Imagine Paul Pogba preparing to line up alongside Platini, Giresse and Tigana in Seville in 1982. Or perhaps Georginio Wijnaldum, ready to partner van Basten on the way to the Euro 88 title. How about Mesut Ozil in *that* bruised banana shirt, helping Arsenal to their two 1993 Cup wins?
These are all images that have been brought to life by graphic artist James (better known as Jimmy) O’Mara in Kit Swap – one of his most popular collections of designs, featuring classic players in classic kits.
“The feedback on social media was crazy”, recalls O’Mara. “It originally started with me illustrating Emre Can in Germany’s famous kit worn at Italia 90. A beautiful man in a beautiful kit! I just wondered what it would look like if current players wore old, classic kits. I’m always focussing on the player with my illustrations, but there have been some beautiful and outrageous kits and I thought it was about time I focussed on them instead! At the start I was going to limit it to eight kits, but people are constantly tweeting me suggestions so I may have to change that number.”
The fact that Can was Jimmy’s inspiration for the collection is no coincidence. Although born and bred in Manchester – where he has recently graduated from Stockport College with a First Class Honours degree in Graphic Design – Jimmy has followed his dad, a scouser, in supporting the Reds. With his mum and twin brother supporting City and his older brother a staunch United fan, it makes for a sometimes fraught, football-mad household.
Always painting and drawing at school, he knew from an early age that his career path would involve design. “I got into illustrating by literally teaching myself”, Jimmy recalls. “I wanted to learn about Adobe Illustrator and what I could accomplish with the program whilst I was at uni, so I just opened up a blank document and had a go.”
It was only natural that Jimmy should combine his passion for the beautiful game with his love of design. “It only made sense to combine my two biggest passions. Football is an every changing sport, no week is the same, there’s always something new, something crazy, something being talked about and illustrating allows me to react to these real life events.” Indeed, Jimmy sees the two as being very similar: “I feel football and design have a lot in common, both are creative, expressive and everyone involved has their own style”.
The success of Jimmy’s designs has been almost immediate, as social media has enabled him to showcase his work far and wide. “I started off just creating vectors of footballers and posting them on Twitter and Instagram. A few people started to ask if they would be for sale so I decided to open an Etsy store and it’s kind of taken off from there! I now create, print and sell my designs.”
In what must surely have been a dream come true, the chance soon arose to provide designs for Liverpool: “I got involved with the #MyLFCMatchdayImage project on Twitter last season which allowed Liverpool fans to create the match day image for each fixture. At the end of the season I created a book to showcase all of my designs. It was a great way to combine my two biggest passions and I love seeing all of my designs in one place.”
Liverpool is unsurprisingly a recurring theme in Jimmy’s designs, but he has a wide range of subjects, including footballers in the UK and abroad, past and present, including features for many of Liverpool’s biggest rivals. The world’s best coaches have also appeared, as have some non-football stars, such as Tom Brady, Conor Mcgregor, Anthony Joshua or Rory McIlroy.
So how does Jimmy decide what to draw next? “I mainly react to what’s happening. If there is an amazing goal, a funny/iconic celebration or just an unforgettable moment in a game then I'll illustrate it! History is being created every week, whether it's Messi scoring in the last minute of El Clasico for his 500th Barcelona goal or Leicester defying the odds to win the league, there is always something.”
With such a wealth of subject matter available, Jimmy’s prolific output shows no sign of slowing: “any spare time I have, I'm illustrating, whether it be a new print, a personal project or for my social media. I just make a coffee, put some music on and start designing. I never get bored so it’s a perfect way to fuel my creativity! It is a great way to express all of the joy I get from football – as soon as someone scores an unbelievable goal, I can't wait to just get to my computer and start illustrating it. I'm starting to focus on certain details of the sport now, the finer things that interest me, for example, with the Current Players in Classic Kits series.”
Football design is clearly above all a labour of love for Jimmy, who is happy to pass on his advice to other budding young designers: “if I have any advice or tutorials and I always say the same thing. It's just practice and trial and error. I started all of this by being motivated and teaching myself. The more I did, the better and more confident I got. For me, finding a style is something you can't really teach, it's something you have to find yourself. As a Graphic Designer, I've always liked clean and simple compositions as well as typography and I try and reflect that in my illustrations with the lifelike drawings and simple, white backgrounds.”
And those who enjoy those illustrations, available under the Entire Design name, are sure to be entertained for the foreseeable future. As Jimmy observes, “there is such a huge back catalogue of football that I have an unlimited amount of choices. The hardest thing is deciding which to do first!” It seems that, as long as Can, Messi et al continue to create football stories, Jimmy O’Mara will be on hand to provide the illustrations.