Ellie Bainbridge looks to 1970s Sunday league football culture as inspiration for her retro work

Incorporating nostalgia and social commentary, the graphic designer’s project Fake Fans portrays a fictional football rivalry against the backdrop of the 1970s miners strike.

26 November 2021

1970s Sunday league football evokes many images: short-shorts, pints of lager and questionable haircuts. Graphic designer Ellie Bainbridge’s Fake Fans combines these images to create work that is “lighthearted and witty but still ha[s] a base in social issues.” Drawing on football culture and the various social crises of the 1970s, Ellie’s work is warm and recognisable whilst also being powerfully political.

Originally from Liverpool, Ellie is now based in Glasgow. A recent graduate, she studied for a degree in communication design at Glasgow School of Art (GSA). Ellie was attracted to graphic design because of the “range of design it facilitates” and, importantly, GSA offered a particularly “open graphic design pathway.” This focus on “range” is clear throughout Ellie’s body of work. Whilst a retro style and themes of “wit and narrative” remain central, she utilises various design methods; from Risograph printing to typography and image-layering.

Subtly blending fact and fiction throughout her work, Fake Fans is inspired by “paper towns” – “a fictitious entry on a map used to help unmask copyright infringements.” Creating two football teams – Coulthard F.C and Arundel Rovers – who play in the fictional Yorkshire town of Wanhall, Ellie’s work uses “fake” teams to depict “tense football rivalry.” However, real historical events provide an important foundation to her work. Most significantly, the 1970s miner’s strike and its ensuing battles. In 1974, in response to large fuel shortages, the government introduced a three-day working week. With the country being told to limit electricity usage with the line “Switch Something Off” and factories switching to Thursday to Saturday working weeks, workers could no longer attend Saturday matches. It is here, Ellie explains, that Sunday league football began. Ellie’s decision to blend football and politics is therefore a natural one. Without the social unrest of the period, a staple of British football culture may never have existed.


Ellie Bainbridge: Fake Fans (Copyright © Ellie Bainbridge, 2021)

Describing herself as a “magpie,” Ellie’s work is inspired by her “avid collection of random printed material, a lot of it from the 70s.” This eclectic approach is reminiscent of her visual style. Combining various smaller designs – ranging from magazine covers, tickets, political stickers and beer mats – Ellie’s work gives the impression of peeking into someone’s scrapbook. With hues of dusky green and orange, a brown aged effect and a bold, retro typeface, you could be easily convinced that Ellie’s designs are genuine, treasured artefacts.

As a “detail-orientated designer,” typography is an important design aspect for Ellie. She attests to finding type design “addictive” and “love[s] the scope of possibilities you can get working from a single alphabet.” Taking advantage of these broad possibilities, Ellie’s use of type stands out. Adopting a calligraphic, traditional typeface for a pie shop paper bag and a local postcard, she injects a provincial feel into her work. Whereas the rounded, blocky headlines of campaign posters, the uneven edges of banner slogans and the eclectic mix of fonts on a mock-up local newspaper represent the heady mix of contemporary design styles emerging in the 70s. It is through these juxtaposing typefaces that Ellie accurately represents a rapidly shifting society; the conflict between traditional small-town culture and the burgeoning commercialisation and globalisation of the late-20th Century.

The impressively detailed nature of Ellie’s work is also apparent in her use of narrative, and we feel it is her use of the written word that gives her designs such a personal feel. Seeing Fake Fans as an “exploration of narrative and world-building,” Ellie finds “creative freedom in the conception of the narrative” which then “in turn informs the visual outcome.” A beer mat features profanities scrawled in biro while a postcard has a carefully written message to a loved one. The writing, stylised in different scripts, humanises Ellie’s work. The beer mat appears fresh from a post-match booze session whilst the postcard details two lovers separated by social unrest. With such close and considered attention to detail, Fake Fans is a collection that says so much about a society on the brink of change, whilst simultaneously feeling like a precious insight into the personal life of an anonymous football fan.

GalleryEllie Bainbridge: Fake Fans (Copyright © Ellie Bainbridge, 2021)

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Ellie Bainbridge: Fake Fans (Copyright © Ellie Bainbridge, 2021)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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