“Just don’t call it a logo”: the history of the club crest

Capable of raising fanaticism and fury in equal measure, football clubs’ crests are a deeply symbolic part of the beautiful game. New book The Beautiful Badge uncovers their visual heritage, and occasionally uncertain history

At the start of 2018, Leeds United found itself in trouble after it unveiled, and almost instantly scrapped, a new badge. A petition against the redesigned crest, which replaced the 20-year-old rose and initials with a headless torso and clenched fist, was launched immediately, attracting more than 70,000 signatures and a flurry of outraged tabloid coverage. Barely a week after revealing the new design, the club withdrew it. A replacement is yet to be announced. While it’s not a surprising story, with major rebrands now routinely subject to widespread criticism, it emphasises the level of sentiment football fans attach to their club’s crest.

“Just don’t call it a logo,” says Martyn Routledge, whose book The Beautiful Badge, written in partnership with Elspeth Wills, uncovers the often uncertain provenance of club crests. “Football fans hate using the word brand… they really kick off if they think their club is a brand, but it is, and that’s not being offensive.” The Beautiful Badge traces crests’ development from the earliest days, when they were hand-stitched onto woollen jerseys – shown in an enjoyably wonky trio of embroidered lions, used for the world’s first international football match in 1872 – to the more recent digital-friendly badge designs. Working with 90 football clubs, as well as supporter clubs around the world, museums and individual collectors, Routledge has built up a complex visual history of these emblems. The book reveals an enormous variety of symbols, with clubs using everything from animals and people to initials, heraldry, and local landmarks.

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