*Only English, German, Italian and Spanish clubs are included to mean ‘European’.
The sub-continental junta is probably more exposed to the European football frenzy than our I-League. There are overtly justifying reasons for that, none of which we are getting into.
However, a major difference is how these clubs are named. As general knowledge would substantiate, most European clubs would share its name with that of the city – of course prominent exceptions are the three London clubs and the odd ones like a Swiss club who named themselves after their player celebration style – Grasshopper FC. Otherwise, such a trend is usually noticed.
Mohun Bagan, JCT Mills Phagwara, Mahindra United, Churchill Brothers, State Bank of Travancore, Railways, Chirag United etc – do not share the name of the place where they are based out of, unlike the European clubs.
Well, that is not actually the area of interest of the following words. One ought to look at how differently the club emblems of clubs in India are designed in comparison to the commonly seen European ones. And, this is what this article talks about. A socio-political study can be done based on these club emblems. Since these clubs do not usually share the name of the city they are based out of, their logos are probably designed to reflect a certain character of the club – although, more often than not, the corporate logo of the respective club is seen. However, we are shunning all commercial elements here – well mostly. Corporate or Government organization owned clubs usually reflect the respective company’s logo. So, that is not taken into discussion here.
Most of the club emblems have very interesting stories to tell – about its culture and geographical location – yet it strays clear from the usual trend of replicating the city coat of arms or regional motifs found in the European clubs. I believe a few common examples would further help in establishing the theme.
Bayern Munich has, on its logo, the pattern of the Bavarian flag and of course, the club colours. AC Milan incorporates the red cross which the Milan coat of arms’ carries. Manchester United’s badge was adopted directly from Manchester’s coat of arms (also along with the colour change). The devil came on later though. Interestingly, Milan also had a devil on their crest. Barcelona has the colours of the Catalan flag on its club crest. Many English clubs have emblems which contain the royal symbol of the Lion. However, Indian clubs have a more local connect, much along the lines of Lincoln City FC (who are nicknamed The Red Imps), which has the imp on its logo , with respect to the legend of the Lincoln Imp.
Indian club crests range from bearing a reptile to a coastal tree, and from a sail boat to influences from Portuguese clubs. The badges are as diverse as the country itself.
East Bengal brings with itself an exception of being regionally named. The history behind the club has a story to tell which is contrary to what most might believe – the club actually had its roots in Mohun Bagan. That however is another day’s story. The club crest bears a flame torch and this motif dates back to 1930. The club had won a respectable position in the second division and was almost sure to promote themselves to the first division – only to be denied that stature. Club officials thought this was a Mohun Bagan led conspiracy. The East Bengal ground was filled with supporters holding aloft flame torches, in protest of the unjust decision. That memory is still kept alive in the club logo. That was also the time of the Satyagraha movement. The British intention of not allowing a desi club to qualify for the first division was also suspected.
On the opposite end of the country, lies a recently formed club called Pune FC – one of those Indian clubs named after the home city. Of all things, a ghorpad (monitor lizard, also interestingly called the Bengal monitor) is seen on the club emblem. Unrelated as it might be to football, it has immense local significance. Thirty kilometers from Pune lies the Sinaghad Fort in a lonely cliff somewhere on the Sahyadri Mountains. The fort boasts of very steep walls – built for obvious reasons. In an eponymously named fort battle, Tanaji Malusare (Shivaji’s general) used the ghorpad (who was Sivaji’s pet) to help him climb the steep walls of the fort. The symbology is thus used to give the players that bit of inspiration and dedication. The red colour monitor lizard is aptly positioned on the crest over a football. Food for thought on history and sports, maybe?
Mohun Bagan has a sailboat on its emblem. It might be also read as a fishing boat. Boats (and majhis) are intrinsically linked with Bengali culture – with Bhatiali songs (originally sung by boatmen) and most importantly, fish being part of the gamut. The boat also reminds one of how prices of lobsters rise in the market with a Mohun Bagan victory, as it is ceremoniously consumed by loyalists. The hilsa is, contrarily, consumed by East Bengal fans during such time.
The Fatorda Stadium in Margao spins a good yarn. The facility is shared primarily by four clubs – Salgaocar, Churchill Brothers, Dempo and Sporting Clube de Goa. Vasco also uses the stadium at times as their home ground. Salgaocar, Churchill and Dempo have crests which directly incorporate the company logo they’re owned by. That again, is a very unique feature. The same goes for most government organizations which also incorporate the organization logo – Air India, State Bank of Travancore, Punjab Police etc. However, two Goan clubs show their roots on their crests.
Sporting Clube de Goa offers an interesting introspection. The club is rather proud of its strong colonial roots. The club began operations as Cidade de Goa, or City of Goa. The current owners rechristened it as Sporting Clube de Goa only in 1999. However, even with the change of ownership, the club crest remained the same. The Portuguese heritage was only over exemplified with the name change – named along the lines of Sporting Clube de Protugal. It is also popular belief that the entire club was based on the Portuguese institution. The Indian club borrows from the Lisbon based club’s crest and replicates it exactly. The lion and the green colour have been happily used.
The hangover is also seen with Vasco Sports Club. The club was named by the founders after the legendary Brazillian club also named Vasco. They employed similar black and white colours and, of course, borrowed the cross on the Brazillian’s club’s crest to incorporate onto their logo. The trend is the same as Sporting Clube de Goa.
Now, along different lines.
Mohameddan Sporting was India’s first community specific club. We know what we are talking about. In fact, they were a very successful club in their formative years. Although, they were based out of what then was Calcutta, their crest depicts nothing of that sort – and also does not have a piece of history in their crest unlike the other big two. It is generally believed that the Muslim League supported the formation of the club – the crescent and star embodied crest reflects the same. The football fraternity later saw how community specific support base affected football – with respect to Mohun Bagan and East Bengal (read Ghoti and Bangal).
Chirag United Kerela (formerly a better named Viva Kerela) bears the company logo, among other things on its crest. Most noticeable is a coconut tree – something most Indians would connect the state with, besides backwaters- to which the crest also pays tribute through the minimal figure of a slender boat. Mumbai FC’s crest bears the silhouette of a footballer and prominently, the Gateway of India. The Baichung Bhutia led United Sikkim FC has the motif of snow clad mountains and the mythical symbology of a snow lion, which the Tibetan Buddhists have long maintained.
However, there are weird ones also. Prayag United Sports Club’s crest depicts a peacock doing a balancing act on a football – the relevance of which is unknown to me. Of course, given that the bird has been nationalized, it could mean somthing. Shillong Lajong FC is a club which has a very talented academy, the dynamism of which is probably not reflected on the crest. What I thought was a football nestled on the silhouette of the Meghalayan map, is not what it actually is. It is not even the map of Shillong. It just might be abstract Indian art at its best. However, that does not undermine the immense talent the club holds. Interestingly, a house motif is also drawn above the football. All of this is on the Indian flag – the ultimate identity.
Indian clubs have very different crest designs – some inspired, some obvious and some hiding history beneath. Giving them a tough run for money are the IPL teams – three of which have lions roaring on them. Here’s sincerely hoping for the torch, the lizard, the tree, the weird silhouette, to keep flying high, as ever. Indian football, domestically, is indeed more exciting than those countless lackluster cricket tournaments.