Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Badge Protocol

Designing a football club badge is a bit like making love to a beautiful woman. First, be respectful, if necessary make use of a reliable old device or two, add a little bit of charm and if everything goes to plan, you’ll have your target audience gushing with excitement.

If only it were that simple. Over the last four decades, football clubs around Britain and beyond have struggled with a corporate identity crisis. A constant battle to convey the perfect message or a mot juste for the ages, football club badges have moved beyond the realm of archaic heraldry. They have become the tool of marketing men, sales executives and industry strategists.

Once upon a time it was all very simple. Having established a football club, you’d create a club badge; a symbol to represent your team’s ambitions, background and ethos. If the club represented an entire town or city, it would typically adopt the coat of arms from its location and adapt it accordingly to suit. If that wasn’t possible or appropriate, it would create a bespoke original badge that embodied the same ideals. Chances are, it, too, would make use of the component parts upon which heraldic crests are built – shields, ribbons, animals of one sort or another and, if you were very lucky, a tokenistic football or two.

And that was the approach taken for years but the dawning of a modern, commercial age was to provide the trigger for a few well-established clubs to embrace contemporary design and a forward-thinking eye for marketing.

That new age began in the early 1970’s where Derby County and Nottingham Forest were among the first clubs to adopt an all-new club badge. In Derby’s case, they threw out the rather drab-looking ‘shield with ram’s head’ and replaced it with a beautiful depiction of a ram drawn with flowing, harmonious lines. Forest’s stylised tree above watery, wavy lines is equally as easy on the eye and a more accessible alternative to the coat of arms previously worn.

What’s brilliant about both badges is that they’re clearly modern yet aren’t trapped forever in the amber of 70’s styling. Both have shown their natural quality by remaining practically unaltered to the present day and rightly so. They are, in their own way, design classics.

Other clubs, however, were less successful in adopting a new symbolic identity. When Don Revie’s Leeds United famously (or perhaps infamously) sported their new circular badge based on the club’s initials in the early 70’s, one could foresee a potentially short shelf life for it. By the time the 1980’s rolled around, it quickly looked as out of place as flared trousers and platform shoes. It was replaced with something altogether more conventional in 1981, thereby maintaining a Leeds trend for changing their club badge almost as often as some clubs change their manager.

Another club that liked to tinker with their badge was Wolverhampton Wanderers. In 1970, their famous old gold shirts featured the classic badge of a single wolf leaping over a bold ‘WW’. In 1974, they opted for a trio of wolves in full gallop, one above the other, but even this didn’t last long as in 1979 it was replaced by an angular wolf’s head. Fast forward to 2011 and the badge remarkably remains in place. Proof that you really can stop tinkering with a little bit of will power, although there didn’t seem much wrong with the original 1970 badge in the first place.

Having made the decision to change the badge, some clubs have struggled to find that perfect balance between tradition, modernity, relevance and simplicity. One can argue that Arsenal have done that with their current badge - introduced in 2002 - which stripped out a lot of the fussy detail of the old design to leave a modern logo that works well in pretty much any situation.

Aston Villa, however, appear to have got things a little wrong. Having adopted the ‘rampant lion’ as their main symbol from the late-50’s, they decided to adopt a circular version of the same, complete with club name, in 1973. Their simple, pleasing badge was highly visible during Villa’s league- and European Cup-winning triumphs of the early 80’s and even featured as a background motif on their yellow Third shirt in 1991.

Yet in 1992 they reverted to a smart shield design which in turn was also changed in 2007 - unquestionably for the worse - to something described by one visitor to this website’s predecessor as ‘looking like a secondary school kid designed it’. Even the full name of the club had disappeared with only a set of initials being added to a staggeringly weak symbol.

It wasn’t even the only badge likened to something from a junior school art competition. Fulham attracted a higher than average amount of negative feedback when their current badge was unveiled ten years ago. A simple shield in black and white sections with interlinked red ‘FFC’ lettering was deemed too amateurish for some and it’s not difficult to see why. If you pay a lot of money to a graphic design company, you’d probably expect something with a bit more detail and interest. Sadly they didn’t get it here.

The trend for reverting to old-fashioned crests is well and truly back on the menu - QPR, Sunderland and Manchester City being recent examples of the need to get back to tradition - and others have followed suit too in recent years. Some clubs, however, never lost the tradition in the first place and have no intention of changing. Step forward Manchester United, Everton and Blackburn Rovers.

So what can we expect in future? Presumably a continuing polarisation in the way clubs gravitate towards the new-traditional style or the super-simple corporate logo-style of badge. What must remain the top priority for club officials and the designers working on a new badge, however, is the need to avoid bringing ridicule on the club in question. There is, after all, only one constant for every football club, and that’s the fans. Though club officials and players come and go in time, the fans remain and should always be able to take pride in their team’s badge, no matter what.


Terry Duffelen said...

I'd be interested to read your thoughts on Crystal Palace's three iterations, Chris. From Glazier to Eagles to Eagles as Phoenix motif adopted in the early 90s.

Chris O said...

I shall use Crystal Palace as the first in a new series called 'Badge Focus' as part of 'The Kit Bit' thread, Terry.

When writing this article, I did feel there was plenty of scope to look at the badges of individual teams in greater depth, so watch this space for my thoughts!