The Shirts off our Backs
What makes you, you?
Is it your looks, your personality, your voice?
Newcastle United has been defined in many ways over the last few days by the decision of the club to block the original design of the supporters’ shirt.
The representation of Newcastle United over the years though the crest, badge, whatever we can call it, has affected the definition of our relationship with the club for years to come. The question is, legally and morally, who are we?
Sir Bobby Robson beautifully defined a football club to encompass everything it should be: the people, the place, the passion. But in the world of trademarks and image rights, a football club, it seems, can be defined in terms of the things that created that passion in the first place, in effect taking them away from the people who are synonymous with them.
In our case, it’s the magpie. I wonder if Notts County has the same magpie problem? I’m asking that out of interest, and not scorn, as the objects associated with football clubs are diverse and morph over the years.
I’m not trying to argue the legalities here. I can’t. Newcastle United own the club crests, designed by professionals and registered. But they didn’t invent magpies. My favourite badge was the late seventies and early eighties design, with the magpie, castle and river. There isn’t a thing connected with football in the badge, apart from our name. There doesn’t need to be. We are a defining factor of the region.
It’s the sense of ownership we feel as fans but have no legal claim to that hurts. We don’t think of the magpie –or any of the other registered images- as ‘belonging’ to the club. It’s ours, but not legally. The thing is, I’m not sure I want the legal ownership.
There’s a magic about our club. In fact, there’s a magic for any football fan and it’s partially created by the importance we hold of our local cultural reference points.
The only song my kids will let me sing is The Blaydon Races. Instead of trying to smother me, they join in. They love singing ‘I’m Coming Home, Newcastle’ by Busker, especially the emotional line about ‘The Gallowgate End in the rain’.
And loads of cities have a castle, but our home is actually named after what’s left of ours. The view from the top is amazing. It takes in the majestic vistas of our city, including the football pitch with the seats on the top of the hill. But that view is mine and yours. No one owns it.
I sometimes wonder about the next club crest. What will be appropriated? The bridges? The accent?
I hope it’s not going to be a picture of a Geordie Shore wannabe wearing a low cut vest top and eating a stottie, the Metrocentre to represent NewcastleGatesheadGenericallyNorthEast in the background, ‘Howay the Lads’ written in Latin around the outside.
I blame the demise of Byker Grove for our newest TV incarnation. Thinking again, the club are welcome to half of that pretty picture.
So while the club have claimed, legally, part of the icons of the club, they’ll never quite get the heart. Maybe they don’t want to. Maybe they know that when you put it in a box and get it signed off as a bunch of sub-clauses, the magic is gone. And without the magic, football is nothing.
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