The World Cup is upon us, which means two things.
The first is four weeks of football, a solid month where for the first half at least there are between two and four games per day, a football fan’s equivalent of the world’s deepest bath, something to soak in and relax. Only this time with the slightly unpleasant addition of wondering if it’s morally OK to enjoy Poland v Mexico given… well, you know.
The second thing is that everything will now be World Cup branded. The FIFA logo will be slapped on your drink, your food, your public transport, your TVs, your computers, your toys, your cutlery, your crockery and this year — because these are strange times and the World Cup is in the winter — your Christmas decorations too.
Do you need any of this stuff? Of course not. Do you want some of this stuff? Absolutely. So we are here to lend a guiding hand, to sort the choice items from the tat, to tell you what you should spend your hard-earned on and what you shouldn’t. This is The Athletic’s guide to the best and worst of the World Cup merch.
The official ball
Let’s kick off (wahey!) with the basics: the ball, which is named Al Rihla. If you want to jazz £130 on the proper, full-spec, actual sort of ball they’ll be using at the World Cup then go for it, but there are more modest versions. Whichever version you get, the manufacturer’s nonsense comes with, including: Al Rihla means ‘The Journey’; it ‘takes precision to new heights’; and the panel arrangements are inspired by dhows, local merchant boats. It’s a handsome football, the colour splashes just enough so they have some impact but not so much that they cover the entire thing. This is the 14th World Cup that the ball has been provided by Adidas, and while this one is no Tango or Tricolore, neither is it a Jabulani, so swings and roundabouts.
Christmas tree decoration
And if you don’t want a full-size football cluttering up the place this Christmas, how about a smaller version to hang on the tree? The thing about this is, you generally buy Christmas decorations for multiple years: you buy the thing, you hang it on the tree, then you stick it in a box and forget about it for 11 months. Then you get it out the box again and… in this case, wonder why you’ve got a bauble for the previous year’s World Cup. What then? Do you put it back on the tree anyway? Bin it? Start a really slow-growing collection and hope there’s a USA/Canada/Mexico bauble in 2026? Still, this is a weird World Cup, it’s going to be a weird Christmas, so why not combine those two weird things.
Trophy beer glass
Would it be too dramatic to say that, if you want to watch the World Cup from the comfort of your own armchair with a cold one in your hand, it should be mandatory to drink it from one of these glasses? Like a sort of merch version of the BBC’s licence fee: if you try to chug a Madri in anything other than this, then the detector vans will be arriving soon. You might regret having this for the other three years and 11 months, but for the four weeks when the tournament is on, you will just feel… good.
Cuddly toy of the mascot
We should probably talk about the World Cup mascot, La’eeb. Described as “adventurous, fun and curious”, La’eeb apparently comes from “the mascot-verse”, a parallel reality that is “indescribable’. You can see what they’re trying to do here, create an adorable character that has a little mystery and back story. But ultimately La’eeb looks like a cartoon ghost, and for a tournament that has seen an unspecified number of people dying in the preparations… well, you can see why people could misinterpret this as one of those poor souls haunting the tournament, reminding everyone of what it cost. Anyway, here’s La’eeb in cuddly toy form.
‘It’s Coming Home’ drawstring gym bag
How long do you think the whole ‘It’s coming home’ thing is going to last? It had a charming irony in 2018, but by the Euros in 2021 it was boring trying to explain that it wasn’t an expression of English exceptionalism, so if they’re still banging it out on the streets of Doha in December 2022… hell’s teeth, it’s going to be tiresome. But as long as it remains in the zeitgeist, it will remain in the merch, and never more fittingly than in this hilariously low-rent, frankly crap-looking gym bag. As it should be, really.
Attention men: do not purchase England-branded underpants if you are single, or you are expecting someone new to see your underpants. You could ruin a potentially beautiful relationship: you meet someone, you get on, you get to the part where people start removing outer layers, you reveal you’ve got these on ‘neath your trousers, and they leave, never to be seen again. You are alone. Just stick to your regular undies.
I’m not going to insult your intelligence by encouraging you to get a World Cup sticker album. You’re not an idiot, I know you’ll get one if you haven’t already. So let’s consider accessories instead. You’ll need something to protect your swaps. This isn’t 1997: you can’t just stick a rubber band around them and hope for the best. So what do you need? That’s right: a sticker tin. A tin to put your stickers in. Obviously.
Marilyn Monroe England T-shirt
I genuinely laughed out loud when I found this. Together at last: Marilyn Monroe and the England football team. The blonde bombshell and our brave boys. Norma Jean and the Three Lions. Although in this case, presumably for copyright reasons, just the one lion. One is beloved, tragic and achieved some success years ago but was ultimately doomed… the other, etc. The thought process that goes into even conceiving of this is extraordinary: we have Marilyn, posing like she was modelling for an early-2000s lads’ mag, with a football (the Brazuca from the 2014 World Cup, by the looks of things) betwixt her thighs, wearing a tight England t-shirt with blood red lipstick. Of course! Why has it taken until now to think of it? Let’s all get one and wear them every day of the tournament.
It’s nice to see that the commemorative coin scene still seems to be going strong. It feels like a relic of the past, an age when kids had nothing to do except play with a hoop on a stick and the two TV channels started at 6pm. In those days, a piece of collectable currency vaguely related to football must have felt a glamorous addition to life, something that if you were bored you could take out of the drawer and stare at, perfectly happily, for three to five hours. Now a parent would be extremely concerned if their child did that. They might get some tests done. Which leads to a question: Who is this for? Who, in 2022, is buying a World Cup collectable coin? But also: Does that matter? Does it need to have a point? Is it better than an NFT of Cuauhtemoc Blanco doing that bunny-hop thing? Almost certainly.
Once again: Who buys this stuff? There was a time when the commemorative plate was confined to your aunt or granny who bought one to mark a royal wedding, meaning Charles and Diana would stare down at you from a shelf long after their union ended. But these plates start at 2,200 Qatari Riyals (about £500!) and go up to 22,000 Qatari riyals (over £5,000!) — who in the name of everything holy pays £5,000 for a commemorative plate? Are you going to eat off this? No, of course not. So you’re just going to put it somewhere in your house, for guests to remark, “Oh, that’s a remarkably ugly plate, where did you g… £5,000?!?!!!? Oh wow, what a piece, it’s an investment really isn’t it, yeah, yeah, bound to be worth a bit in a few years.”
World Cup gaming chair
At the risk of sounding like someone’s disdainful dad scoffing at the kids these days with their music and their hair and their Tik Toks… this is just a chair, right? When did we rebrand a ‘chair’ as a ‘gaming chair’? Does it sound cooler? Does it mean you can put the price up? And does any extra value come from having the World Cup logo on the back support? This could be one of those moments that clarifies once and for all that I am an old man shouting at a cloud, but… honestly, the kids these days with their music and their hair and their TikToks.
Box of craft beer
As we all know, when the World Cup comes around, it’s time for the least imaginative marketing people on the planet to shrug, take a drag on their cigarette, then say: “Just stick ‘World Cup’ on the box”. Everything will become a World Cup product: World Cup TVs, World Cup soft drinks, World Cup chocolate, World Cup meal deals, World Cup cereal, World Cup petrol, World Cup toilet paper, World Cup shampoo, World Cup existential dread. Everything. Then there’s beer, of course, but it’s 2022, you can’t get away with a bottle of gassy lager these days. You need craft beer, like this. You need to sip it, not really understand what you’re tasting and say, “Mmmm, hoppy” or something, just so you don’t look a fool. You have to pretend that a drink you could basically cut with a knife and fork is nice, that you’re a REAL beer drinker, and somehow morally superior. Sorry: World Cup morally superior.
Replica winner’s medal
When I was a kid I sometimes played football on my own in the house, using a small foam ball and a bay window as a goal. I’d commentate, creating elaborate narratives about not just myself but the team I’d created in my mind, a supporting cast of entirely fictional footballers who seemed pretty real in my head. It was a bit like having an imaginary friend, but 10 imaginary friends. I would write match reports of our triumphs. I think at one point I made a trophy out of cardboard. No, this isn’t a cry for help, or an attempt at internet therapy, but a possible answer to the question, ‘Who would want a replica World Cup winner’s medal?’ Me, as a child. Or the 2022 equivalent. That’s who.