While an international football tournament that is shaping up to be the best in a generation is taking place in Austria and Switzerland, the silly season is in full flow back home in England. Whether it’s the press speculating over how Ronaldinho’s move to Manchester City will be funded (Nike paying a proportion of his wages, apparently) and the acres of speculation of Luis Felipe Scolari’s appointment at Chelsea at the weekend (as I mentioned before, The Independent managed five pages on the subject yesterday, without once mentioning that Scolari hasn’t managed a club side in Europe since 2001 and has never managed a European club side), possibly the most ridiculous story of the summer is taking place in the north-west, where former Conference also-rans Leigh RMI have decided on a little re-branding, following their move to a new stadium.
Leigh RMI (RMI stands for “Railway Mechanics Institute”) were initially founded in 1896, seven miles away from Leigh in the Bolton suburb of Horwich. Horwich RMI were a pretty run of the mill non-league club for the majority of their existence, moving slowly up the non-league rankings whilst playing their home matches at the sloping Grundy Hill. By 1995, though, they had decided that they had out-grown their ground, and took up the offer to move seven miles away to Leigh, change their name from Horwich RMI to Leigh RMI, and groundshare at Hilton Park, the home of the Leigh Centurions Rugby League club. They did have brief periods of success as Leigh RMI. They were promoted into the Conference in 2000, and stayed there until 2005, when they were relegated back from whence they came with a grand points total of eighteen for the season. Over the last two or three seasons, they’ve become one of non-league football’s basket cases. In 2005, within days of FC United of Manchester forming, Leigh were on the phone to them, offering to merge clubs. The offer was not taken up. Last season, they were said to be days from signing an agreement with MyFootballClub (I didn’t mention them by name at the time, but Leigh were the Conference North club that were almost the team chosen by MyFC last year).
There is a case for saying, then, that Leigh RMI are hardly a club that should be near the top of anybody’s Christmas card list (and I’m not even taking into account their original move from Horwich to Leigh, out of which some people might have made quite a pretty penny). So, the club has decided on a new name, LeighGenesis (or perhaps it’s Leigh Genesis – it’s difficult to say), a new badge and new club colours. Let’s detach ourselves from the moral arguments for a moment and take a quick look at the marketing speak that accompanies their change of image:
“The club had adopted the generic Leigh town crest which did not give it any real identity; I believe the Club needed to develop it’s own personality and as part of this there needed to be a strong, individual emblem of association. Ideas of colour were professionally developed into a striking, versatile and contemporary logo which formed the core of the new brand.” – Yeah. Stupid football clubs, with their traditions and their coats of arms. What they need is something that the Xbox 360 generation can identify with, like this. That’ll get the crowds in. Actually, I could swear that I’ve seen that badge before somewhere. Ah yes. Here it is. You want to watch out for that Bill Gates. I hear that he can be quite litigious.
“I began with the name; ‘Leigh RMI’ (Railway Mechanics Institute) had followed the Club from its roots in Horwich where there actually was a R.M.I., Leigh on the other hand could not even boast a railway station! Research confirmed that there was little loyalty or attachment to the old name which would make the decision more welcoming than controversial.” – So, you decided on LeighGenesis instead, then. “Leigh Town”, “Leigh Borough” or “Leigh FC” not quite “with it” enough for you, were they? You do know that everybody is going to rip it out of your name, don’t you? It’s like changing your name from Jim Smith to Astro Forcefield because it sounds more “marketable”. Everyone will still laugh at you. And Genesis? Genesis? A band fronted by one of the most-hated musicians of the last twenty-five years? Christ.
“The Club is surrounded by ‘reds’ from both football and rugby; our red and white stripes simply merged with the crowd so a radical makeover was essential if we wanted to distinguish ourselves in the area. The alignment of football to fashion is pretty well recognised now, and in order to give the new Leigh Genesis FC an appealing, attractive image, the kit had to become less fussy and more modern. The result was a fresh, white shirt with black shorts and socks supplied by established sports brand Nike whose image complimented perfectly the effect we wanted to achieve.” – So, to clarify, you had a good, long, hard think about it, having decided that red and white weren’t original enough for you. You needed something that would grab the imagination. So, you thought about it, and thought about it, and… white shirts and black shorts. It’s not that original, is it? And it’s doesn’t even incorporate any of the colours on the badge. If you’d picked luminous green and silver shirts, I might have been slightly more impressed.
In this day and age, I am less than surprised that a non-league club has chosen to re-brand itself in such a way. I am also less than surprised that they have done it in such a half-arsed way. You have to do more than change a club’s badge, name and colours to make it successful, and I fear that LeighGenesis are doomed to fail in exactly the same way that Leigh RMI were. The new stadium is a definite advantage for them, but in a town which is defiantly a rugby league town, how many of the Centurions die-hards are going to start going to see “the Genesis” every week because they’ve got a fancy new badge and are now wearing white and black shirts? They may attract more interest if they are successful on the pitch, but this is a club that left its home behind twelve years ago, and this re-branding looks to this particular observer like little more than an attempt to air-brush out over one hundred years of history in the pursuit of what they seem to think will be fame and fortune. If the club proves itself to be well managed and acts in a manner that always puts the interests of it supporters first, it might just succeed, but any success that they have will be in spite of this dismal exercise in marketing, rather than because of it.
Meanwhile, back in Bolton, the Horwich RMI side that formed when the club decided to move away has been playing on park pitches since forming in 1996 may finally be coming home.