Chris Oakley | 5 January 2024
It is August 1979. A new Football League season is about to start, and for Leeds United, hope is in the air. A fifth-place finish in 1978-79 was enough to give the Elland Road club a place in the UEFA Cup, and Leeds' reputation as one of England’s top football clubs continued, several years after the departure of Don Revie.
Harnessing the spirit of Revie himself, Leeds United announced they were to have a new club badge to take them into the 1980s. ‘The Peacock’ was circular, just like the ‘Smiley’ badges immediately preceding it, and featured a highly stylised version of the ostentatious bird. The origin of the nickname is unclear, although many think it comes from the Peacock Brewery that owned part of the land where the Elland Road stadium was built.
Back then, Leeds’ general manager Keith Archer said:
“For some reason, we could never get the ‘Smiley’ badge approved by the League. In future, anyone who wants to use our emblem will have to get our permission as its copyright. This will prevent its misuse by ‘bandits.’”
So, problem solved... for now.
Leeds United are languishing in 17th place in the Football League Second Division, just four points above the relegation zone. A run of bad results has left everyone at the club wondering what’s gone so badly wrong. The consensus view is that the club badge is jinxing affairs on the pitch. Even Hunslet rugby league club (who played their home games at Elland Road) were going through a bad patch. Something needed to be done.
Leslie Silver, recently-appointed chairman of Leeds United, was hopeful of a solution:
“When I came in as chairman, I was amazed at the number of phone calls and letters I got saying ‘For God’s sake drop the peacock. It’s been a bad omen for Leeds for many years.’ It’s a new year, a new chairman... why not?”
With that, the Yorkshire Evening Post swung into action. It invited its readers to send in their own ideas as to what form the new club logo should take. Mr S Bansal of Headingley drew a lion’s head in profile, saying “It’s all very well using flowers and birds, but they do not provide aggression.”
Ignoring the fact that some Leeds United fans were already providing their own brand of aggression on the terraces, other readers tended to be inspired by local symbolism. One correspondent depicted the statue of Edward the Black Prince, unveiled in 1902 to celebrate the recent city status awarded to Leeds. Another adopted the eland as club mascot, a type of spiral-horned antelope. Though it has no specific connection to the city of Leeds, neither did Edward the Black Prince, eldest son of Edward III.
Among the more imaginative suggestions for club badges were a football wearing a mortar board symbolising a new nickname, The Dons, and a rabbit emerging from a magician’s hat accompanied by the phrase ‘Leeds United Pure Magic.’ Whether the eventual chosen badge was inspired by one reader’s drawing of a Yorkshire rose, we’ll never know, but that's what Leeds United ended up with. An artistic representation of the flower (complete with soccer ball and lettering) was dignified, different and very redolent of the 1980s, not the 1970s.
It took until the start of the following season for the white rose to fully replace the peacock, but it quickly had its desired effect on the team. In February 1984, they had their best run of winning results in the league for ten years, and Leeds ultimately ended their Second Division campaign in 10th position.
The rose logo lasted fully 14 years until it was replaced in 1998 by the shield design we know today, which itself features a small white Yorkshire rose. One question remains, however: What if one of the designs by readers of the Yorkshire Evening Post had been chosen instead?
To explore the possibilities, I took the three best suggestions from 1984 and attempted to update them for 2024. What follows is a look at how those low-grade sketches might have appeared in the modern era, had they been developed extensively.
Without question, the most viable idea (in a present-day design sense) was that of the lion’s head. While Mr Bansal’s original drawing looked a bit like an angry sheep, it goes without saying that any contemporary designer would have created something more dynamic and lifelike.
In the absence of someone matching that description, I had a go at recreating it ‘2024 style.’ To speed up the process, I took an image from Adobe Stock, tweaked and changed it, and added some lettering. My first attempt doesn’t look at all bad (without looking too ‘Premier League’), and neither does my second which is more circular in keeping with the original. I’m not sure which of the two I prefer, but either could have passed muster nowadays, I’ve no doubt.
This one was more problematic. Again, Adobe Stock provided the source material, but that wasn’t the issue. The issue was how to make a shadowy figure on horseback look powerful or effectual. Because of this, I abandoned my attempts to create a second, circular depiction of the black prince, and stuck with my initial version incorporating a simple white rose and the lettering from my ‘lion’s head’ designs.
You may begrudgingly admit it’s simple and quite polished, but a future classic it is not.
Well this has some eclectic potential to it, but the antelope’s head is, by its very nature, quite narrow. That’s not going to provide much presence as part of a logo, but thankfully the original YEP reader version made much use of the ring that surrounded Leeds’ peacock emblem.
I therefore decided to create something that was sympathetic to the original, and though it looks clean and reinvigorated, it undoubtedly grabs the eye more for the ring rather than the eland. There’s a definite 70’s influence that nostalgia fans might appreciate, but it lacks subtlety and refinement. I also used the circular lettering from an earlier design to create an alternative, and this one works much better, in my view. Not one for the ages, though.
I was going to update the ‘Dons’ sketch featuring the mortar board and a football (or is that a ball of wool for knitting?) but decided not to in the end. Hindsight tells us that British football was already well catered for with teams called The Dons (as fans of Aberdeen or Wimbledon would have told you), and Leeds were unlikely to join that elite group. Apart from that, how can you draw a hat and a ball and make it look convincing? You can’t, and that’s all that needs to be said.
So of the designs I’ve produced, my favourite has to be the lion’s head. It works not because of any inherent aggression (sorry Mr Bansal), but because it looks good when drawn in a simplified, artistic manner. Is it worthy of a thumbs-up by Leeds United and its fans some 40 years after the peacock was consigned to the dustbin? Unlikely, but then again we did nearly end up with a headless man suffering from indigestion only a few years ago.
(Original material: LUFCfilms, Figurine Panini, Yorkshire Evening Post.)