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In both the domestic and international game, past glories are increasingly shown off on and around the badge – but it's not always obvious exactly what achievements they denote

30 October ~ Football is a game of chaos and a perfect example of its random nature is the supposedly simple matter of the club crest. For those supporters of a certain age, this was something that remained unchanged, often for decades. The adding of shields around the badge, rebranding and general messing around to “update” them is mainly a modern phenomenon.

As well as general tinkering, clubs have been eager, often with the best intentions of celebrating their history, to add stars above and within their club crest. The problem for some is that these stars have often been added in a slapdash fashion leading to, at least for the casual fan, confusion about what is being recognised and why. Differences with club and national sides, from one confederation to the next and between individual clubs in the same league does give the impression that clubs’ marketing departments are making it up as they go along. But like it or not, the use of a star, much like the ones collected by children for good deeds at primary school, has become the de-facto symbol of achievements past.

While the use of stars has gone wild in recent years, it isn’t a new innovation. In 1958, Juventus became one of the early club proponents of the star when they added a single gold one to their otherwise unblemished black and white stripes in recognition of their tenth Italian championship. Italian sports had used the Scudetto (shield flag) since the 1920s to highlight the current defending champions, but Juve’s move was the first to commemorate more distant history. Brazil’s national team experimented with stars in the 1960s but it wasn’t until the early part of the 21st century that some form of guidelines were introduced.

Italy continues to use the Scudetto and, like many major leagues, has the guideline of one star for every ten titles won, but to keep things confusing, there are numerous exceptions. In Spain neither Barcelona nor Real Madrid display stars (though in Champions League action they wear patches denoting the number of titles), and in Germany it’s one star for three titles, two stars for five, and three stars for ten. Bayern Munich have four stars for their 20 Bundesliga wins (titles before 1963 are not counted) but no one seems to know how many more they need to capture to gain a fifth star.

English Premier League teams don’t follow any rules and most don’t bother with stars at all. Only Aston Villa have one for their European Cup victory in 1982. Outside the top flight the stars are more plentiful and more confusing. Bury (two) and Huddersfield (three) celebrate pre-war FA Cup and League titles (with the latter now incorporating the stars into the main body of the crest), Notts County briefly had one for their Victorian-era FA Cup win, neighbours Nottingham Forest have one for each of their European Cups and Ipswich have three (for FA Cup, UEFA Cup and Division One champions respectively). Yeovil provided the most tenuous reason for stars when they added three to their shirts – to commemorate 15 years in the Football League. Things are just as random in Scotland. Rangers have worn five stars for their record 54 league titles, Aberdeen sport two (including one for a European Super Cup win) and Celtic just one – for the Lisbon Lions European Cup triumph in 1967.

At least on a national level there is some logic. FIFA allow a single gold star for each World Cup win. Teams take these stars seriously, with France players changing into shirts embroidered with two stars for the presentation ceremony after winning the 2018 final. Uruguay are perhaps the answer to a quiz question on this subject as they have won two World Cups but have four stars. The reason is that FIFA recognise the 1924 and 1928 Olympic titles as official world championships. Women’s world champions have worn stars on sleeves and even on the back collar, but now it is standardised above the national emblem.

The world leaders when it comes to stars on badges are Boca Juniors. For almost 50 years they have been adding yellow stars to their shield badge for each national championship. At one point they had to remove part of the badge to allow space for more. Currently they have 52 stars on the badge – surely a record – but they have won far more trophies. Perhaps a makeover is due. Rob Haywood

This article first appeared in WSC 392, November 2019. Subscribers get free access to the complete WSC digital archive – you can find out more here

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