Fitba badges in the firing line

Shield in crosshairs

Professional football clubs in Airdrie and Ayr have been told to change their badges. Why has this been happening?

The gist

Some clubs have had their badges reported to the Court of the Lord Lyon. It carries out a Scottish Parliament law from 1592 to protect coats of arms (shields like the ones that represent the royal family or a town or city). The problems start if the court’s officers decide a badge is a ‘heraldic device’ but isn’t registered with the Lord Lyon. The court has it’s own prosecutor who can start a case against the club. Not registering a coat of arms is treated as tax evasion.

How do they decide a badge has broken the law?

The Lord Lyon’s officers examine the badge to see if it breaks the rules of heraldry (those describe how coats of arms are drawn up). Using text or the Scottish saltire within the shield are common reasons for them to order changes to be made.

What happens then?

They can confiscate anything with the badge on it. The fine for not changing the badge is £100 a day. The club could try to fight the case in the Lord Lyon’s Court but he is the only judge and there’s very limited right to appeal. That’s why Airdrieonians removed the shield from their badge – so it wasn’t seen as heraldic by the Lord Lyon’s officers.

How many clubs does this affect?

If reported, the same thing could affect dozens of other clubs, schools and groups that have heraldic-style badges. It could cost them thousands of pounds to replace signs, stationery and merchandise.

Why are laws about coats of arms being used against football clubs?

They shouldn’t be but Scotland’s heraldic laws haven’t been amended to exclude football clubs (or any other group). They date from a time when heraldry could be a life or death matter (in battle) so they’re very strict.

Why now – clubs’ badges have been around for decades?

Some clubs have amended their badges or registered them with the Lord Lyon over the years. The issue resurfaced when Highland League club Formartine United were reported to the Lord Lyon in 2012. Like Ayr United in 2015, their badge included a Scottish saltire. Both clubs have been reported anonymously (probably by a rival fan). The Airdrie case is different as someone tried to trademark their badge for commercial use and it was then passed to the Lord Lyon. It’s probably the biggest mystery in this whole saga – why did they think AFC merchandise would be a money-spinner?!

Are all Scottish clubs at risk?

No, some have already registered their badges (like Hibs) and some are not heraldic (like Aberdeen). Then there’s Berwick Rangers, safely over the border in England (outside Lord Lyon’s jurisdiction).

Can’t the clubs just ignore this?

The Lord Lyon carries out criminal prosecutions, can confiscate merchandise and the fine goes up by £100 a day. Most Scottish clubs are in a tight financial situation so can’t risk ignoring it.

What can be done to avoid the situation?

If the Lord Lyon can’t or won’t use his discretion then only a change in the law would solve the problem. Although it’s a Scottish court, apparently the change needs to happen at the UK parliament in Westminster. Petitions by Airdrie and Ayr United fans have gathered a few thousand signatures. A few politicians have spoken about the issue but change doesn’t look very likely.

Why not report all clubs to attract more publicity and force politicians to act?

While it would get more attention, it would also affect many more clubs. Even if the law was changed, all those cases could still be prosecuted and cost clubs thousands of pounds.

What then?

A waiting game. Unless, that is, you happen to be a graphic designer and football supporter with an interest in heraldry and a website to showcase your design work. Hmmm…

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