In a world of ever increasing change, many of the passionate followers of the church of football often depend on their clubs and national teams to be their “ever-constants”.
Particularly in the traditional strongholds of the sport — Europe and South America — many sides are 100-year-old-plus institutions whose fans have long looked to for inspiration, joy and a sense of belonging and camaraderie. So when something about those reliable, long-standing institutions changes, it’s no wonder that supporters might get a bit irritated.
Unsurprisingly, the types of changes that can induce this kind of panicked response are numerous and varied. A new owner, a move to a new home ground and even the dismissal of a popular coach can all taint the comfortable, familiar relationship a fan can have with their team. And that’s when the pitchforks and torches come out. Well, at least snarky banners or scarves in non-ordinary colors.
But every so often clubs make even more drastic modifications — a redesign of a traditional crest, a change in primary colors, or even modifying the official club name — and shit hits the metaphorical fan. And for whatever reason, this summer has seen a slew of clubs opt for radical makeovers in spite of the predictably ire they would inspire.
Now let’s be honest: sometimes, such changes are needed. Spurs’ revamp of their club crest in 2006, though unpopular within some circles at White Hart Lane, was a necessary overhaul to improve the club’s marketability. And for the most part, a team attempting to modernize their look will be given the benefit of the doubt so long as they pay respects to longstanding traditions. AS Roma saw such success with their tempered revision to their badge, keeping their familiar shape and color while updating the design Rome’s iconic La Lupa Capitolina statue. Monaco’s looks familiar, too. Russian side Zenit St. Petersburg kept their summer redesign even more simple, reverting to the club’s former simplified logo.
But even moderate changes with a nod to the past are no guarantee of minimal outcry. Take, for instance, Everton’s effort this summer.
Despite conducting small supporter testing, dropping the wreaths and club motto Nil Satis Nisi Optimum — which means ‘nothing but the best is good enough’ — proved extremely unpopular. Many supporters immediately denounced the revision anything but “the best”, and within hours of its unveiling, an online petition was launched to reverse the change and now totals over 24,000 signatures. And though claims that such a change “will also make the club lose money on merchandise due to no one wanting to buy any merchandise with that awful crest printed on to it” might be a bit of an exaggeration, it was enough for the Toffee’s management to revisit the design next off season.
And to be honest, the Toffees should have expected as much. It’s almost as if they forgot that hell storm neighbors Liverpool received when reverting to using just their traditional liverbird, dropping the Shankly Gates and the Hillsborough eternal flames, last season.
But things could be worse. Take Premier League newcomers Cardiff City and the mass changes that have been instituted by Malaysian owner Vincent Tan over the last two seasons. At the start of last season, the Bluebirds’ new owner dropped the blue and white strip they had worn since 1908 to adopt a new club crest featuring a dragon and new colors of red and black… all in the name of making themselves more marketable in Asia. And while the initial uproar from the fans was intense, it was mostly forgiven when the club had their best ever start and earned promotion.
However, the calm was short lived in the Welsh capital. When the second edition of their red kits featured a really poorly matched darker hue than the shirts, the Bluebird’s support were even more enraged. Luckily, the ownership quickly realized their mistake and made amends by allowing the fans to vote for new shorts to replace them. They chose black.
But perhaps the worst of them all, at least to their supporters, has to be the change happening in East Yorkshire’s Hull City AFC. Their owner, Egyptian-born businessman Assem Allam, has decided to modify the club’s official name to drop the AFC (as it’s “too long”) and include the club’s longstanding nickname of the Tigers. The end result? A very American franchise-sounding Hull City Tigers. But Allam didn’t stop there, as he continued bashing the club’s name by saying he disliked the “common” name of City. He added, “We just feel that, now being on the international stage, we need to strengthen the brand identity. We have dropped something that is redundant, that is of no value, and is of no use.”
In otherwords, Allam really should have just said, “We care not for your tradition, and just want to make oodles of money.” And to nobody’s surprise, none of this has sat well with their fans.
So why the long rant about club’s misfortunes with rebrandings? Because two sides very close to my heart — the Columbus Crew and the US National Team — are facing expected or called for rethinks. The Crew’s new owner Anthony Precourt hinted at a potential updating of the Crew’s identity in his first press conference with the team. And many, many fans have grown tired of the mishmashed US crest. And frankly, I worry that similar missteps could tarnish honest efforts to improve their current looks.
How can both groups avoid such pitfalls? The obvious answer is include their fans in the decision making process, though to what extent is open to debate. Otherwise, rushing into things without first consulting all of the stakeholders in the club, they run the very large risk of doing more harm than good — even if their intentions were in the right place.