Next up for scrutiny in our quest to consider much of football’s material culture is that object in which so much pride is placed by many the player and fan alike: the club crest.
To point out that football is a game in which symbolism has a large role to play is to frankly understate the case. Nowhere is this more so the case than in the symbol which for many is the greatest reflection of a club: its crest. From the artillery to be found on the crest of Arsenal FC, the staff of Patrick on the crest of St. Patrick’s Athletic, the three ships of Waterford United FC, the scimitars on the crest of Sheffield United, the bluebird of Cardiff City, the Catalan colours on the crest of Barcelona, the liver bird on the crest Liverpool FC, they are oftentimes an embodiment of the club and its history.
The Club Motto
Ever before it became a (lord ‘elp us!) logo, it was first a crest. Given especially that many clubs were born out of the late nineteenth century penchant for games, like GAA clubs for whom their club name was a reflection on their politics, so in football many club crests bare not just symbols reflecting their region or origins, often being based initially on local borough coats of arms; they also bore insignia, a motto of some kind. Here are just a few examples from some of England’s biggest clubs:
Arsenal: Arsenal acquired their very own Latinate motto in 1949, when their very own Harry Homer plumped for Victoria Concordia Crescit: Victory through Harmony in a match programme.
Aston Villa: unusually the Birmingham club opted for an English motto, which reads simply: Prepared.
Blackburn Rovers: Arte et Labore: By Art and by Labour.
Everton: The other Liverpool club’s motto is still Nil Satis Nisi Optimum: Nothing Enough, Unless the Best.
Manchester City: Superbia in Proelio: Pride in Battle.
Sunderland: Once upon a time, the Wearsiders crest carried the motto Nil Desperandum Auspice Deo: Never despair with faith in God.
Tottenham Hotspur: Audere est Facere: To Dare is to Do.
Mottos tend not to be quite the thing in the League of Ireland; still St. Patrick’s Athletic have the motto of Ní neart go cur le chéile, or “no strength without unity”, reflecting as Gaeilge a similar sentiment to that of Arsenal. Such mottos reflect the aspirations of many for whom sport was a rational pursuit bound up with an ethos of self-improvement. Some other examples of mottos include Scottish side Elgin, whose latin motto run sic itur astra, or ‘thus we reach the stars’, while Queen’s Park adopt the decidedly gentlemanly motto ‘ludere causa ludendi’, or ‘play for the sake of playing’.
The Elements of the Crest
Writing for The Guardian’s Football League blog back in 2010, John Ashdown wrote of the recent trend away from traditional crests to modern logos:
The fear is that all those wonderful and varied badges may begin to become homogenised, losing their individuality and becoming shield-shaped disconnected brand logos that look nice on a pencil case or official £7.99 oversized mug but say nothing about a club’s heritage…So new badges for Morecambe, Chesterfield and Cheltenham – a sad trend that distances football from its historical roots, or a necessary exercise for all forward-thinking modern clubs?
Club crests, unsurprisingly perhaps, share many similar features – usually there is somewhere in the crest a football (naturally) there might be laurels, as there is on Everton’s crest and because many club crests are variants on the local civic coat of arms all manner of beasts are likely to be found – often unicorns, lions, eagles, dragons, various birds and in England, for many clubs, the rose of either Lancashire (think Blackburn) or Yorkshire (think Leeds). In this respect, the civic and regional identity of the club is expressed through the crest – its sense of place reflected in those symbols which adorn the crest that tie it to the place the club is situated.
The Crest as Logo
In a more globalised market, such things are seen by many PR folk as inhibitors to the reach of the brand – they are exclusionary of the legions to whom a more faceless logo is appealing, being bereft of place, meaning and history. Manchester United, whose crest has changed much in the post-war era, have gone down this path. A small, subtle but nonetheless significant change occurred to their crest when instead of reading “Manchester United Football Club”, it now reads simply “Manchester United”, thus completing the recognition that it was no longer a club, but instead a corporate entity, enacted finally on the crest found on the jersey. Nevertheless, a trend in the other direction is also to be seen with clubs; many, wary of the impression that they are losing touch with their heritage, are returning to modernised versions of older club crests like both Tottenham and Arsenal have done:
In the case of the Arsenal one however, the use of the laurel wasn’t sufficiently Corinthian to please the Daily Telegraph’s boy-man-child-looking Harry Mount. The power of the symbol is acknowledged too in the fact that many players make a show of kissing the club crest upon scoring a goal. However, as Des Kelly (and it pains me to write this next bit) rightly pointed out in the pages of The Daily Mail:
Obviously, you have to be terminally stupid not to realise the striker drooling on a jersey and beating his chest as if he trying to stave off an imminent cardiac arrest is just as likely to be making the same display of lifelong loyalty at another club in a season or two.
That performing such loyalty (for it is surely a performance only) is even thought of as a means either of goading the opposition or seeking to say to followers of the club you’re playing for that you ‘get it’, says something about the well recongnised, if ill-understood, significance of the club crest to those who support their club through thick and thin.