Seagulls, Hatters & Brand Protection Managers

This is another piece of writing which has been moved from an old website, so it isn’t new.

Amongst many old games that I’ve acquired from various family members over the years is a card game called Goal from around 1959/60 made by the firm Pepys. I like the cards because they remind me of looking through my grandfather’s football pools booklet at the beginning of every season. In the back of the booklet there was always a list of the teams, illustrated by pictures of the strip and details of the club’s history, the ground and so on.

Coming across the cards made me think about how much history is being lost with the modern predilection for re-naming and rebranding everything. Like the constantly changing livery on the nation’s same old clapped-out trains, it’s a very superficial kind of continuing revolution.

Sometimes things juxtapose themselves nicely. Yesterday’s FA Cup 4th round matches provoked a conversation with friends about Portsmouth’s club crest (the sun and crescent on a blue background goes back to Richard I & the Crusades), then on to the history of club and ground names. Shortly afterwards, I heard a match report from the Amex stadium and was struggling to remember what it used to be called. It is, of course, a new stadium, the home of Brighton & Hove Albion. Its full name is the American Express Community Stadium. I love the use of the word “community.” The more football clubs (and politicians) talk about community, it seems to me, the less likely things are decided communally.

Brighton & Hove Albion FC has a long history (from 1901) but, just as it has changed its home, from the Goldstone to the Withdean to the Amex (with ground-sharing in between), some aspects of the club’s history aren’t very – er – historic. The Brighton & Hove Albion badge has gone through several design changes, and the nickname “the Seagulls” only dates from 1977. They were briefly known as “the Dolphins” before that. According to a potted history of B&HA on the website http://www.footballcrests.com/clubs/brighton-hove-albion-fc “the previous crest [to the current one] was introduced in 1998 following a takeover of the south coast club. It is believed that new chairman, Dick Knight, wanted to sweep away all the remnants of the old, disgraced regime and saw an updated crest as a sign to supporters of new beginnings and happier times ahead.”

Incidentally, the footballcrests.com site lists the clubs which refused them permission to reproduce the club badge. http://www.footballcrests.com/noper.php

I thought the list would include the Arsenals and the Manchester Uniteds, keen to protect their intellectual property, but Barnet FC and Belper Town came as something as a surprise. The club badge has become the club “logo” and its ownership is no longer with the supporters.

There is a great deal of information available online about the history of football clubs, so here are some links:

Badges/crests.

As this article from the Guardian website points out, clubs are fast modernising their club crests and chucking out their history: http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/football-league-blog/2010/sep/06/football-league-new-crests

Here are links to 3 of the clubs mentioned in that article:

The Chelsea badge has an interesting history: http://www.chelseafc.com/page/HistoryDetail/0,,10268~1328582,00.html

I was especially impressed by the quotation from Chief Executive Peter Kenyon (formerly of Manchester United): “We are incredibly proud of Chelsea’s heritage. The design of this new badge is based on the one from the 1950s and it was a conscious decision to do this… As we approach our centenary year, and the club embarks on a new and very exciting era, it is appropriate that we have a new identity that reflects our tradition and can represent us for the next 100 years.”

Leeds United. http://www.wafll.com/leeds-united-badges.html

Oxford United FC http://www.oxkits.co.uk/club_badges.htm

Grounds.

Lots of information is available on this fascinating website: http://www.oldgrounds.co.uk/

Nicknames.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_football_club_nicknames_in_the_United_Kingdom

Not everyone is interested in such things and I imagine most people look at the lamb on Preston North End’s badge or the swan on Wycombe Wanderers’ crest without a flicker of interest. Nor do they wonder why Wycombe Wanderers are known as the Chairboys or Luton, the Hatters. Yet there is some interest because I often see fans’ forum posts by people asking what the Hotspur in Tottenham Hotspur means, or about the origins of the nickname “Posh” for Peterborough United. Posh has been used by the football club or its fans, since the 1920s, but in 2002 Victoria Beckham tried to stop the club from using it, by lodging a counter-claim with the Patents Office. PUFC said that they would fight the claim fiercely in the courts. They did, and they won – which is pleasing, but the club’s reason for doing so was not the defence of the club’s traditions but as the then chief executive Geoff Davey warned, the club faced serious financial implications if they were prevented from using the ‘Posh’ name on merchandising.

In 2004, the then Chairman of the Football League, former Tory minister Brian Mawhinney, defending the rebranding of the second division as the Coca-Cola Championship, said:  “We have reclaimed our history. … The championship is a historic term dating back to 1888.” Perhaps, but history had less to do with it than sponsorship, hence the involvement of a soft drinks’ company.

Sponsorship, rebranding, the constant need for clubs to acquire more money, just to be able to compete, or even exist, are eroding the history of clubs and their supporters. Many clubs employ a Brand Protection Manager. In an enlightening interview with CPA Global, intellectual property lawyers, Ronald Crawford, an American who became BPM for Arsenal in 1997, explained how he misunderstood what tradition meant to the fans: “Not growing up in the UK, I didn’t appreciate quite how passionate football fans are about what we as management do with the Arsenal assets. … Many fans have long-standing loyalties to the club that have been passed down from generation to generation. They feel as if it belongs to them, as indeed it does. That means they can also be sensitive about what we do – and how we go about it…. I didn’t appreciate the history of the name or its importance to our fans. … From an IP perspective, it made absolute sense to register it as a trademark, so that the club could protect it. But the fans felt differently. …  If the club chooses to change the colour of its shirt or the style of its team kit, then it will be discussed and debated on the fans’ forums… so we need to keep in mind the different stakeholders.”

Tradition is an important part of football clubs. The clubs as businesses know it. That’s why they’re selling it – or a version of it – back to us.

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