Cycling into work yesterday I ran into England’s Ashes victory parade. I stood at Ludgate Circus and watched the open top buses go past. Up front were Flintoff and Pieterson. They were clutching something very small – a replica of the Ashes urn. For those of you not versed in Cricket lore, the Ashes is a series of 5 test matches played between England and Australia every 2 years. The winner takes the strangest trophy in world sport: a terracotta urn about 10cm tall that contain the ash of a burnt bail. It was made my a group of Australian ladies as a representation of the Times obituary announcing the death of English Cricket after Australia had beaten them for the first time in 1882.
A sports trophy must be one of the hardest jobs in design. Some go for maximum size: the European Cup is a vast, silvery-shiny, and curved like an amphora. Perfect for reflecting back a distorted image of a winning team, perfect for kissing. It suggests a kind of classical, Olympian sporting ideal – remember the European cup began during the cold war, and was perhaps the only event that united a split Europe. On the other hand, the World Cup is dense with a kind of 1950s symbolism. The top is a textured model of the earth, held up by cloaked figures with their arms aloft, all in gold. If it were fifty times bigger it could pass for a piece of public art at the United Nations. And it’s not a cup.
The FA Cup is a classic, perhaps the definitive image of cup-as-trophy: Silvery polished Victorian baroque, with plenty of surface modulation to make it sparkle, large enough to wear the lid on your head, with handles the perfect shape for tying ribbons to. It’s a reasonable size to drink champagne out of. The English Premier league trophy has a golden crown for a lid – ideal for wearing in crazy player celebrations – though it does have a kind of corporate design feel.
In fact, the Ashes themselves never leave Lords. Instead, there is a relatively new Waterford Crystal vase that is presented to the winning team. This is part of a family of trophies that are like grotesque versions of homeware. There is a particularly bizarre pink tinted crystal bowl that is presented to the winner of some sport of other.
Back in 2002, I designed a trophy for a match between the two worst national football teams in the world. It was a cup that broke into two halves. You can see it here.