New stadiums, rebrands and hundred-million-euro transfer deals usually show the positive signs of growth for soccer clubs. For Atlético Madrid, that process hasn’t been smooth sailing, and the consequences are now rearing their ugly heads.
The key battle boils down to a debate over the club crest. Changed in 2017 when the club also left its old home at the Estadio Vicente Calderón to move to the Estadio Metropolitano, on the other side of the Spanish capital, the new look has never been popular.
The initial reaction was one of fury. Core changes involved ditching the gold outline and green tree, inverting the tree and bear, and changing the central stripe from red to white. The club claimed that the new style “strengthens our historical legacy by respecting the consolidated formal structure, reinforcing the identifying elements that are part of the club’s DNA and recovering others such as the deep blue of the founding coat of arms and the curved shape of 1903”.
Bruno Sellés, Creative Director of Vasava, the Barcelona-based design agency behind the new look, was not surprised by the angry reaction from fans. “When you touch something for which there is so much love, the first thing that happens is rejection, it’s natural,” he told Diario AS in an interview in 2016 after the change was announced.
The revival of the debate
Many outside the club have been left questioning why the topic has been revived some six years after the new crest was printed on the club’s jerseys for the first time.
The club have moved to reincorporate the old crest into more of their merchandising, opening a special area within the club store and launching a fourth kit in the 2021/22 season which sold out rapidly and had queues outside the doors of the club store at the Estadio Metropolitano. The demand for change is certainly there.
It was particularly sparked by the club’s reveal of their jerseys for the 2022/23 season. Featuring wavey stripes, following on from the blurred look of the previous season, enraged fans who want a return to the traditional plain red-and-white stripes. Demand for the new home jersey was down 40% compared to the previous year, according to El Confidencial.
The response from within the club offices was to set up a ‘Social Commission’ made up of 10 club members representing different supporters’ groups to debate such topics. However, after a fourth meeting, the club said that the club crest was not up for discussion, saying in a statement that “it should be clarified that at no time was this topic included in the agenda” and explaining that it was “due to the lack of a favourable climate for reflection within the different realities of the supporters, a circumstance that could harm the team in this second phase of the season when sporting objectives are being decided.”
Supporting strike called
In response, several members of the ‘Social Commission’ resigned and the controversial far-right Frente Atlético group who occupy a significant proportion of the club’s Grada de Animación in the South Stand of the Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano issued a statement announcing a strike on supporting the team.
Since then, Atlético’s stadium has been quieter than usual. Protests have taken place outside the stadium and fans have held up flags bearing the old crest are a regular sight, but the singing section of the stadium has remained quiet. Ahead of a LaLiga game against Sevilla, printed leaflets explaining the reasoning for the supporting strike were handed out.
The battle has continued, with ongoing signs. 17-year-old Javier Boñar wore gloves featuring the club’s old crest when his team played at the club’s stadium in the UEFA Youth League against Genk.
On Sunday, flags featuring the club’s latest crest were given out for free to fans attending the women’s team’s derby match against Real Madrid. The Escudo Atleti group took to Twitter to label it “one more attempt at indoctrination and, in turn, another sign that the logo does not sell.”
Despite the tension, the club has committed itself to “prepare a report on the impact of a hypothetical change in the coming months and to present it to the Social Commission at that time”, which means that the conclusion of the LaLiga season in June could spark further debate.
The practicalities of such a change, as well as whether or not club owner Miguel Ángel Gil Marín would tolerate such a shift in policy, remain to be seen. “There are thousands of Atlético fans who, with total naturalness, have accepted this evolution of the crest, and proudly wear it on jerseys, scarves, flags, caps,” he wrote in a letter to fans last summer. What is clear is that the very identity of the club is up for debate.