Leeds United Owl badge on a navy polo shirt

Leeds United - The story of the Leeds Owl and the history of the crest

With news of Red Bull taking a minority ownership stake in Leeds United, the capital investment has got the fans wondering about their crest. But what do you know about the history of this much debated football badge? 

When Leeds City FC was disbanded, Leeds United AFC was formed - they won their first game under the new club name on the 27th October 1919 against local rivals Port Vale. Leeds United have gone on to become one of the most successful football clubs in English history, with many league titles, domestic cups, and European trophies to their name.  Along the way, their crest has also undergone a lot of changes and a number of incarnations, but did you know its origin's are actually French?

During the early years, the club used the Crest of the City to represent it with, it's three proud owls. The Coat of Arms had featured owls since 1066. William the Conqueror gifted the French family of Savile vast areas of Yorkshire (including Leeds) in recognition of their support in The Battle of Hastings and with this new family, came their crest with its three little owls, in a sash, across a shield.

Over the years, historical events influenced further additions; a battle helmet which was added after the Civil War between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians, in the mid 1600s and then a latin motto "Pro Rege et Lege" which translates to "For King and the Law" was added, following Oliver Cromwell's demise and the reinstatement of the monarchy in 1660.

Leeds united crest Leeds Coat of Arms

Whilst the insignia changed the owls remained and, by the time Leeds United were forming, the City Arms featured three larger owls in a shield with a hanging sheep fleece - referencing the wool trade that had since become a part of the City's heritage - the helmet and the inscription.

Although traditionally teams did not wear the badge on their shirts regularly, this version of the crest represented the football club for many years. During that time though, shirt colours were changing - Leeds United had spells in stripes, in blue and white and in blue and yellow and things got quite colourful at Elland Road.

It wasn't until the 1960s that white became the main theme and The Peacocks crest took on a new manifestation. The 60s started with
 a move away from the traditional coat of arms and the badge became the white rose of Yorkshire, on a blue shield with the letters 'L', 'U', 'F' and 'C' positioned vertically.

However the bird was to return, somewhat briefly, in 1964. Football attire was changing, the v-neck was being replaced by the round neck and the shorts were getting shorter. Perched on its own, in a stitched blue circle on a plain white, round neck shirt, the Leeds Owl was back! 

Its resurrection proved to be short lived.  When Don Revie began managing the club in 1961 he implemented a number of changes. He transformed the team from a struggling Second Division side into one of the most successful clubs in English football history, introducing detailed scouting reports and a focus on physical fitness. 

He also had a rather extreme dislike for birds as he saw them as unlucky and it is said that this superstition was what led to the removal of the owl from the club crest.

Although the owl didn't make the cut, Revie went on to become one of the most successful managers in Leeds United's history, leading the team to two league titles, one FA Cup, one League Cup, and reaching the final of the European Cup twice.

In 1965 the letters 'L' 'U' 'F' and 'C' returned, vertically embroidered in a monogram style at a diagonal slant, in gold.

By the 70's the letters 'L' and 'U' had formed a modernised, circular badge which became known as The Smiley.  Designed by Paul Trevillion, a proficient sports marketer,  the abstract emblem lasted for nearly a decade in a number of different colour ways.

The late 1970s and 80s was a period of flux in the badge's design. From '78 to '80 this form was surrounded by the words 'Leeds United AFC', but by 1980 the infamous Smiley was gone and the Peacock took centre stage around the club name.

By 1984 the white rose was back along with a football in the centre and this incarnation was to last over a decade, until 1998.

In the early 90s the club were re-emerging as a contender, under Howard Wilkinson, winning the First Division League title in 1992. There success was short-lived and by the late 90s their badge too, was undergoing further change. The circle reverted to a shield, the Yorkshire rose remained and the letters "LUFC" returned underneath.

In 2018 an 11th redesign was released, one that will be remembered only for the controversy it created amongst Leeds fans and the derision it garnered from the wider football community. 

It showed a torso with a fist placed against the heart, a gesture known to fans as the "Leeds Salute" and was designed to make the club more marketable abroad.  A few days later there were 60,000+ signatures petitioning it not to be used.

"Over time I think they'll come to love it" said Managing Director, Angus Kinnear. It's safe to say the Elland Road faithful were not impressed and it was dropped by the management soon after!

Leeds United retro football hoodie Leeds Owl

Against the backlash, a more traditional crest was readopted. It has undergone a few redesigns since but has kept those main features  except the centenary badge of 2019 which was golden and placed the 'Leeds United' text above the shield.

We wait with anticipation see what the Red Bull investment means for the logo, however Leeds United's official line is that "The name and logo of Leeds United Football Club will remain unchanged."

Meanwhile, as Leeds United, a club firmly rooted in their fanbase, chart their course through the ever-changing landscape of English football, their crest serves as a reminder of its rich history and the heritage that is stitched into each player's shirt.

Find out more about the history of your favourite football badges here




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