In England 1966, ‘World Cup Willie’ became the first of his kind when he became the first mascot to appear in a FIFA World Cup finals, a trend that has been carried on to this day. The inaugural Willie was a typical symbol of the United Kingdom, a Lion dressed in red, white and blue from the Union Jack flag with the words “WORLD CUP” emblazoned across his chest.
Born in 1965, Willie was the creation of a freelance children’s book illustrator Reg Hoye, he would appear on £4m worth of World Cup insignia and the popular cartoon character also had his own song which was performed by Lonnie Donegan.
He proved to be good luck symbol for the host nation as the Three Lions went onto lift the Jules Rimet for the first and only time in their history. If they thought it was all over in 1966 for mascots, it was only just the beginning. Nice one, Willie. Nice one, son.
Four years later at Mexico 1970, “Juanito”, the World Cup boy, was born. An eleven-year-old who wore an outfit typical of the Aztec country: a typical Mexican sombrero hat, a green shirt and white shorts, the colours of his national team and a ball placed under his right foot. Unlike Willie, he didn’t prove to be a good luck charm as Mexico bowed out at the quarter final stage.
However, Juanito did take centre stage on the first packet of World Cup stickers produced after FIFA partnered up with Panini to produce its first FIFA World Cup sticker album for the 1970 World Cup, initiating a global craze for collecting and trading stickers. Got, not got, swapsies.
Just like Willie in 66, official World Cup mascots in 1974, ‘Tip and Tap’ proved to be good luck charms again as the hosts West Germany won the World Cup for the second time in their history beating rivals Netherlands in the final.
The rosy-cheeked boys wore the white and black of the national team with WM74 across their chests which stands for Weltmeisterschaft (World Cup in German), and 74 represents the year. The Tip and Tap characters had apparently been designed to symbolise a unified Germany as East and West Germany had been drawn together in the group stages.
In 1978, Gauchito also provided the host nation with luck as Argentina went on to lift the World Cup for the first time in their history. Gauchito: a boy wearing Argentina’s blue and white stripes and black shorts, a blue hat that read ARGENTINA ’78, neckerchief and whip which was typical of what gauchos would wear.
The Spanish in 1982 broke away from the human character mascots in spectacular fashion and went with Naranjito, a giant Orange in a Spain kit. It remains the only citrus fruit, to appear as a FIFA World Cup mascot to this day. It was also put an end to the host nations mascots providing luck as Spain failed to squeeze into the knockout stages of the tournament after running out of juice.
Not to be out done by the Spanish four years before them, hosts of the 1986 World Cup, Mexico continued down the fruit approach in the shape of a jalapeño chilli pepper which is a key ingredient in Mexican cooking. The name ‘Pique’ name came from picante, Spanish for spicy peppers and sauces and he had a moustache Poirot would have been proud of nicely topped of with a traditional sombrero hat. Arriba, arriba! Ándale, ándale! Pique was cut up and crushed after been knocked out in a quarter final penalty shoot defeat to eventual finalists Germany.
A new decade saw another new approach to World Cup mascots in the form of a stick figure with a football for a head. It’s lego block construction made up in the tricolours of the Italian flag was simple but brilliant as it transformed into Italia 90. ‘Ciao’ was designed by self-taught graphic designer Lucio Boscardin who won a competition to design the mascot which had over 50k entries.
Its name was also very simple, ‘Ciao’ which is an Italian greeting for welcome or goodbye. The Italians unfortunately said ‘Ciao’ to the tournament without losing a game in normal play, in semi-final defeat on penalties to Argentina.
Normality resumed in 1994 with a return to a cartoon character dog called ‘Striker’ who wore the red, white and blue of the stars and stripes flag with USA across the chest and a ball at his paws. The mascot was designed by the Warner Bros animation team.
It was competition time again when the World Cup headed to France in 1998. Graphic designer Fabrice Pialot’s ‘Footix’ design eventually prevailed, and the cockerel called ‘Footix’ was born. The Gallic rooster is an unofficial national symbol of France and he adorned the colours of the French flag. Footix is the first mascot to have children, in 2019 a young female chicken named ‘Ettie’ was born as the daughter of Footix for the Women’s World Cup, also hosted by France. Oh là là.
As we headed into another decade, we saw more innovation with South Korea and Japan creating the first computer generated mascots called Ato, Kaz, and Nik (The Spheriks). Collectively members of a team of “Atmoball” (a fictional football-like sport), Ato is the coach while Kaz and Nik are players. The three individual names were selected from shortlists by users on the internet and at McDonald’s outlets in the host countries.
In 2006, the Lion retuned to duty, this time in the form of ‘Goleo’ and a football named ‘Pille’. The lion wore his Germany shirt with the number 06 but forgot about his pant! The name comes from the blended words of “goal” and “Leo”, the Latin word for lion, ‘Pille’ is a colloquial term for a football in Germany.
Animals continued as a theme in 2010 when the World Cup finally arrived in Africa. This time it was Zakumi the Leopard. Zakumi’s green and gold colours represent South African national sports’ team’s colours and his name comes from “ZA”, for South Africa, and “Kumi”, a word that means “ten” in various African languages.
It didn’t stop there for animals, next up in Brazil 2014 was a Fuleco the endangered three banded Armadillo followed by Zabivaka the Wolf (Russian for The Goalscorer) in Russia in 2018.
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