The history of Australian Rules in Victoria is a fascinating read. From the early VFA and VFL days through the two world wars, to the AFL today, each club new and old has weathered its share of challenges. We’ve seen clubs come and go, clubs move and clubs merge.
In the case of Fitzroy, we saw that history was no guarantee of a club’s future, with the club merging with the Brisbane Bears to form the Brisbane Lions. We saw South Melbourne move to Sydney to revive their flagging fortunes. For the Western Bulldogs, they’ve done something far less dramatic, but just as telling. In 1996, the club dropped Footscray from the name to officially become the Western Bulldogs.
In many ways you can understand the need for change – the Bulldogs have only until recently kept themselves in the modern competition through heavy AFL subsidisation, and their last Grand Final appearance was in 1961. I can imagine that some of the traits used to describe the Bulldogs by both fans and non-supporters alike would have been related to a lack of success on and off the field. It’s with that in mind that David Smorgon probably pushed for a change of direction for the club.
Others have argued fairly strongly and in far more depth than I about whether or not the rename was a good move, but if you take into account the fortunes of other clubs who have been in dire situations, the decision to rename the club doesn’t seem to be necessary to change its fortunes.
St Kilda could have easily renamed themselves Southern Saints (being the club with the highest wooden spoon wins is no proud achievement), North Melbourne the Northern Kangaroos, or they might have dropped the location out of their names altogether. What should have been the focus of the Bulldogs board is a willingness to change the perception about the club without removing it from its rich and storied history. If as a person you’ve suffered setbacks or had your reputation destroyed, it’s still not likely you’ll change your name to do away with the past. You’d focus on rebuilding the reputation. The Western Bulldogs need to realise that they are the Footscray Bulldogs, and that the name should be an immovable part of the club’s identity.
Now to chat about the club’s logo. Since 1999 the Bulldogs have used the football shaped mark with the hinted blue, white and red hoops underneath the white silhouetted Bulldog profile. Previously the club used a shield-like shape with the Bulldog silhouette and stylised Bulldogs text.
The current logo is passable. Everything is in the right place, the silhouette has been refined and there aren’t any poorly rendered areas of the bulldogs face. Unfortunately though it does feel like a corporate logo. The brand mark and word mark are completely separate – and the word mark would surely never be used on its own (I hope). It doesn’t feel like a complete emblem, not like the previous shield logo which had a bit more character. The previous logo did have that odd area with the quarter circle behind the bulldog’s head, but otherwise gave a better understanding of the club’s tradition than the current corporate bland-fest.
I’ve seen a supporter initiated website that is calling for the Footscray name to be reinstated, and they’re also calling for the Bulldog used from 1976 to 1989 to make a comeback. The website in question says the newer bulldog looks like a yawning cat or even like the aerial view of a golf course. I can’t say I agree with either of those two assessments. While the silhouette isn’t terribly exciting, there is not a single person with good vision who would say they see a cat in the logo. As for the golf course comment I have absolutely no idea. I’m trying to see it but I can’t.
In the end the problem with the logo is a result of a problem with the brand. Trying to dabble in Darwin or Canberra or wherever is proof of a club not knowing its identity well enough. This is a club with working class roots and a history that should be incredibly well tied into the area.
The Bulldogs should be commended for their work in reinvigorating the brand in recent years and their efforts on the social media front are being applauded worldwide, but I wonder: could a return to the Footscray name bring them home to a place of authenticity? I doubt it will ever happen but a man can surely hope.
That brings us to the conclusion of the AFL logo reviews. I’ve had a lot of fun reading about the history of each club and hopefully have improved on my writing skills a little. I’ve also really appreciated all the the comments both here, through the Disqus system on on Facebook. The next few blog posts will give some great tips and also reveal some of the things sport clubs around Australia are doing to improve their branding.
If you’re on Instagram we post occasionally about the work we’re doing. Head over here to see our Instagram account. We recently completed the logo redesign for the winner of the Love Your Club Competition: the Emmaus St Leo’s Old Collegians Football Club. I’ll be posting a little bit more about this once we complete the full range of design work promised in the prize.
Thanks to fnwb.com.au for collating the logos and listing the timeframes