The Great Leeds United Badge Debacle
Ah, Leeds United. It’s been a while. Compared to the chaos of recent years, this season has so far been a relatively serene by the standards of a club which, in its own way, has come to represent the madness and excesses of the modern game perhaps more than any other. This season in the Championship isn’t going quite as well as most supporters would have hoped and this calendar year in particular hasn’t brought too much for them to celebrate, but at least, after the Cellino years, nothing particularly embarrassing had happened. Unless you count losing in the Third Round of the FA Cup to Newport County, that is. Or turning a lead which was still held with three minutes to play against Millwall last weekend into a four-three home defeat by the time of the full-time whistle.
Leeds United supporters are probably better versed than most in the extent to which there is a finite level to which one can feel by embarrassed by events surrounding a football club that have taken place on the pitch. Losing, say, to Histon in the FA Cup will do that to a support base. There comes a point, however, at which a switch is flicked and it starts to feel personal, and even under new ownership the club has today managed to strike right at the heart of that point at which it starts to feel targeted, in some way or another.
We’re talking, of course, of the club’s decision to redesign its badge and the inevitable fallout from producing something that looks as though it was produced as a result of a “Clip Art 101” class. A quick Google search for the phrase “new Leeds United badge” tells us as much as we need to know about the reaction to it from supporters. The Telegraph led with “Leeds United reveal ‘absolutely awful’ new club crest”, while ITV went with “Leeds United fans unimpressed by ‘horrible’ new badge”, The Sun minced no words with “Leeds unveil new badge after ‘six-months of research’… and it’s so bad it’s funny”, and even the Birmingham Mail, which we might not even have expected to have any particular truck in this debate, went with “”Oh my god, send it on loan” – Leeds United fans furious with new club crest.”
There’s probably a lengthy piece to be written about the history of Leeds United’s badges. Until the 1960s, like many other clubs Leeds United’s badge was the coat of arms of the city of Leeds. In 1965, however, the club decided to trim this down slightly to just one of the three owls on this heraldic display. Whether anybody realised the Sheffield Wednesday related implications of such a decision at the time is likely lost to the annals of history, but this new design only lasted until 1972, whereupon it was replaced – briefly, although it did make a brief return in the middle of the 1990s – by “LUFC” in embroidered script, a fad that briefly passed through football shirts during the early to mid 1970s, and then by the none-more-seventies “smiley” badge, a peacock, and eventually a white rose.
So it’s hardly as though there aren’t memorable and iconic images to fall back upon in the history of the club that could have been used as inspiration for the “new era” that the club, somewhat optimistically, described as the rationale for this redesign. This being the twenty-first century, though, just a simple explanation could never be enough to do such a, umm, striking piece of graphic design justice. So it is that Leeds United’s official statement on the decision contains a statement within a statement from the club’s managing director, Angus Kinnear:
In the past year we have worked very hard as a club to re-engage fans and the wider community across Leeds. We have seen season ticket sales soar and gates have regularly exceeded 32,000 at Elland Road – we are very grateful for the loyal and unwavering support we have received.
Once we heard that there was a desire for change to help herald a new era for club, it became of primary importance that the new crest clearly reflected who we are. Everybody knows how proud and passionate the Leeds United fans are, but since I arrived at the club, I have been in awe at the unique connection between the fans and the team.
Updating the crest is not a decision we have taken lightly, but we are proud to have a new crest that is authentic to Leeds United and honours the quality and loyalty of our fans. It is a symbol of ‘strength in unity’ and a proud expression of the club’s identity and history.
Well, there might be one or two people who would like to raise the small matter is that there is no football club that has anything like a monopoly on “the quality and integrity of our fans”, but let’s allow them this small piece of hubris. “Best fans in the world” is a thing now, a statement that has to be barked into the wilderness in the apparent belief that somebody, somewhere will be offended if they don’t have their ego thus massaged. It’s a sop, and there aren’t many clubs that don’t do it to some extent or another. Similarly, the arm cross the chest does mean something in itself to Leeds supporters, even if, shorn of any context, to outsiders it bears a resemblance to something halfway between a fascistic salute and a man trying to thump the heartburn out of his body.
The new design also piques our interest in other ways. If we are to assume that the shirt being worn by the character is a Leeds United shirt, may we safely assume that the arm crossing the chest is hiding an even smaller badge with a tiny man covering a recursively even smaller badge? If this is the case, we might even wish to consider the possibility that somewhere in this design, buried deep from the eyes of all bar the most powerful of electron microscopes, there may exist a Leeds United singularity of infinite density, wherein is contained the entirety of the spirit of the club. We can only wonder what Professor Steven Hawking might make of it all, and we haven’t even touched on the 10,000 people that the club claims to have been in consultation with over the redesign. At the time of writing, over 33,000 people have signed a petition calling for the design to be dropped , while a poll on the Yorkshire Evening Post website shows 85% of supporters as being against it, though how many of the remaining 15% in favour of it might be the mischievous supporters of other clubs is certainly open to question.
What this is ultimately a story concerning is, of course, the spindly grasp of Modern Football. Modern Football likes the idea of tradition, but sees a bright, golden future on the horizon in which boggle-eyed consumers – the right type of consumers, mind, not the type of consumers who go shopping elsewhere if the product on offer isn’t up to scratch – rush straight to club shops dribbling trails of used banknotes behind them in their rush to acclaim the Brave New World that a new badge represents. And that bright, golden future is more profitable than fusty old tradition. Modern Football speaks through clip art and Powerpoint presentations. It loves a flow chart and graphs showing potentially limitless increases in revenue.
And here’s the thing. Modern Football isn’t terrible in every single way. No-one would seriously seek to preserve the culture of the game in aspic and state that this culture cannot evolve in any way from this point on. If anything, that evolution is inevitable. It certainly has been throughout the century and a half that the game has been consumed. This, however, is something quite different. This is a bad piece of graphic design. It’s two fingers thrust into the face of supporters for whom the badge of this football club means something beyond profit and loss figures and the possibility of… whatever the hell else it is that the club is hoping for from this supremely ill-advised decision. One might have expected the new owners of Leeds United to survey their club and think, “Well, those supporters have been through quite a lot over those last twelve or thirteen years or so, perhaps they deserve something to completely get behind for the club’s centenary year.” At least, those supporters might contend, the club still has the opportunity to bin this particular innovation and salvage some degree of reputation from this debacle. Angus Kinnear: the floor is yours, again.