WHAT an own goal Leeds United scored with their new club badge. It’s a less than serious affair, about as convincing and credible as someone using the Comic Sans font for a magazine, but it also appears to have been designed by a group of creatives who have little idea about the game of football. No doubt Leeds have been charged a significant sum of money for this “expertise”.
Little wonder that Leeds are thinking again. This is a club that seems to have used many badges since the 1960s – remember the very 70s LU symbol that was similarly controversial and very much of its time?
Clubs all over the country are changing their crests these days. Unsurprisingly, the old heraldic badges, difficult to reproduce and fathom out, are no longer in vogue. Some clubs discarded the plumes, the coats of arms and icons years ago. Nottingham Forest were one of the first, adopting a very simplistic design that reflected modern times.
But what is a badge today? It may no longer be so important or relevant to have the football club badge so interlocked with the identity of the town or city it represents given the global nature of the game, and also because traditional industries and occupations are no longer the exclusive property of certain towns. If a town was to really reflect what it is all about today in its crest, they’re not going to depict hats, fish or boats.
The club badge, like the kit, the stadium, the nickname and club name are all part of tradition, something which remains important to many football fans, but less so to the people running the industry.
Dare we say, what clubs are really interested in today is the badge as corporate logo. The example of Juventus in Italy is a good one. In January 2017, the Italian champions introduced a new badge, which they claim had taken a year to produce. Incredibly, the new badge was very simplistic – the letter J! Club president Andrea Agnelli, when unveiling the badge said: “This new logo is a symbol of the Juventus way of living…we spent a year finding out what the new markets want, but also to show a sense of belonging and looking to the future.”
The letter J replaced a badge that included a charging bull, the symbol of Turin. There is no letter J in the regular Italian alphabet – aside from names – so you could say Juventus, with their new logo, have attempted to take ownership of the letter.
With clubs so dependent on their commercial activities, we have reached a stage in the development of the game where the badge is an asset rather than the identity of the football club itself. Big clubs, like Juventus, have stores in major cities, export their brand to all corners of the world and produce thousands of branded goods. Simple but effective is the strategy, although the simpler it gets, the easier it is to forge it and make fake shirts and merchandise, a back street industry in itself.
Juventus, while upsetting some of their fans and the cynics, were actually praised for thinking ahead by industry observers. The Independent said: “Whatever you think about the emblem, and it is dividing opinion on social media, this serves as yet another example of why Juventus remain ahead of the competition, not only on the pitch, but off it too.” Andrea Agnelli, quoted former General Electric CEO Jack Welch in declaring: “Change before you have to.”
Back in England, there’s scarcely a club that hasn’t tinkered with their badge in recent years. It’s understandable and in most cases acceptable, but the narrative that accompanies it can often be patronising. Or, to be blunt, “bullshit”.
Leeds put a lot of effort into the launch of their badge. They may have engaged 10,000 supporters and might have wanted something that reflected their fans and the so-called “Leeds salute”, but unfortunately, the slightly comic appearance has been described as somebody checking his watch, an antacid advertisement, a fascist salute and a man with a broken arm. They got it wrong, but they can put it right. Leeds United are a club that has the potential to rise above its current status and represents a city with a population of close to 800,000. For the future, they need a logo, not clip art from Roy of the Rovers.