In light of Hull City’s re-branding as Hull City Tigers, Tom Bodell discusses the notion of identity in football
WHEN the Pozzo family bought out Laurence Bassini just over 12 months ago, we were all simply relieved to see the back of the Stanmore-based businessman – his location still all we know about the club`s former owner.
However, it wasn`t long before the Hornet`s London Colney training HQ was flooded with loanees and the first questions about a loss of identity were being bandied around.
As we all know, the scrutiny from the national media and opposing supporters grew in volume and intensity the more success Gianfranco Zola`s side enjoyed.
Of course, whilst all this was going on in WD18, in south Wales, Cardiff City`s identity was under much more severe threat. The club`s kit was changed from blue to red and their iconic bluebird was removed from the club crest and replaced by the ‘luckier` red dragon.
In the end, of course, Cardiff were promoted to the Premier League at long last, but that doesn`t right the wrongs of owner Vincent Tan`s re-branding exercise last summer.
Today we awoke to the news that fellow Premier League newboys Hull City AFC are being re-branded as Hull City Tigers; a decision taken, presumably, with no room for consultation with the club`s understandably exasperated fans.
A statement on the club`s official website also revealed that from next season, a new club badge will be introduced too.
Changes in badge are commonplace. Watford changed the font of the word ‘Watford` on their badge since the turn of the Millennium and had previously had an angry Hornet emblazoned on their chest for much of their existence before the Hertfordshire hart was born.
However, the fact remains that Hull City`s identity has changed at the whim of a man, owner Essam Allam, showing little or no regard for the supporters of the football club.
Allam has argued, understandably, that the club is his and therefore he can call it what he likes. Would anyone really care if any other business added a new suffix to its name? For arguments sake, let`s say PC World became PC Universe – would anyone care? Highly unlikely.
The fact remains, though, that whilst football clubs are only the property of their supporters in very rare instances (in this country at least), they are emotionally the property of their supporters and always will be; long after the the Allam family have sold Hull City, the supporters will still be turning up to matches and supporting the club.
But in spite of all the change at Watford, we still play and yellow and black (or red, sometimes), we still play at Vicarage Road, the ground is still called Vicarage Road (although who knows? It`s a commercial possibility), we`re still nicknamed the Hornets and we are still, 132 years after our birth, a family club which prides itself on giving homegrown players the best possible platform to develop.
Sure, we might not have as many genuinely homegrown players breaking through this year as in the past, but that`s a sign of progression, that it`s no longer necessity to bung any old 17 year-old who can kick a ball straight into the team.
Does that even count as a change of identity? We`re stronger more successful now, even if it`s only been just over 12 months since the Pozzos took over the club, ergo less homegrown players are getting the chance to play for the first team.
In the case of Hull City, this is an identity change. The club`s name has changed, the most identifiable element of any team in sport is their name, and Hull`s has changed.
A quick search on Google defines ‘identity` as follows: “The fact of being who or what a person or thing is.”
If I were to attempt to identify a football club by its knack of producing homegrown players, Watford would make the list, but they wouldn`t be the first name I came out with. Names such as Crewe Alexandra, West Ham United and Middlesbrough would feature highly on that list.
A club`s name, colours and geographic location – this to a lesser extent nowadays; Coventry City & MK Dons to name but two – are the constants by which one can identify a football club. Anything else is merely incidental; merely means of going about the business of winning football matches.
Stoke City were identified as a long-ball team under Tony Pulis, but they will be hoping that now Mark Hughes is in place to shake off that identity – try and tell me that change of identity is a bad thing.
All of which leads me to a two-fold conclusion.
Firstly, football clubs – or any sports team – are identifiable solely by their name, the colours of their strip and their location. Though in American sports, these pillars might not always remain constants.
Secondly, Watford`s identity has not changed under the Pozzos. Some of the good things we`ve been (rightly) lauded for doing throughout the club`s history remain in tact, if not as prevalent as in the past, and we are extremely lucky to have owners who respect the club`s history and tradition whilst helping to push the club into an exciting new era.
What is ‘identity` within football, or sport, to you? Do you agree with my definition? Disagree? Let us know by commenting below!