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In light of the recent news that Everton FC had decided to re-brand – and then decided not to – I thought it’d be interesting to have a skim through the unique branded history of our beloved and beautiful game

In light of the recent news that Everton FC had decided to re-brand – and then decided not to – I thought it’d be interesting to have a skim through the unique branded history of our beloved and beautiful game…

You see, teams have been tinkering around with their crests for years now, centuries in many cases, and despite the relatively new term for it, ‘rebranding’ in football is nothing new. Why just recently the latest team to join the Premier League, Crystal Palace, rebranded themselves…

USA.
USA.

Pardon me.

Arsenal were the last club to really have a big public bun-fight about a rebrand in a manner that echoes the Everton debacle.

Design Bridge did the re-brand (they also did the Champion’s League ‘star marque’).

I remember Arsenal stating in the press at the time that the changes were made because they wanted to control the copyright of their crest like a ‘proper’ brand, so the club could, should they so desire, take legal action against anyone who didn’t have the appropriate rights to use it. Merchandising, then. Still, ballsy of them to admit it.

Whether this resulted in Arsenal recuperating much more revenue through the professional organisation of their brand, becoming arguably one of football’s most financially stable clubs in the world, or that the hat-and-scarf merchandisers had to shift a little further down Holloway Road, is hard to judge. But stand it did.

Although Everton’s neighbours Liverpool FC are probably enjoying the scene over Stanley Park at the minute, they aren’t exactly aren’t strangers to a crest tickle-up themselves. But like the majority of football clubs, Liverpool’s tinkering (as demonstrated below) is the result of applying the Daz soap-powder box theory of evolution over 21 years. But do we ever notice as long as it works?! Or care?

Now, you’d be an idiot to oppose the addition of the Shankly gates, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and the Hillsborough eternal flames, but seeing as the majority of the Evertonians’ hostilities are concerned with the reduction of the crests’ content and the ‘ClipArt’ tower… is taking the Liver bird to the gym, then the spa, and chucking in a few badge-y gradients (probably for ‘depth’ or something) an improvement on what was?

It could’ve been a lot worse for the Mersyside clubs mind (excluding Tranmere that is – apologies). Were the new Malaysian owners of Cardiff City to have cast their eyes – and wallets – further north of Wales, it may have transpired that Everton would start 2013/14 in a new red strip complete with new crest featuring a red dragon guarding Rupert’s Tower. Something more akin to the Hobbit Shire than Everton Brow.

Back to the capital, and Zola, Gullit, Vialli, DiMatteo, Leboeuf, Desailly, and Poyet didn’t seem to have any issues scoring for laughs with this over their nipples…

But despite continued success, Fat Frank and John ‘Full-Kit‘ Terry bear a modified revision of their own from the 1950s original. Ironically, a change instigated by fans complaining about the then present crest. A fickle lot aren’t we?

Even Manchester United are at it, and perhaps for the most telling reasons of all. In the season 1998-99 they officially changed from a Football Club to a Company. Cue angry mob. The change, even though a bit spot-the-difference, once noticed is quite a profound one. But then the team went and had their most successful season ever.

But it’s here where a lot of the trouble stems from.

Of course, there isn’t a one word answer as to why branding in football is met with such antagonism. Many people perceive it as a thing for business, something for the corporation and not for football. But now, more than ever, clubs are behaving like companies and businesses and not, well, like clubs.

Pressures of sponsorship, media and merchandising, growing overseas markets, they all require holistic business management in order to maximise revenue for clubs that have to operate in exceptional financial circumstances.

Trouble with that is, from the outset, it’s upside down: there’s no need to convince people about your product and you don’t have to win-over consumers. (Just imagine that kind of loyalty for a microwave oven.) So it’s no surprise to me that when people apply an existing business model to a football club, they run into trouble – a football club requires a different model, a different approach. And that goes for the branding, too.

It’s an important discipline which is plagued by its own ubiquity and a lack of definition in practice. I hate that branding becomes some kind of exercise to eradicate all idiosyncrasies and personality traits of things in favour of some sort of design-crusade for ‘simplicity’ and ‘uniformity’; thinking that consistent repetition equates to a strong brand. No wonder people don’t trust it.

But the reality is that football has changed and clubs are brands which operate in big brand business. And this has given rise to a deep seated fear that the fans are in a powerless relationship with their club: a lot of them feel alienated, insignificant and powerless to do anything.

The sticky-toffee situation Everton got themselves into (and then out of), whether you think they listened to their supporters or they succumbed to them, should actually give every supporter of a football club hope, because if anything it demonstrates that the supporters of their club can still challenge and win and, ultimately, still matter.

Good branding isn’t concerned solely with change, it’s based on empathy and a comprehensive understanding of whatever that brand is. The process involves and affects those whom are most connected to it.

And, after all, let’s just spare a thought for the thousands of people out there like this.

Craig Oldham is a designer at the Manchester-based studio, Music, who has worked with numerous football clubs. His previous projects include the Democratic Lecture and the hand.written.letter.project and he is currently helping to organise and curate a football-themed exhibition called Glory Glory, which will open later in the year in London. He is a Barnsley fan.

Tattoo shown by Sharron Caudill at Northern Soul Tattoo, Liverpool

Pink Floyd fans may recognise the cover of our June issue. It’s the original marked-up artwork for Dark Side of the Moon: one of a number of treasures from the archive of design studio Hipgnosis featured in the issue, along with an interview with Aubrey Powell, co-founder of Hipgnosis with the late, great Storm Thorgerson. Elsewhere in the issue we take a first look at The Purple Book: Symbolism and Sensuality in Contemporary Illustration, hear from the curators of a fascinating new V&A show conceived as a ‘walk-in book’ plus we have all the regular debate and analysis on the world of visual communications.

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