The new football season in England is now well underway but I can’t remember a season I’ve ever looked forward to less. Whingeing, greedy, overhyped players playing in an overhyped league. If you want to know everything that is wrong with top-flight football in England right now, just compare the design of the trophy they play for with the one that used to be the ultimate prize…
Above left is the old Football League Division One trophy. From 1890 (when it was designed and manufactured by Vaughtons of Birmingham) to 1992, when the Premier League was established, every champion club of England lifted this same cup. With each successive year, the competition’s stature grew and the trophy took on more symbolic importance. While splashing about in the deeply unhygienic and ever-so-slightly homoerotic post-match communal bath, each winning team could wipe off the condensation from its surface to gaze at the names of its predecessors inscribed on the trophy and feel themselves part of a rich tradition.
If never exactly a thing of exquisite beauty (rather like English football itself), the trophy was rooted in the history of the game. A constant in an ever-changing sporting landscape. It had history and it had class.
On the right is the Premier League trophy, introduced in 1992 when the top English clubs split off to form a new league and thereby earn themselves a whole lot more cash from the nice people at Sky TV. Reminding us that to be posh is not necessarily to have taste, it was designed and made by the royal jeweller Asprey. As is depressingly the way with these things now (if I might come over all grumpy old man for a moment) it is less a football cup than a high concept piece of brand articulation. The design of the trophy supposedly recalls the Three Lions on the English FA crest. Two of the lions sit absurdly on the handles on either side of the trophy. When the captain of the title winning team raises the trophy above his head at the end of the season, he, ridiculously, is supposed to become the third lion.
If that is not cringeworthy enough, check out the lid. A traditional feature of celebrating winning another English trophy, the FA cup, was the moment when some snaggle-toothed cheeky chappy would make off with its lid and jig around the pitch with it on his head. The Premier League trophy has a lid designed just for this purpose – an absurd Disneyesque crown. A photographer’s prop to prompt a million tabloid “Kings of England” headlines. A made-for-TV trophy for a made-for-TV league.
And the biggest name on the trophy? Not that of the winning team but, of course, that of the sponsor. The Premier League trophy is tacky, gaudy, cynical, skewed by the demands of the media, tasteless and ridiculous. Just like the English game.
While the Football league trophy was designed, the Premier League trophy was Designed. The former is the work of craftsmen, the latter smacks of the focus group and the branding agency. The difference underlining not just the changes in football but in design also?