“When you think of graphic design surrounding football, you might think of the kits, badges, mascots and match schedules we all know,” says Flynn. “But you may never think of football stamps. These stamps have been around for decades, being commissioned for most major football competitions, but for some reason they remain unknown and underappreciated.”
Top Corner Stamps is a project celebrating the beauty of these mini works of art. “It celebrates bold color palettes, unique typography, and incredibly detailed illustrations, all containing just a small canvas,” says Flynn.
The project focuses on the growing collection of over 500 stamps from various countries and competitions around the world. “These stamps are small but mighty works of art, capturing some of the greatest moments in football from that era,” says Flynn. “We as designers understand the value these little rectangles can have and want to share it with as many people as possible.”
There’s an Instagram account dedicated to sharing and archiving their football stamp collection, and Flynn and Ollie are currently designing a post to further celebrate these little wonders. We chatted with them to find out how they got started, why football stamps are fascinating from a design perspective, and which stamps tickle them the most.
How did you discover football stamps?
Flynn: A few months ago, I bought a Maradona-themed espresso cup, and it started some love trawling the eBay and Facebook Marketplace for some random football ephemera. It was soon followed by a USA 1994 World Cup mug and matching tee.
The love for it has become a college project for both of us, looking at memories of football and the role they have in the sport; I think Ollie even bought a landline from Liverpool at some point. That’s when we came across football stamps. There was a listing on eBay of 100 football stamps for just £5 which intrigued us so we bought it. What arrived was a portfolio of interesting and beautiful artwork from around the world. The project changed direction from there, basically turning us into stamp collectors and eventually starting Top Corner.
Design-wise, what’s so fascinating about football stamps?
Flynn: The world of football and design is constantly evolving, and it is an area of design that we are passionate about. Football stamps are simply part of this area, perhaps even more unnoticed than others. The stamps celebrate iconic moments in football history around the world, and I think that breadth and randomness is part of why we find football stamps so intriguing.
For example, we have a set of North Korean stamps celebrating the 1991 FIFA Women’s World Championship in China and a set of Mongolian stamps celebrating the Brazilian World Cup in 1950. It’s cool that we found ourselves from one way or another with printed matter sent from North Korea, which by nature is a secret and closed country.
And what about specific design elements?
Ollie: From a designer’s perspective, we love the bold type and color combined with these simple graphic illustrations. The materials used are also sometimes unusual. We have a Spanish World Cup Algeria stamp printed on silver foil. I’ve always loved posters, especially original prints from other countries. I currently have a growing collection of Japanese Star Wars posters. Football stamps can also be a more affordable way to purchase original prints or artwork, just in miniature.
While the fascination with football stamps comes mainly from a design point of view, we are also interested in the collecting aspect. We both collected Match Attack cards and Panini stickers when we were young. Football stamps seem to be an extension of this childhood pastime; we always have that excitement when we get a new one. And we think it’s cool to have hundreds of individual stamps printed over the past 70 years, all celebrating a different moment in football history.
Do you have a favorite stamp?
Flynn: I really like the stamp of São Tomé and Príncipe of Spain in 1982, with the work of Joan Miro. This is such a beautiful painting, and I had been looking for one of the original posters for a while, so finding one in stamp form was a huge win. I find it so interesting that this little stamp was made on an island in Central Africa and now lives in my room!
Ollie: I love the chrome foil combined with the bright gradients printed on the stripes of the Algerian stamp celebrating the 1982 Spanish World Cup. Unfortunately the photos don’t do it justice, but it’s just stunning when it catches the light.
Who do you two support?
Flynn: I support Arsenal. I was drawn to the Fabregas and Van Persie eras, which slowly declined into a healthy dose of disappointment. However, lately things are starting to get exciting again for us.
Ollie: Liverpool for me. Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres were my favorite players growing up. I even named my hamster Torres after him!