A World Cup Covers Album


The World Cup is a cause of great agonising in publishing offices around the world as the editorial teams of football magazines sit down and figure out how to make their cover stand out from all the others looking to depict the tournament in unique and original ways. We looked at some of this year’s finest World Cup covers with the help of the people who designed, illustrated and commissioned them…

Covers Collage


Now in its fifth issue, Howler magazine is a US magazine that beautifully combines high-quality football writing with stand-out design. We asked their Art Editor Joel Speasmaker to take us through a stunningly decorative World Cup cover… 

Howler - World CupWith the World Cup representing such an important event, we went through a great deal of ideas for our Issue 5 cover. Did we want to simply celebrate our sports most celebrated event? Did we want to comment on a specific issue occurring in Brazil, or FIFA as a whole?

In the end we wanted to do both, but subtly: a thoughtful celebration. What better to represent this than a piñata, made by hand at Amazing Piñatas in Los Angeles, and then photographed by Hamish Robertson and Jon Setzen.

The cover was to be stark white, with the Howler logo and the golden piñata alone – a surprising contrast to our usual all-illustrated covers. But one step further seemed necessary to really balance it out, so we enlisted artist Florencio Zavala to apply his hand-drawn typography. The limited colour palette, and the gold especially, felt just right.

The cover was a great process, a true collaboration between several people, and even a risk for our publication, as it was something different than what we do typically. Inside the issue, you’ll find a spread of the piñata in mid-whack, its contents spilling out and revealing its duelling identity between a beautiful sport and a political nightmare.

You can follow Howler on twitter here and Joel Speasmaker here.


Pickles is an independent quarterly football magazine, named after the Collie who sniffed out the lost Jules Rimet trophy prior to the 1966 World Cup; a collaboration between a small team of designers, illustrators, writers and football fans, which was among the first of a growing band of publications to chart the overlap between football and the arts. As founder, editor and art director, Ned Read was the best man to talk us through the cover of their World Cup special edition, which features Uruguay’s 1950 hero, Alcides Ghiggia…

Pickles - GhiggiaEach issue is based on a theme and we are currently working our way through the deadly sins. That means we can give contributors some direction from the very outset of each edition and they can also come back with their own ideas, so it gives the issue some structure and helps create a narrative.

The theme for our World Cup special is ‘Pride’, so contributors were briefed and ideas were pitched. James Phillips came back with his account of the 1950 World Cup, described as ‘the most chaotic, disorganised and ramshackle tournament in history.’ The outcome was one of the most memorable ‘finals’ in World Cup history as the Maracanã was silenced by Alcides Ghiggia’s winning goal for Uruguay. Ghiggia famously quipped, many years later: ‘Only three people have ever silenced 200,000 at the Maracanã with a single gesture – Frank Sinatra, Pope John Paul II and me.’

Alcides Ghiggia seemed like a suitable cover star, considering the theme of the issue is ‘Pride’, the World Cup returns to Brazil for the first time since 1950 and Uruguay were looking to repeat that incredible feat and lift the trophy again. It was a choice in keeping with the approach we have so far taken with our covers – slightly left field, maybe an alternative choice but a great story.

Paul X. Johnson was the man tasked with creating the illustration of Ghiggia. His style is really interesting and original – he was perfect for this project as his work is massively inspired by films, design and art from the early half of the 20th century. Paul researched vintage football cards before creating the portrait and he really captured a feeling of that period.

Shaun Swainland worked on the typography for the cover and the accompanying piece inside the issue. We were keen to feature hand drawn type on the cover – subtle and nothing that would be too overpowering. Even though it is our World Cup Special, there are still plenty of other stories inside. It complements the illustration, it doesn’t distract and the choice of a hand drawn script typeface is in keeping with the Fifties feel.

You can follow Pickles on twitter here and Ned Read here.


Nominally a North American publication, Eight by Eight looks at football around the world, commissioning top writers from several nations and presenting their work alongside some stunning illustrations and design spreads. We asked founder and editor Robert Priest why they chose to lead with a Sergio Aguero cover ahead of the World Cup… 

8by8 - AgueroIn our experience, a lot of football magazines chose the collage design ahead of World Cups, with the likes of Messi, Rooney and Ronaldo featured on the cover together. So we were anticipating that and we also wanted to keep our identity, because we are so young as a magazine – this is only our third issue. So far, we have gone with a player, or character, from the game and we didn’t want to go with Messi, Neymar or Ronaldo because they seemed to be the three most obvious cover boys.

We wanted to be a little bit different and, while putting someone as big as Aguero on the cover isn’t really going out on a limb, the idea of him reproducing that moment from the final game of the Premier League season in 2012 was at the back of our minds. We felt he could do something like that again for Argentina.

Since we decided to put him on the cover, he has been hit by injuries, but they are still in there and he could still play again in the latter stages of the tournament if they get there. If Argentina do win the World Cup, it all really depends on something happening up front between Aguero and Messi, I think, so we will see what happens.

We talked to Nigel Buchanan, the illustrator, about several ideas and this one appealed to us, even though I’m not usually a big superhero fan. But after seeing Aguero wearing the Argentinean flag after Manchester City won the league, the presence of him hovering over the field kind of entered our minds. So, the forces of the superhero above the football field made a really terrific cover image for us for a World Cup issue.

The notion was to come at the tournament from left field, without exposing ourselves too much by not talking about the favourites. We like to talk about the biggest games, so we didn’t want to avoid the big teams, but we wanted to try and profile them in a different way, which I think we managed to do inside with our features.

You can follow Eight by Eight on twitter here and Priest + Grace creative here.


As a weekly publication, Sport has run several issues in the build-up to, and during the World Cup, so we asked their art editor John Mahood to send us his favourites, along with a little information on the decision-making process behind each design, and the work that went into them… 

Sport - WC100‘World Cup 100’
Illustrated by Peter Strain (@peter_strain)

Our readers love list features, but I always feel that our readers will have seen the majority of the pictures before because they get overused every four years. Getting Peter involved allowed us to craft a very good-looking montage cover and a fully illustrated feature inside that looked fresh. I made the majority of picture selections from old photos and a few YouTube clips and then passed these on to Peter, along with a basic shape…and he worked his magic. I love the placement of Gary Lineker mirroring the figure on the actual trophy – very clever indeed from Peter.

You can view individual illustrations from the montage here:

Sport - Lionhearts‘Lionhearts’
Illustrated by Tim McDonagh (@timmcdonagh)

This was one of those awkward issues where we made the decision to focus on a concept as opposed to an individual cover star, which does push you towards either a typographic or an illustrated route. I’d bookmarked Tim’s portfolio a few months ago as an illustrator I’d like to work with on a cover and he produced a wonderfully detailed illustration for us. Not being on newsagent shelves gives us a lot more freedom to produce beautiful sparse covers like this, and it went down very well with our readers.

You can view Tim’s cover illustration as a work in progress at various stages here, here and here:

Sport - Rooney‘Rooney’

We had interview time with Wayne before he flew out to Brazil, but there wasn’t any time to photograph him. It tends to happen often with footballers, especially around tournaments. Nike had already photographed him for their shirt campaign and I got a few candid left over shots from that session that worked much better for our cover. An image that works for a brand doesn’t always work for us, because I wanted to avoid the usual footballer photograph cliché of the player standing with chest puffed out, slightly turned and holding a ball with no expression whatsoever on their face. There’s a hint of nervousness to his demeanour and also a softness to his face that you don’t always get from Wayne which is really nice.

I wanted to differentiate the run of covers during the World Cup, so from Rooney onwards they’ve got a quad-lined frame around the outside in the same style as the font family I’ve used. Any similarity to the Kenner Star Wars figure box is completely accidental, but is obviously imprinted on my brain. I used Prism as the headline font, as it has the nice World Cup 70/86 feel that I was after.

You can follow Sport magazine on twitter here and John Mahood here.
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