Leeds United is arguably one of the biggest club in English football. Currently playing in the Championship, mismanagement has taken the formally top-flight team as low as League 1 in recent years. As a one club city, Elland Road still pulls in a respectable attendance and Leeds are often cited a one the EFL’s greatest sleeping giants.
Unlike a lot of badge redesigns this one has made football’s media agenda with reports on the story falling into two brackets. One, those who think the redesign is ungodly and fanning the flames further by asking for other submissions to ‘worst badge ever’ debate (cue everyone submitting their rivals’ crest). Bracket two, those who think fans should grow up, saying ‘clubs change their badges all the time’ and going on to blame social media for allowing the vocal minority to voice the grievance so loudly.
Like most things the truth is probably somewhere in between. Has the reaction over the top? A change.org petition with 75,000+ signatures suggests probably, yes. Is the new badge the worst thing ever? No. Is it an improvement on the current badge? Certainly not.
Let’s start by looking at the old badge. Other than being around for quite a few years, there’s not much to like about the previous from a design perspective. The biggest problem was there was far to much going on in to little space. Housed inside the top part of the shield’s thick borders is a tiny Yorkshire rose with a football at its heart, which worked quite well in 1984 as the full crest, but when shrunk down to a tiny panel, not so much. The bottom portion of the shield is given over to blue and yellow stripes and LUFC stacked in a cursive font, which I’m sure is meant to be reminiscent of their 1971 badge (so popular they used it for 2 years), but which is far too fussy to be used in such a cramped frame.
Most football team don’t retain the same badge throughout their history, but Leeds have had more than their fair share of complete overhauls, rarely retaining the same elements for more than a couple of iterations. During their eclectic past crop up some very interesting designs, which with varying levels of refinement could make for an awesome modern crest. I’m looking at you 1973! Unfortunately this didn’t happen for the 2018 redesign.
With the launch a lot has been made of the 10,000 fan consultation that took place to guide the design. This has happened in some of the most successful redesigns in recent years, like QPR’s or Manchester City’s. However what this shows is it’s not necessarily how many people you ask, it’s what you ask them. Questioning them about what makes their club unique doesn’t get an answer to what looks good in a badge.
The new badge has done away with the historically inspired script writing, instead opting to spell out Leeds United in all-caps with the tracking on united being set unpleasantly wide to match the headline width. The rest of the badge is taken up by a depiction of someone performing the ‘Leeds Salute’, it’s the part of the badge that has received the harshest criticism. One problem is that is doesn’t look like a English football badge, trying something different is no bad thing (see what Juventus did), but this doesn’t push the boundaries in a new or exciting direction, in fact it looks more like a minor league American sports team.
The second problem is the illustration needs a lot of context to make real sense. Sure the symbols in their previous logos needed context too, but if you didn’t know about the white rose of Yorkshire it doesn’t make the 1984 badge redundant, it just gives it deeper meaning. Without knowledge of the Leeds Salute, the badge can be heavily misinterpreted, on the innocent end of the spectrum some have suggested it looks packaging for heartburn relief medicine. At first glance I saw something darker, whilst I understood the gesture, it appeared more like a right wing salute which given the historic reputation of Leeds fans, maybe isn’t something you want to bring up. Of course Leeds aren’t the only club to have a checkered history with fan firms, but unlike them Juve and West Ham haven’t chosen to update their badge to a white male pumping his fist against his chest.
I think the intentions of the design were well meaning, but it misses the mark on a lot of levels. Technically it’s fine but it fails to take into account the context surrounding modern football. Whilst I am not a fan of creating online petitions to retain the status quo, on this occasion I believe the right decision was reached. One positive of this miscue, is not only have they got a lot more feedback than the original 10,000 people asked, they know they’ll have an active audience for the next round of development.