Crest redesign is always hazardous, but Leeds United should have paid attention to past precedents

Words By Seb Stafford-Bloor Image by Offside
January 26, 2018
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The internet does not need another article about WHAT LEEDS DID, but it is interesting that clubs are so reluctant to learn this lesson.

For those who have been underwater for the past forty-eight hours, the club announced a change to their crest on Wednesday – resulting, as such moves always seems to, in universal, sustained mockery. On the one hand, of course it did: supporters hate change and, in all likelihood, the internet would have had its fun with whatever Leeds United had unveiled.

On the other, what they did unveil was cheap, brand-friendly tat, a cynically modern cartoon crest which an horrendous font. As social media conspiracy theorists have noted, it also looks suspiciously templated, and like it had been downloaded and adapted the night before release.

That’s likely far fetched and, actually, it seems that Leeds were diligent in their consultation process and careful to survey as many supporters as possible. The explanatory PDF, full of nightmarish jingoism and corporate marketingspeak boasts of involving 10,000 fans in the process, of the deep thought which has guided the process and the enduring symbolism of the Leeds Salute.

Needless to say, as soon as the crest been released to the public, the petition of protest began growing at an alarming rate. Less than twelve hours later, the club were beginning a humiliating climbdown, promising reviews and re-thinks and if that crest ever actually appears on a Leeds United shirt, it would be a surprise.

People now vaguely understand why crests change. Football is a game of modernity now, of brand values and marketing reach, and clubs in their traditional form were too rigid to adapt themselves to those imperatives. Becoming sleaker and more recognisable is part of the game in 2018 whether anyone likes it or not and, if it helps pay for a twenty-goal forward or an iron-wristed goalkeeper, most supporters are willing to keep the peace.

What’s harder to fathom, though, is how often this process goes wrong. Anyone involved with a football club is surely aware of the ties which exist between the team and the supporters – and by proxy the shirt – and must also appreciate that any interference with those elements has to be done as gently as possible.

Being bold is out. Being garrish is out. Most importantly, trying to be far too clever is definitely out.

Crests should speak for themselves. If something is well-designed and appropriately rooted, the need for explanatory documents and wordy rhetoric falls to zero. And, as a basic rule of thumb, if a club has to explain to their fans why they should feel represented by something, they have failed in their task.

Ultimately, evolution will always be a tricky sell. Almost every current Premier League side has re-thought their crest since the competition’s inception and, in each case, opposition has been faced. What binds those who have done it successfully, however, is a deference to simplicity. Badges which have been subtlely neatened or refined have become accepted over time and, in some cases, even preferred. If a couple of edges are smoothed and a few superfluous details are removed, most supporters will be content if what they’re presented with is broadly derived from its predecessor.

Think of the Tottenham cockerel, the Arsenal cannon, or the most recent iterration of Manchester City’s badge. While all three presumably involved lengthy consultation with slick brand executives, their brief was evidently restricted and restrained by non-negotiable red lines.

“The cockerel stays. We’re having the cannon. The reference to the Manchester shipping canal must be there.”

By contrast, any attempt to create a new identity, one which isn’t traceable to the past, is nearly always a disaster. Leeds United have more reason than most to distant themselves from previous decades, but that in itself does not provide a license for whitewash; a football club is a constant and there are dozens of precedents which caveat meddling with its physical state or ideological purpose.

Reluctantly, we all have to admit that branding now has a place and that nothing can stay the same forever. However, the trade-off for that tolerance is the clubs’ recognition that any new intiatives have to exist within a narrow parameter.

Unfortunately, Leeds haven’t kept their side of the bargain.

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