As with much else in the modern era of the game, football shirts have become another way with which clubs can make more money. The front real estate is sold to whichever corporate sponsor is willing to pay the highest amount of money whilst the back belongs to players’ names, a nice little additional bonus for selling shirts. Then there is the actual look of the shirts which changes annually – even if minimally – so as to cash in on fans’ need to display their love of their club.
There is only a small piece of the football shirt that has remained untouched and untarnished: the part that holds the club badge. It remains, rightly, placed closest to the heart because it is the badge that symbolises the heartbeat of the club; it is the badge that the fans see as the true representation of their club.
Yet even this occasionally comes under attack from those looking to alter it. Sometimes those changes are borne out of a genuine desire to improve, often they are not.
When AS Roma decided to alter their emblem, it was one of the few instances of the former. They went for the images of Romulus and Remus suckling a she-wolf, an icon that represents the city of Rome to the world. With it the club was showing that they were truly the football team of this great city.
It is a nice enough badge but in making the change they had lost a link to the club’s past. The simple yet iconic wolf head emblem – the Lupetto – had adorned AS Roma shirts during the glory days of the eighties when they won the league and were a penalty kick away from reigning over Europe.
Whereas the new badge could have been mistaken for that of any Roman entity, the Lupetto was the unquestionable symbol of AS Roma. It is something that those currently tasked with running the club must have realised as well because when Roma launched the new away kit for the 2016-17 season, they went once again with the lupetto.
“Obviously I was very happy with the re-use of this symbol in the new AS Roma away kit. It couldn’t have been otherwise. And, as far as I am aware, it has been greatly welcomed by the fans who here in Rome are very demanding.”
That is the view of Piero Gratton, the man who in the late seventies designed the Lupetto badge.
For over twenty five years, Gratton worked with RAI (the Italian state television entity) creating the logos for its programming. So iconic were his designs that his work remains in use to this day. It was that work which opened up to opportunity to work for AS Roma.
“It was the 1975-76 and the AS Roma owner Gaetano Anzalone needed to improve the club’s finances to improve the team and buy more high profile players,” he recalls. “Among the ideas put forward to achieve this there was the opportunity to put forward an innovative marketing and merchandising operation.”
“AS Roma did not have a copyrighted symbol. So it was decided to create a new one which could be trademarked and then sold to earn royalties.”
“Since I was a pretty well-known graphic designer both for my work with RAI TG2 and in field of international sporting events, I was chosen as the person to carry out this work which at the time was the first of its kind in Italy.”
The task itself was quite a straightforward one. “The wolf image has forever been the symbol of Rome, ever since the city was founded. It was decided to focus on this symbol but design it in a simple and synthetic manner so that it would be easy to reproduce.”
“To accompany it I chose the Helvetic Medium font with the letter ‘A’ merged with the ‘S’, all of which was encircled by the club colours of red and orange.”
“The co-ordination exercise meant the restyling of everything within the club including the playing kit to fit in with the new guidelines. The shirt was extremely innovative for the time but was needed to highlight the new when compared to the past.”
Not only was the new kit innovative but it was also so stylistically attractive that it remains a favourite of many till this day.
Yet everything could have changed early on. “When Anzalone era came to a close, Dino Viola took over. He was an educated and kind person; a huge Roma fan. Naturally he had his own ideas but the train had already left the station.”
“At times he tried, albeit perhaps not with a lot of conviction, to add this to this symbol that hadn’t come about in his time. I remember that on a number of occasions he asked me if could slightly narrow the mouth of the lupetto but it all ended there. I have a good memory of him.”
The success of Gratton’s work at Roma meant that other clubs approached him to take up similar work, including Bari for whom he did the iconic badge that David Platt wore when he played for them in the nineties. It also brought him to the attention of those running the game.
“The work I did for AS Roma brought me into contact with the then UEFA president and FIFA vice-president Artemio Franchi. He was an extraordinary person and an unmatched Italian sport administrator who unfortunately died in a car accident.”
“With him I worked on a number of events organised by UEFA. Many of the symbols I created became icons of the most important footballing events of the 80s and 90s.”
“Today a lot has changed in the world of football and, unfortunately, to the worse. There are too many people trying to make money off this extraordinary and hugely popular sport.”
All of which brings us full circle to the argument that the badge is the only untarnished part of the modern football kit, the only part with which fans truly appreciate.
“One time I found myself in the Roma Prima Porta cemetery in the section where children are buried. On the ground the parents place small toys that these unfortunate children most loved. Among these there were a lot of flags with AS Roma’s lupetto badge that had come to symbolise their fantasy and passion.”
“It was a sight that really touched me and to this day the thought moves me.”
Words by Paul Grech: @paul_grech