The EU referendum campaign was a debate about many things, but two crucial aspects were identity and generational divide. With the former, it was how one saw oneself: English, British, European? With the latter – but in many ways connected to the former – the older demographic were more likely to lean Brexit, a sign of an attachment to a nostalgic image of Britain.
Regardless of how I voted, I’ve always seen myself as a Londoner primarily. I support England at football tournaments and Great Britain at the Olympics, but London is where I claim most of my sense of self and identity. And part of that is my support for West Ham, as obvious and proud a representation of my London roots as any other. Th at is one of the main reasons why the new crest irks me.
I know that numerous clubs have seen their badges updated: Arsenal’s cannon now points to the east, Chelsea’s lion is less lion-like, and Manchester City modernised their crest following their Middle East takeover – before reverting back to the original this summer. As Karren Brady pointed out, this is the 16th crest that West Ham has had in its 121-year history. We’ve actually had more crests than managers. But none of those clubs have added wording to their crest as we have with ‘London’ at the foot of the famous crossed hammers.
For me, the idea that people need to be reminded that West Ham is in London is ludicrous, a pandering to our need to be a brand. We’ve already upped sticks and moved into a home full of all the plush amenities foreign oligarchs will adore, with transport connections that allow any moneyed fan to easily retreat back to the European mainland and beyond. I’m not against West Ham becoming a team with more of an international following, I just don’t see why to embrace that we have to add ‘London’ to our badge.
I support the claret and blue because of my family’s roots in the area, a solid working-class family who lived and breathed the East End. And that East End – with Queens Market, jellied eels, pie, mash and liquor – doesn’t need anyone to remind it that it’s in London: for many, that is London defi ned. But I shouldn’t complain, because the new crest received unanimous approval from supporters: an online vote, conducted over 48 hours, saw 56 per cent of fans agree to the change. A larger number, 77 per cent, said they approved of altering the crest for the new era. But what gets me is the small sample: 10,000 fans completed the wonderfully titled ‘crest consultation survey’. We now have 52,000 season ticket holders and a whole army of other fans and generations of supporters who were not asked. Taken as a percentage of season ticket holders for next year, that’s just 19 per cent of regulars
to the Olympic Stadium who approved of the club alteration. Of course, for someone who began by talking about generational shifts, it’s somewhat absurd for me to bemoan change. As much as I will miss the Boleyn castle on the badge, that was in itself an addition over times, appearing then disappearing, never part of the original crest. For people like me, whose first memory is the 1995 centenary kit and crest, I will always miss the castle.
For others who remember Bobby and the 1960s, the castle does not feature in their fondest of memories. Furthermore, the castle has gone because well, we’re no longer there. The Boleyn? That’s a memory now, a dream. This badge change is purely a cosmetic one, subsumed by the much larger narrative of our move to a new stadium and a new chapter in the club’s history. This crest change is part and parcel of what has happened to football since 1992: the Premier League has put making money ahead of grassroots football, the fans and history.
The etching of London onto our crest is a symbol that in the last 121 years, not enough was done by the ‘old West Ham’ to make enough people abroad know we were a London club. And no one wants a castle that harks back to Green Street: we’re all Westfield now. The crest doesn’t mean that much, it’s a small detail. But every time I look at it, now, tomorrow and beyond, I will think of the past and echo the words of some who sought Brexit: ‘I just want my club back’. BBM