Pompey revisiting the past in badge debate

Pompey won promotion to the top flight in the 1986-87 season with their nautical-themed badge

Having been let loose at the artist’s easel, the end result was justifiably met with a degree of trepidation.

At the bold behest of chairman John Deacon and commercial manager Les Allen, Pompey’s badge underwent a radical overhaul.

The traditional star and crescent were discarded, replaced by a football whose heart was pierced in contrasting directions by an anchor and a sword. A rope circle surround completed the nautical look.

And so Frank Burrows’ Blues strode into the 1980-81 Division Three campaign accompanied by a badge unrecognisable from any other in the club’s history.

Deacon’s justification for reconstructing Pompey’s emblem centred on a desire to maximise merchandising potential.

Now, 37 years later, the same scenario has arisen at Fratton Park, with new owners Tornante seeking a badge alteration.

Certainly familiar surroundings for Eric Coleborn.

‘I was part of the commercial department, a very, very small team which in those days was run by the late Les Allen,’ said the Pompey Supporters’ Trust board member.

‘Les was brought into the club around 1979 to form the Pompey lottery and not long after a commercial decision was taken to change the badge because we were losing huge amounts of money.

‘People were ripping it off so the badge was altered. It was purely to stop others creating merchandise and selling it. Up until that point, instead of money going to the club it was going here, there and everywhere.

‘What you didn’t want to find is somebody producing shirts, scarves and goodness knows what else with our badge on, it just takes money away from the club.

‘The change worked, too, it did exactly what we needed to do. It solved the problem.

‘At the time, I was actually a little surprised at a general acceptance of the badge alteration. It wasn’t the sort of mass “this is absolutely awful, it should never be altered”.

‘I suppose sometimes you get a scenario where something is made into an issue when it really isn’t. Besides, as I recall, there wasn’t the same spotlight on changing the badge back then.

‘It wasn’t done for any other reason but to stop merchandise being produced which we couldn’t stop. People look for ulterior motives, conspiracy theories and all these sort of things, but that’s not it.

‘Michael (Eisner) has insisted on this change because he knows the importance of it, and quite rightly so.

‘In the Premier League you become worldwide, they will be building a brand, so that badge must be copyrighted otherwise you are losing fortunes. That is what big clubs do.’

During the takeover process, Michael Eisner made public his desire to revamp a club emblem effectively owned by the city.

The star and crescent has occupied Portsmouth’s coat of arms since at least the 17th century and, as a consequence, cannot be copyrighted by the club.

However, by altering its presence on Pompey’s badge to an extent, that can be rectified.

Supporters were given a glimpse of Tornante’s vision during a recent video address by Eisner to Trust members, with five designs purposely situated in the background.

Mark Catlin was sat beside Pompey’s chairman in the footage.

The Blues’ chief executive said: ‘I have to make it 100 per-cent clear that no final decision has been made on what the badge will look like. As far as I am aware, there is also no timeframe.

‘At this moment in time, it is hard to judge how the badge has affected the club financially, but with ambitions for growing the brand generally, it will definitely become an issue.

‘As Michael has explained, the whole point of having the designs out there was to stimulate debate. In that regard, that’s what he has done.

‘It has to be right, though, there will be no snap decisions. Fans’ input is important and I would like to thank those supporters to have sent over various designs to me.

‘Experts can produce designs and they may look great, but the crest is the heartbeat of a football club and means a lot to fans. It is absolutely vital we get it right between what the experts say works and what supporters are generally comfortable with.

‘I have not yet seen a specific crest design universally approved. Whatever you go with, you will never please everyone. All you can hope for is to try to please the majority of fans.’

The 1980 version of the Pompey badge remained in use on club shirts until the summer of 1989.

At that point Jim Gregory, who had purchased the club from Deacon some 12 months earlier, opted for a return to tradition.

The star and crescent design made a reappearance – and has remained ever since.

On Monday, the issue of the crest is expected to be on the agenda at the maiden meeting of the Heritage & Advisory Board.

And three of Coleborn’s Trust colleagues will be able to voice their opinions to Tornante and Catlin on any tabled designs.

Coleborn added: ‘People have to be realistic. I love the badge, I love Fratton Park, I love history, it’s what makes a football club, but you have to move forward as well.

‘Let’s be fair, the club’s owners over the years haven’t been some of the best on occasions, while in the last few years the club badge has not really been an issue, there have been more important things to deal with.

‘I understand exactly why Michael is doing this. These guys are very switched on, they make me look like an amateur, they are in a different world and a different league.

‘There are times you can understand why decisions are made – and, for me, this is one of them.’

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