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Footballs on road signs: an international overview

I’m an old fashioned manager, I write the team down on the back of a fag packet and I play a simple 4-4-2.

  • Mike Bassett, England Manager

I’m very much like Mike Bassett: I like standing on the terraces, I like full-backs whose main skill is kicking wingers into the ad hoardings, and – most of all – I like geometrically correct footballs.

I mean, the bulk of my academic career involved applying Euler characteristics in two and three dimensions to make sure I had the right number of vertices, edges, faces and volumes in my magnetic fields. Getting a football right ought to be child’s play.

So, I was over the moon to hear there was a petition to bring the UK’s terrible football road signs into line with reality. Friend of The Aperiodical Matt Parker explains all here:

I was also sick as a parrot to read the government’s response, which I summarise as:

  • No.
  • It’s been this way for more than 20 years
  • Drivers are used to the old sign
  • Drivers wouldn’t notice that it had been changed
  • It would cost some money
  • Mathematical correctness isn’t a priority for this government

Let’s skip over the obvious both-sides-of-the-mouth bit, and the fact that at least ten of the twenty Premiership stadiums have either been built or had a name change since the football signage was introduced, which apparently hasn’t placed “an unreasonable financial burden on local authorities”, and that the petition specifically mentioned future signs, so no extra cost would be incurred.

Instead, let’s pick up on one of the phrases used in the response:

“Symbols are often internationally recognised”

Indeed they are, HMG, indeed they are.

For instance, here is a football stadium sign in Brazil:

Oh, hang on, blimey, the five-times world champions (and twice runners-up) use a street sign with a pentagon in the middle of it, as Pele intended.

Surely, then, the ever-pragmatic Germans (four World Cup wins and four further finals) would stick to the purely hexagonal monstrosity if it was, indeed, better?

Munich: football WITH PENTAGONS

Well, it’s a bit distorted, but there’s a definite pentagon/hexagon mix there.

Spain, what about Spain (one world cup)?

Pentagons again.

The Netherlands (three finals)?

You guessed it.

Italy (four wins and a final)?

Yeah, they get it right, too.

France (a win and a final)?

Ah, gotcha. France accepts that representing a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional sign is inherently dishonest, and just writes “Stade whatever” on its signs.

Despite extensive research, I’ve been unable to find a single other country that puts geometrically impossible footballs on their road signs.

Although Ukraine’s ‘icy roads’ sign needs a stern talking-to.

UPDATE: Alexander Farrugia sends distressing news from the traditional footballing powerhouse of Malta (never qualified for a World Cup), where he spotted this abomination. Many thanks!

Malta, what are you doing?

It’s just as well all of the football stadium signs in the UK follow the same desi… what’s that, Southampton?

Many thanks to Em Bell, Sam Holloway, Ragnhild Kjærnes, Yohaku, Keith WM, Jack Austin and everyone else who went looking.


So, not only is the international standard different to the supposed UK standard, the UK standard isn’t even universally adhered to.

It’s almost as if the Government is committed to being wrong for the sake of being wrong, and to making itself the laughing stock of the world by any means possible.

If this carries on, we won’t have any grounds left to mock Australia, and then we’ll really be in trouble.

In the meantime, keep signing the petition and may whoever responded to it have a recurring dream that Bobby Moore is chasing them around Wembley Stadium shouting “Look what you’ve done, you bloody idiot”. It’s the least they deserve.

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