The Philately of football

Switzerland celebrates Stamp Day on 9 December. This year, visitors to the “Philasierre” stamp exhibition in Sierre in the Swiss canton of Valais can look forward to a special treat. For the first time ever, FIFA is putting part of its stamp collection on display.

Just like with most large international sporting events, numerous stamps have also been designed for the FIFA World Cup™ all over the world. Whether postmarked or not, on postcards or letters, in boxes, cases or removal boxes, a surprisingly large amount of stamps have been collected over the years in the FIFA archives and were systematically filed for the first time at the start of this year. The items were recorded, sorted and properly stored with the professional support of Zurich-based stamp collecting company Philatelie Walter AG, revealing quite an impressive collection of 25 stamp albums. The oldest and most valuable items can now be viewed at the Philasierre exhibition.

“The idea first arose over a glass of wine,” says FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter. “My brother Pierre was telling me about the stamp exhibition scheduled for December in our home canton, and I started thinking aloud about a separate collection of the FIFA World Cup designs.”

The idea immediately triggered a lot of interest among the exhibition organisers. On the same day, the FIFA Content Management Services Department were instructed to carry out the necessary preparatory work. Together with Cyril and Ingomar Walter from Philatelie Walter AG in Zurich, they sifted through the items in the FIFA Archive which had been building up since FIFA was founded in 1904.

“The time had come for the stamps and letters to no longer be left lying unprotected in boxes, cases and between old newspapers,” said Cyril Walter, who spent many days in the Documentation Centre in the FIFA building. “It was incredibly exciting to rummage through the countless boxes and cases; it was like unearthing a treasure. I kept stumbling across interesting letters, such as the one sent from Uruguay in 1924 bearing a special postmark honouring the Olympic football champions, Uruguay.”

Walter also made some not so delightful discoveries on his “treasure hunt”, such as crumpled letters, ripped sheets of paper, or stamps stuck on to paper or card using glue: an atrocity for modern-day philatelists to find that stamps used to be stored in this way. Fortunately, the collection had not been exposed to dampness or excessive sunlight, which explains the overall sound condition of the stamps.

It was incredibly exciting to rummage through the countless boxes and cases; it was like unearthing a treasure.
Cyril Walter, Philatelie Walter AG.

Historic letter
Another gem included in the collection is a letter sent from Montevideo to Berlin in May 1930 (before the start of the first FIFA World Cup in Uruguay) which was carried on the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin airship. What is noteworthy about it, however, is not the stamp, but its historic significance and the postmark pointing to the first FIFA Football World Cup.

A machine postmark with the words “En 1930 Europa y America disputarán supremacias en football” (in 1930, Europe and America will play for supremacy in football) had been used on this letter just a few weeks before the start of the first FIFA World Cup and also on another letter seven months prior to this. In those days, and even nowadays, that is a remarkable measure for the national postal service to take.

For the 1934 World Cup in Italy, nine stamps with designs featuring different match scenes and stadiums were printed and have been preserved not only in their block of four without a postmark, but also as beautiful first day covers with their postmarks. Four years later, only one stamp appeared for the World Cup in France. There is an interesting postcard from the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland which indicates that drawn matches which required a winner had to be replayed because there were no penalty shoot-outs.

Since then, there have been thousands of other World Cup stamps and letters which have steadily sparked the growing interest of “conventional” football fans. Also included in the exhibits are cards bearing the autographs of teams and World Cup winners which were extremely sought after in their day. You can find, for instance, a leaflet from the 1962 World Cup in Chile with special stamps, the “Copa Jules Rimet Chile 1962” postmark and the autographs of the World Cup winners from Brazil, including football god Pelé.

The exhibition, running from 9-11 December in the Swiss town of Sierre, is only a medium-term goal on the road to systematically continuing and completing the collection, as more and more countries issue stamps for a FIFA competition. The Women’s, U-17 and U-20 World Cups are also popular designs, so it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of FIFA-related stamps. What helps with this is the obligation each FIFA stamp issuer has of signing a licensing agreement with FIFA and providing world football’s governing body with a sample.

The systematic continuation of the collection involves a considerable amount of work, particularly as fewer letters, and hence fewer stamps, are being sent in the age of electronic communication. Those in charge of the stamp collection in the FIFA Documentation Centre are nevertheless convinced that it is worth all the work and that stamps belong in the FIFA Archive just as much as films, books and pictures about football do.