the competition, not dissimilar to the one used four years earlier. The captions on which it featured also had a passing resemblance to the Argentina '78 variety, from the rarely-seen titles showing the name of the tournament and venue, to the player names displayed during every match.

Team line-ups were once again available in the lead-up to kick off, this time presented as a sloping list for both the starting XI and the substitutes. As with all the captions, team names and other titles were shown in the native language of the host country (Spanish, in this case).

As was now becoming the standard, details pertaining to the referee and his assistants (linesmen, lest we forget) were also provided, leading to the ever pleasing moment when you realise that some FIFA officials really did come from countries as overlooked as Burundi or the Philippines.

Apart from that, it was business as usual in many ways. The scoreline and time elapsed were occasionally flashed up, as was the name of a coach or player where necessary. Even the replays were given the old-fashioned 'digital R' treatment.

All very neat and efficient, but hardly revolutionary. If only someone could invent a better computer system to liven things up a bit...

World Cup 1986

Behold the dawning of a new computer age! Yes we know that much of the civilised world was using PCs the size of a suitcase with 5.25-inch floppy disk drives and green-screen monitors, but someone at Mexican TV headquarters obviously knew how to override the circuitry given the technicolor dream that emerged in 1986.

Gone were the boring, static captions of old, and in their place we got rainbow colours and bold lettering - a huge leap forward in the presentation of the world's greatest football tournament.

Before the start of every match, we were given a run-down of the personnel in both teams, but this wasn't just an excuse to show a list of 11 names. During Mexico '86, each one changed colour from red to white in sequence, and as it did so, the appropriate player's face was shown in video form on the right of the screen. Even the subs got in on the act! Now there was no excuse for not knowing what Peter Reid looked like, because the preamble to every match gave you the chance to memorise his admittedly unextraordinary phizog.

A similar approach was used for the officials as all three men in black had their own 3D-boxed cameo along with their national flag and either a whistle or linesman's flag respectively.

Flags were a simple, yet effective way of accentuating the international flavour of the World Cup during the 1986 tournament, and they were often seen during the many hours of TV coverage. Whenever the camera focused on a player during a lull in play, a caption often arrived showing his name and number in text on a slab decorated in his country's flag. Whenever a reminder of the score was needed (or the time elapsed, for that matter), it would appear on-screen with flags prominently placed either side of the digits.

Inconsistencies were notable, however. Firstly, the aforementioned 'flag slab' was sometimes ditched in favour of a simple text-only caption. Also, the score caption sometimes dispensed with the flags and went with an altogether more artistic approach by using illustrations of the team kits. Though colourful and undoubtedly a world away from the boring text of previous tournaments, it has to be said that some of the kits shown weren't always as accurately depicted as our fussy selves would have liked, but it's fair to say this was still 1986 and further improvements were yet to be made.

Another inconsistency can be found in the return of the old 'two font' system. As seen in previous World Cup coverage, the Mexican TV company responsible for beaming the images around the globe couldn't seem to settle on its main caption typeface. Sometimes it was a tall Futura-style font, on other occasions it was more like a bold version of Times New Roman.

At least there was a pleasing sense of variety in the presentation of the action replays when they were shown. A multitude of different camera angles were used to show how a goal was scored, and they appeared on the screen through any number of animated visual effects, such as this one where the image slides onto the screen as a block, edged in the colours of the scoring team's national flag.

But that wasn't all - not only was there a Helvetica 'R' in the top-left corner for replays, but there was also a hybrid double-R for when the reverse angle shot was shown! It's almost like the double-B in the middle of the Abba logo... only different... Well you get the idea...

World Cup 1990

The TV graphics from the 1986 World Cup were good fun and all, but they were clearly the product of someone trying to show off and for that reason it was no surprise that a sense of refinement and style was applied to the 1990 tournament. And who better to tell us about style than the Italians?

Ironically enough, a Roman-style font was the thread of continuity running through all the Italia '90 captions. Paired up with a theme of dots and lines to divide various sections of the screen, this was a step towards the subtle approach that was more in vogue for the seriously fashion-conscious early-Nineties.

For the first time ever, all the text appearing on-screen was displayed in the language of the country where you were situated, so gone was the need to fathom out who 'Danimarca' was or whether 'Corea Del Sud' was in Africa or Europe. New-fangled computer systems now made it possible for international TV channels to tap into their own dialect-specific graphics as required.

If you were very lucky, you might have caught sight of a title caption before every game was shown, swiftly followed by another telling you the local temperature, air humidity and crowd size at the stadium. More often than not, however, your local TV company would have bypassed this little treat which is a shame, as I'm sure we all wanted to know whether it was t-shirt weather in Milan, Turin or Cagliari.

An introduction to the officials was done with the minimum of fuss, a caption showing the names, nationalities and flag colours as applicable. As for the players in both teams, a 1986-style video sequence was employed but without the team listing (that comes later). Instead, it's just the player's face, his name and a fluttering flag heralding the first truly animated series of captions.

When the full team listing was displayed, each of the players' surnames appeared one by one in order without the fluttering flag, and the same approach was taken for the substitutes.

All this talk of animated flags and clean lettering (yellow again, strangely) was fine enough as it was, but another dimension was added with the sort of statistical information that these days we take for granted. This was the first World Cup where it wasn't simply enough to show a player's name whenever the camera focused on him; now we'd be told how many appearances he'd made in the competition, or how many goals he'd scored.

If nothing else, we'd also get to know what position he was playing in too - something which hadn't been done on TV before at a World Cup.

General stats made occasional appearances during the game too, thereby filling the gap that existed in your viewing experience up to that point by telling you how many times a side had been offside or how many shots on goal they'd had.

There was even a post-match caption telling you how long the game had gone on for and how much time the ball spent in play...

A subtle improvement was added to the caption that showed the score after a goal was scored, namely that which showed who the actual goalscorer was on the same screen. Simple, yet very useful indeed.

This particular feature became even more informative when a penalty shoot-out came around. Thanks to the ever-improving computer technology being used, it was now possible to display the names of all the scorers and all those that had missed from the penalty spot. In this tournament, the latter was displayed in brackets as if to reluctantly acknowledge those poor souls that couldn't put the ball into a practically empty net from 12 yards away.

On a sad note, World Cup 1990 was the first tournament where the familiar 'R' wasn't seen in the corner of the screen when action replays were shown. On the plus side, however, was an innovative new way of displaying the amount of time that had passed during the game - two grey vertical bars depicting the two halves of the game that would gradually fill up with yellow as every minute passed. A neat idea and one which showed the style and substance of all the captions in this collection.

World Cup 1994

USA! USA! National embodiment of all the glitz and glamour in this world, right? Wrong, apparently...

You'd have thought that the captions for the 15th World Cup would have exemplified Hollywood razzmatazz in some way, but don't you believe a word of it. In 1994, your on-screen text was smart, understated and (keep it under your hats) a little boring.

The theme this time was 'blue panels' - partially transparent ones at that, too, with a wavy pattern borrowed from the official tournament logo. They were used as the background for displaying everything from the names of the officials to the names of the players. A standard sans-serif font was used throughout - adopted by BBC Sport from this point onwards - and together with some ordinary-looking flags and yet more dots, you had everything you could possibly want.

Strangely enough, USA '94 saw a retraction of the statistical information that had been such a regular presence four years earlier. Animation was practically non-existent too, so it was much as you could do to admire the smartness of what was put before you and accept it for what it was.

There were one or two curiously nice touches, such as the 'In' and 'Out' labels for the players coming or going during a substitution, plus there was a pleasing pie chart-style clock that occasionally got an outing whenever the score was displayed, but for anything a bit different from the ordinary, you had to hope that your native TV channel cut across to the States as early as possible to maximise its coverage of the pre-match formalities.

If it did, you might have seen a title caption welcoming you to the venue of the featured match, swiftly followed by a weather report in case you couldn't determine weather it was sunny there or not. With the game underway, you might even have been treated to that old favourite, the 'shirt colours' caption.

Apart from that, however, there were precious few thrills to be had where the blue panels were concerned, but the best one has been saved to last - literally. At the very end of the 1994 World Cup Final, you'd have seen the simple but effective caption that was used to track the progress of a penalty shoot-out. A series of white dots for goals scored and black ones for goals missed, this was like a formalised game of Othello in miniature form.

The names of the penalty takers weren't shown, but perhaps that wasn't important. What was important was that the sequence of penalties was explained simply and clearly, and this was achieved without question.

So there it is - a summing up of the smart but ordinary looking captions of World Cup '94. Coming up in the third and final part of The World Cup - In Captions: French flair gives way to 21st Century slickness... coming soon to The Football Attic.


  1. Possibly my favourite two Attic articles ever! So thorough and meticulous. And how reassuring to discover I'm not the only person interested in on-screen graphics!

    A few points if I may:

    - I wonder if the different '86 fonts belonged to two different broadcasters? It seems only the sans-serif typeface was used with the "flag slab" and shirt scoreline graphics. Also worth mentioning are the occasions when the footage cut away to a non-animated on-screen advertisement with the scoreline underneath for several seconds (see BBC's footage of the Hand of God goal). Perhaps the worst thing about Mexico '86 was that there were very few proper close-ups.

    - The brilliant Italia '90 graphics were those already in use by the state network RAI (they remained unchanged until around '94). I liked the way they handled substitutions, with one name lowering off-screen and another rising in its place. Inexplicably some of the teams, including England, would mouth their names during their line-up video intros (though Gascoigne famously mouthed "f--- off" instead if I remember correctly).

    - The BBC had already been using the slanting USA '94 typeface at least since Italia '90; I remember actually thinking during the first match that the blue bars were their own captions until I saw the next game on ITV.

    - I hated that ITV used their own lousy captions during France '98, so we only got to see the proper French graphics during games on the BBC, which were actually in French if I recall.

    It saddens me that captions have been all but eradicated from TV coverage, especially those used simply to identify players. There was a minimalism to those World Cups that's totally been lost. Commentary has changed in the same way too. Now we're bombarded with aural and visual information we don't necessarily want or need. Over the last few weeks I've been enjoying many classic World Cup matches shown on the Mexican channel Univision Deportes, so I've been thinking about this stuff a lot lately! I completely agree with your comment about the foreign languages enhancing the World Cup experience. To this day I know of no word more exotic than "Anotador".

    1. Hi James,

      Very good to hear from you! Re: your comments:

      - I think you're right about the reasoning behind their being two sets of fonts used during Mexico 86. I couldn't establish the exact broadcaster names, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if there were two with slightly different caption designs.

      - You're not the only one to appreciate the 'Substitutions' animation! This was mentioned by one or two other people on Twitter after we published this article, and another person also said he also remembered seeing the same RAI captions when Channel 4 in the UK started covering Serie A matches the year after Italia 90!

      - I was going to mention the 1990 player videos - specifically the England team mouthing their names! I think some teams had their own 'themes'... Italy, I think, had their players swivelling their heads slowly from right to left in theirs...

      - The other thing I remember about the USA 94 coverage (alongside the BBCs use of the font that you stated correctly) was that the BBC also started showing the score at the top of the screen throughout each game for the first time. I recall this being something of an annoying distraction back then, but it's worth stating that Sky had set the trend on that point with the launch of their Premier League coverage in 1992.

      Anyway, I'm glad you've enjoyed the first two parts of this series, James. Part 3 will be here on this website very soon where we'll get to see all the graphics and text finally brought fully up to date!

      Thanks once again for your feedback, James - it's very much appreciated. :) Regards... Chris O.

  2. I remember thinking at the time that the USA 94 graphics were deliberately conservative in order to reassure international viewers that the US was taking the World Cup seriously, despite the lack of support for the game in that country back then. The captions may have been a little dull but I suspect that they allayed some prejudices about the US, that they can be somewhat garish and over stated in their presentation.

    1. I make you right on that, Terry. Totally makes sense. I think something similar was going through my mind back then as well!

  3. the Captions in Spain 1982 were also used by TVE in the Spanish League in the 80's

  4. actually, i think that the USA 94 captions come from Fox Sports or from ABC (they used this one on American Football) and i remember ESPN used another one (a grey box with the abbreviations of the team names, the score, the time and the sponsors logos)

  5. ur welcome, Chris

    i also remember that in Mexico 1986, they showed also the players lined up in a small yellow frame in the right hand lower corner with a huge animated waving flag of the country whose anthem was playing and in USA 94 they sometimes shown the name of the country beneath the image of the team during the anthem

  6. i think that the Mexican TVs that did the captions in mexico 86 were Televisa (the R (not the abba-style one) was theirs) and the other i think that was TV Azteca

  7. Usa 94's font was a Helvetica Neue Condensed Oblique Bold

  8. Once again, great knowledge Lucas!

    I do remember the Mexico 86 flags while the national anthems were playing. I don't think they appeared in every match, but they did crop up from time to time, as you say.

    Thanks for getting in touch!

    1. ur welcome
      infact, in the match between Algeria and Northern Ireland, the flags didn't appeared

  9. i also remember that in Italia 90, after the round of 16, the animations of the players' faces was in the middle with name and number beneath

  10. and also, always in Italia 90, the Score captions (the one with the flags) when is shown during a time after the goal, was curiously something like that the flag of the defeated team lowers.
    Italia 90's captions are done by Olivetti, while the ones of USA'94 were done by Sun Microsystems (i remember that when they have shown in one of the lineups, on the lower left hand corner they have shown a Sun logo)

  11. i meant, that in every goal taken, the team that in that moment has taken a goal, in the caption, has its flag lowered at every goal taken

  12. The style of flashing 'R' used to denote action replay during World Cup 82 were used in Holland and Germany during the early 1980s most definitely in 1983.

  13. The italic BBC Sport font which I first saw in late 1988 was adopted for the US 94 World Cup although my handwriting at the time resembled the Futura font

  14. For Italia 90, you missed to present the quite cool presentation of the two nations in a google earth like zoom from space onto the country shape with its flag appearing shortly afterwards.

    https://youtu.be/CeGYl2uaxA0 shows the intro of the Opening Match Argentina-Cameroon

    1. Wow - I've never seen that before, Marko! Thank you for bringing that to my attention... :)

    2. This was absolutely wonderful. Italy '90 is the all time best as Tv graphics are concerned, im my opinion.

  15. thanks....have 97% in full recordings since 1970 :-)

  16. Televisa "recycled" the 1986's style when they presented the Mexican Club's line ups in the seasons 1986-87 and 1987-88