Badges of honour
May 4, 2022
This article was originally published in Populous Magazine, our biannual publication featuring news and trends from the worlds of sport, entertainment, and major public events. Find out more, and sign up to receive a free copy, here.
Revered by fans and players, soccer club crests are charged with historical and cultural symbolism. Leonard Jägerskiöld, author of World Football Club Crests, celebrates the stories behind these famous badges.
Soccer club crests adorn stadium façades. They are sewn on the chests of players’ and supporters’ shirts. And they appear all over club documents and websites. Like medieval coats of arms, these colourful badges are loaded with historical and cultural references. Nevertheless, we seldom stop to study their details.
Perhaps we should pay more attention, especially as many clubs are now rebranding themselves with new, simplified crest designs. In recent years, the likes of Juventus, Atlético Madrid and Manchester City have adopted new versions. Just this year, we have seen new crests for Inter Milan, Swansea City, AS Monaco and Chicago Fire FC.
But why the changes? Often it’s an urge to give the crests more impact in the digital domain and appeal more to a global fanbase. Sadly, though, simplification risks losing vital information about the history and heritage of the world’s soccer clubs. In this article, you’ll discover the intriguing stories behind some of world’s quirkiest crests.
The Sampdoria crest portrays a bearded sailor, in profile, smoking a pipe – symbolic since Genoa, Sampdoria’s home town, is the most important port in Italy. The sailor’s name is Baciccia which, in the local dialect, means Giovanni Battista (John the Baptist), Genoa’s patron saint. There have been complaints by anti-smoking groups in Italy, worried the image sets a bad example for young people.
AFC Ajax Netherlands
When Dutch powerhouse Ajax was founded in 1900, its creators were inspired by Greek mythology. Ajax was an ancient hero who fought in the Trojan war, alongside Achilles and Odysseus, as described in Homer’s Iliad. Since 1928 the hero himself has been depicted in the club crest, although the modern logo stems from 1990 when it was redrawn with just 11 black lines in reference to the 11 players on the pitch.
FC Köln Germany
This club crest was originally represented by Kölner Dom, the city’s cathedral, but two years into existence, the club was gifted a pet goat by a travelling circus. Named Hennes, after legendary coach Hennes Weisweiler, the animal has since become the club’s symbol. Hennes now has his own clothing label, his own perfume, and has played a murder victim in a German TV series.
Brighton & Hove Albion FC England
Why the seagull? Back in the 1970s, when London club Crystal Palace FC travelled down to the south coast for a match against Brighton, their fans were heard chanting the team’s nickname, “Eagles! Eagles!”. In response, Brighton’s seaside-dwelling supporters ironically replied with “Seagulls! Seagulls!”. The chant later gave birth to a new club nickname and a new badge.
AS Roma Italy
According to Roman folklore, Rome was founded by two brothers, Romulus and Remus, both brought up by a wolf. A famous statue of the wolf mother feeding the baby brothers is found in the Capitoline Museums and it is this very statue that the AS Roma crest depicts.
Bohemians Praha 1905 Czech Republic
What on Earth is a Czech soccer team doing with a kangaroo on its badge? As with the billy goat of FC Köln, the animal was a gift to the club. In 1927, under its former name AFK Vrsovice, the club toured Australia and was donated two live kangaroos as a parting gift. The animals ended up living in Prague’s zoo, in the club’s nickname (Klokani is Czech for Kangaroos), and on the club crest.
Liverpool FC England
There are several symbols on this famous crest. The legendary Shankly gates adorn the top of the badge, together with the club anthem “You’ll never walk alone”. Meanwhile the eternal flames – a reference to the 97 victims of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 – flank the shield. The focal point of the crest is the mythological creature known as the Liver bird, which originates from the city.
Juventus shocked the soccer community in 2017 when it unveiled its new club logo. The traditional crown and bull of Turin were discarded and replaced with a stylised letter J. Minimalistic as it is, it is still symbolic. The letter J obviously stands for Juventus, while the stripes refer to the club colours. The hidden message is that the logo, including all the negative spaces, has the same form as the scudetto shield – the badge worn by the Italian Serie A champions every year.
Nîmes Olympique France
The crocodile is a nod to Nîmes’ coat of arms. As an important Roman settlement, the city was once home to crocodiles imported from Egypt.This reptile is fused with the city’s famous amphitheatre, one of the best preserved in the world.
Nottingham Forest FC England
Designed in 1973, this crest refers to Sherwood Forest, made famous by the legend of Robin Hood. The wavy lines at the base illustrate the River Trent which flows through Nottingham.
Heart of Midlothian FC Scotland
The heart shape of this club’s crest originates from a pavement mosaic on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, marking the entrance to the Scottish capital’s Old Tolbooth, former site of a jail and place of execution.
The name Colo-Colo is a tribute to an indigenous Mapuche leader, named Colocolo, who led his people in a war against the Spanish during the 16th and 17th centuries. The chieftain hero wears a white headband which, with his black hair, represents the club colours. The blue shield, combined with the red and white club name, is a salute to the flag of Chile. The black band along the top mourns the death of club founder David Arellano who died from a soccer injury in 1927 at the age of 25.
CR Vasco da Gama Brazil
This crest is imbued with several symbols that refer to the famous Portuguese seafarer of the same name. The Maltese cross was used by Portuguese expeditions during his era, while the black background signifies the uncharted waters he explored. The white diagonal represents the sea route to India which Vasco da Gama himself discovered.
Boca Juniors Argentina
Legend has it that, in 1906, Boca Juniors and Nottingham de Almagro – two teams with very similar shirt colours – played a match to decide who could keep their colours. Boca lost and adopted the flag colours of the first ship to sail into the local port. It was a Swedish ship. Every new title won by this Buenos Aires club results in an extra star being added to the shield.
Inter Miami CF USA
The art deco style of the logo commemorates the architectural tradition of the home city. The birds are great white herons which are indigenous to South Florida and form the shape of the letter M, for Miami. The seven rays on the tiny sun honour the British club owner David Beckham who used to wear the number seven in his playing days.
Portland Timbers USA
This Oregon club takes great pride in its surrounding woodlands and local timber industry. Besides having a mascot who chops enormous trees, the club sports a crest with an axe shaped like a T (for Timbers), and three chevrons to represent a pine tree.
Asante Kotoko SC Ghana
Ghanaian soccer giants Asante Kotoko bear witness to the great Ashanti Empire (1701 to 1957) and its official symbol, the porcupine (‘Kotoko’ in the local language).
Soccer players and fans have kissed their badges in the stadia of famous clubs such as Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Minnesota United, Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United, all of which were designed by Populous.