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Crest to Impress (Part 2)
In reaction to Tonbridge Angels recent rebrand, Peter Etherington takes his scalpel to the Angels' crest design and looks at the world of football branding at large.
For the benefit of those on the emailer who received part 1 without the rest of the article please now find the whole article submitted.
My apologies for pressing post rather hastily.
Call it playoff eliminator excitement.
Tonbridge Angels announced a crest rebrand recently and it’s gone down like a fart in a packed tube carriage. Naturally, that got me thinking about Bromley (the rebrand, not the fart).
It isn't a complete thumbs-down for the Angels’ new badge, some fans have expressed a mild liking for it, but no one has said they love it. No one. And going by the club’s press release, which reads like a half-hearted apology, even the club aren’t that keen on it. So why bother?
It’s the future!
In our digital age, grand Victorian crests just don’t compute. They lack impact, they don’t scale well, and merchandise manufacturers hate them.
Ornate heraldic shields also clash with current design trends. Modern brands like to be bold and instantly recognisable, not something you have to squint at.
I don’t like setting homework, but grab a pen and paper and see if you can draw your club’s crest from memory. No cheating. I’d hazard a guess that, while you get the basic shapes right, the details are muddled or missing altogether.
If I’d asked you to draw the current Juventus crest, I bet you’d have a much easier time. But should modern design trends trickle over into the history-laced world of football?
Clubs are constantly trying to make themselves more attractive to fans and sponsors. To do so, they often call in the marketing and branding experts. These digital natives (vomit emoji) will have cut their teeth in modern business and design schools, where less is more, bold is beautiful, and scalability is the buzzword du jour.
They sweep into town talking about tone-of-voice, social alignment, and brand aspiration, then pepper the project with paired-down designs and cool colourways. Then, when the mission is complete, they saddle their iPads and ride off into the sunset. Or something like that.
Given the sea of dated *ahem* I mean traditional football crests out there, it’s actually pretty easy to cut through with a bold, minimal design. So why don’t more clubs do it?
Football fans, by and large, don’t like change. Our clubs aren’t brands to us, they’re something much more personal. A football club’s illusive mystique makes its turf hallowed, its floodlights haunting, and its past glorious, even when it was actually a bit crap.
As a result, when your club starts talking about marketing and branding, it’s like listening to your parents have sex. You know it happens, but does it have to be so loud?
An example of the sway of fan power can be seen in the rejection of Leeds United’s eye-gougingly bad attempt at a rebrand in 2018. A team of trained professionals designed a crest that looked like a Nazi salute was about to happen. Thankfully, the good people of Leeds said “nay, soft lad”, and in doing so, saved the nation from having to look at it any longer. Apart from right now while I make a point.
But much less offensive designs have boiled the blood of passionate fans. Leeds’ next-door neighbours Bradford City announced a rebrand in November of 2022 that was criticised to the point that, even now, the club are looking for a way to rebrand the rebrand. For what it’s worth, I liked the new design. But then I don’t follow the Bantams home and away.
As a copy editor, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a key figure in the football crest design world. My takeaway from that experience is that repackaging a club’s history into a modern, scalable crest is extremely tricky. But a good designer likes a challenge.
When tasked with rebranding a football club, you’re never going to please everyone, but you need to do some serious pleasing anyway. That’s because fans who are happy or indifferent about a change tend not to make much noise about it. An unhappy fan, on the other hand, is a loud fan.
And everyone’s a critic, aren’t they?
A Tonbridge too far?
On that note, Tonbridge Angels, here’s my semi-professional take on where your new design falls down. In a nutshell, there’s too much going on. But, rather than cluttering up the article with my critique, I’ve made a handy little infographic that breaks it all down.
Let’s look at two successful examples of crests that have an angel as their theme. What you’ll notice about both of them is that they use a minimal set of design elements.
Both teams are based in Los Angeles and have ‘angel’ in their name, so the theme is pretty obvious. But rather than going for the trinity of body, halo, and wings, they’ve narrowed their focus considerably. The results are all the more striking as a result.
The baseball club opt for a halo and the letter A. It gets the job done. Play ball! The women's soccer team meanwhile have dropped the halo and opted for a stylised angel ascending to the heavens. It seems light and feminine at first glance, but pairing it with the angled black crest gives it strength and something of an art deco quality, which is matched by the typeface. The wings also make a subtle C shape, representing the city part of the name. Lots going on in such a seemingly simple crest, eh?
I don’t know what the brief was for Tonbridge Angels’ branding team. Maybe they nailed it? But, I come away thinking that the modern design schools are right. Less is more.
“Alright smartypants, let’s see you do better.” I thought you might say that, because I get to put words in your mouth, so here’s an alternative design that I threw together this afternoon. It’s low-res and not accurately measured, but you’ll get the picture.
Here we have a subtle nod to the club’s initials: a T-shape with a stylised A-shape at its base. The crossbar of the A is created by the club’s foundation date. The T serves as the cornerstone of the design.
The club’s name is spelt out in a clean, non-serif typeface and it sits on the bridge that the T shape creates, which represents Tonbridge’s famous landmark. Note the arch shapes in the arms of the T, which help to create both bridge and wing shapes. The FC initials are a deliberate exclusion. They’re unnecessary. There’s only one Tonbridge Angels.
The five upward strikes in the centre of the design represent the five rivers that converge in Tonbridge (as seen in the original coat of arms). The strikes also form a church window, subtly continuing the angel theme, and a tower, representing the town’s famous castle. And each strike is topped with its own tower cone, inspired by the original coat of arms. Those strikes are used again in the wing-tips of the T, forming a stylised angel wing and maintaining the theme.
So, there, that’s another way of approaching Tonbridge Angels’ crest design. Angels fans, what do you reckon? Better? Worse? Stick to the day job? The comments section is open to all.
If you like it put a ring on it
Ravens fans may be wondering when and where Bromley comes into all of this (steel yourself for more infographics).
I’ve said in the past that slapping a gold ring around Bromley’s original crest is equivalent to building a Swarovski-Crystal-filled moat around a quaint country cottage, and I stand by that overcomplicated comparison.
More to the point, it’s just plain lazy. Rather than reinvent the wheel, they’ve rebranded it.
But Bromley aren’t alone here. In the top seven tiers of English football, well over sixty teams use some variation of the name-emblazoned roundel to frame their design. And Portsmouth, Stockport, Rochdale, Accrington Stanley, Crawley, and Woking have all slapped a ring around an existing crest, just like Bromley. Keeping up with the Joneses has seldom been so unimaginative.
Playing it safe to please both traditionalists and modernists pleases neither. If your old crest wasn’t cutting the mustard for some reason, encircling it isn’t going to fix it. You just end up with a more cluttered design. Either leave it alone or redesign it altogether.
If you know your history…
Bromley’s original crest is borrowed from the Borough of Bromley. Despite its age-old appearance, this coat of arms is actually younger than the club itself; granted to the borough in 1904. Practically yesterday.
In case you’ve ever wondered about the meaning of the crest’s symbols, I’ve created another jaunty infographic to explain. Historians, put me straight if I’ve strayed off course.
This intricate design wasn’t fit for the digital age (far too many pixels!) so the club simplified it in a recent spit-and-polish, as you’ll see in the infographic below (yes, another infographic).
The gold roundel, meanwhile, was invited to the club’s 125-year anniversary in 2017 and never left, like a ring-mark on a coffee table that no amount of scrubbing will shift.
It’s been around so long that it earned an upgrade of its own in the spit-and-polish, gaining a sturdy new typeface and some dots.
Is this badge fit for purpose? Yes. It tells you what you need to know. Is it exciting? No. But then football club crests often aren’t. Could it be improved upon? I’ll answer that question with another question…
Does this crest represent the modern club?
The Diocese of Rochester gets two nods on the badge, but when was the last time you saw the Bishop of Rochester at a home game? Kent County gets a horse in the race, but Bromley isn’t in Kent anymore, and I can’t say I’ve ever heard “Oh north-west Kent…!” sung on the terraces. And then there’s Sundridge Park Manor, which is now a golf course and some fancy apartments. You’ll never sing that.
So what’s left? Ravens, a river, and some broom twigs. If I was designing a new crest for Bromley, that’s where I’d start.
It’s probably best I don’t, though.
I can mess around with Tonbridge’s crest safe in the knowledge that I’m unlikely to bump into any Angels fans. But if I mess with Bromley’s crest, my future trips to Hayes Lane could prove uncomfortable. And I just bought a new season ticket.
So what do you think? Is Bromley’s crest due an update? Or is it a case of be careful what you wish for?
Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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