Past Masters Boro Are Kissing The Badge
IT HAS been much leaked and it will now be much derided but here is the new Boro badge. Stand by for outcry from diehard supporters now facing the prospect of ripping up their block-paved drives designed around the old crest and small businesses everywhere are forced to repaint their white vans and change their stationary. Gazette photographers are on stand-by to rush to the house of the first to complain about the now outdated tattoo that covers their back.
As part of the heralded "rebranding" of the club this falls flat for me. The shield motif is fine and echoes heraldic images of the past, but the scroll is unconvincing and the complexity of its lines seem incongrous with the simplicity of the rest of the design and will be difficult to reproduce on some products. The fonts are clumbsy and of different sizes. The line under the word Middlesbrough' is weak. If the aim was to reinstate the date on the badge why not put that on the body of the shield? If the aim was to tap into the past and reconnect with the heritage of Ayresome where is the blue and black? Why a shield at all when the club badge has always been round? Where are the little ships from the old crest? I liked them.
Hot on the heels of a barmy decision to remove the white band in favour of an identikit red shirt (as big a branding own goal as you could get) it appears that the club is diluting rather than emphasising its own unique heritage in favour of corporate bland.
There has been a trend of clubs to 'rebrand' in recent years. Arsenal rebadged last season, Spurs did it in the Summer and last month Aston Villa expunged all signs of their heritage and reveal a dumbed down monstrosity that looked like it had been sketched out by Randy Lerner's grandkids. Obviously the key is to eliminate ornate flourishes and time honoured heraldic quirks in favour of something that can be more easily co-opted for commercial purposes. Given what could have happened maybe culturally sensitive Boro fans have got off lightly.
The logic of the change is that the 1986 on the now defunct badge is misleading. “I’ve been pressing for the change of badge for some time," said Steve Gibson." The 1986 badge suggested our history was far shorter than it really was. The club is one of the oldest not just in England but in the entire world. Our history before 1986 might not always have been covered in glory but it is our history all the same and we should recognise that."
And as the club point out the 1986 badge was hastily designed and was expressly intended to show a break with the descredited past of the club that had lurched towards liquidation.
Keith Lamb explained: “We launched our old badge in 1986 on the back of the liquidation saga when the new club was keen to distance itself from the old Boro and some of the less than reputable people involved in it. It was a fresh, new start with new people in charge and a new vision. It was only right then that we had a new badge that drew a line under what had gone before as the club sank towards bankruptcy.
“We understand that many of our fans only know the post-1986 Boro and we are certainly not erasing that from our history. We are proud of our rise from the brink of extinction and all of us - club and fans - will remain grateful to the people of the post-1986 era for pulling the football club through that difficult period. But 1986 is now more than two decades ago so we feel it is time to move on from that and to reflect our true, far greater heritage."
It is hard to argue with those sentiments. The club have moved on to stability and to Cardiff glory and the European dream but no fan needs reminding of their past and the idea that Riverside regulars are unaware of the clubs history is ridiculous. The statues of George Hardwick and Wilf Mannion outside the ground reflect that history, as do the Ayresome Park Gates and the names in the Boro brick road. The outside world may be unaware of our past but we are not.
And the outside world - other fans, Europe's elite, the lazy and sometimes jaundiced media - will not be galvanised into recognition of all things Boro by tinkering with our badge. Symbols are important devices only to those who have a connection to them. For others it is just a confused switch of a symbol that they care little for anyway. Like losing the band it is more likely to undermine brand recognition that reinforce it.
For Boro to be a brand that is instantly recognisable it will take success on the field. That is where big clubs are forged, where reputations and images are created, not in a design studio or through carefully stunted press initiatives. You can't declare a new image, you have to earn it with hard work, endeavour and a story that catches the imagination of a wider public.
And as for the date 1986 - that IS our history. The liquidation crisis and the club's response is the bedrock on which the new Boro is based. Before that Boro were a byword for humdrum mediocrity. Since that Boro have launched onto one of the most dramatic and emotionally turbulent periods that any club has ever faced. We should not look to discard that cheaply who should proudly revel in the fighting spirit of the club that wouldn't die.
And if the apparent youth of the club causes interest and forces us to explain once again the refounding of the club the fine, let's do that. It is a fantastic story that we should be proud to explain no matter how many years pass since that watershed.
AS USUAL the fans have an innate feel for these things. A productive debate on the Fly Me To The Moon board that combined common sense, passion and the imput of artists, graphic designers and brand managers quickly developed a consensus that the badge would look better without the scroll. Equally quickly a photoshop wizard tagged Bully-Boy devised this design:
That five minute sketch seemed to address some immediate problems like tightening the design, losing the line under the word Middlesbrough, eliminating the potential problems of the superfluous flourishes and containing all he information within the body of the shield. Which raises the question: wasn't this design ever product tested? Didn't they ask a focus group outside the rarified atmosphere of the commercial department what they thought? Surely the problems could be seen instantly even by laymen let alone the design team working on it?
Now what could have been a grand statement of intent, a symbol for a reinvigorated Riverside Revolution and the launch of a brand new era has become embroiled in dissent, back-biting and resistance to what is seen as remote and aloof decision making that is insensitive and often seems at odds with the instincts of supporters.
To write this resistance off as Luddite conservatism or fear of change misses the point, which is that things like badges and colours and powerful symbols heavy with history that can have a key role to play in motivating and uniting the crowd.