Stars in their eyes

Spain crest with star. Image: i27.tinypic.com

I’m sorry to bring up my summer for the second post in a row, but here goes: this summer, I was lucky enough to experience first-hand the aftermath of Spain’s first-ever World Cup victory. Well, sort of. I wasn’t dancing on the streets of Madrid, but I was (just) in Spain (Menorca), and I did read the sports newspaper newspaper  Marca obssesively.

It threw a fascinating light on the way the nation came to terms with this momentous achievement. Many column inches were given over to the post-game kiss between goalkeeper Iker Casillas and his journalist fiancee, including this slightly OTT analysis by La Vanguardia correspondent Anna Quero (if we have any fluent Spanish speakers reading, by the way, I’d appreciate a full translation – but I get the gist). But the one seemingly tiny detail that was blown out of all anticipated proportion, day after day, was the one that dominated the iconography of Spain’s post-match celebrations: the grafting of a single, gold star onto the team’s previously unembellished crest.

The football crest star system is a fascinating example of a signifying system that many of us encounter on a regular basis, not least because it consistently refuses to play to its own rules. Wikipedia tells us that Juventus were the first team to use a star, in 1958, to mark their 10th Serie A title, but since then the star has come to mean all sorts of different things, ranging from the straightforward  – one star per World Cup, or league title (implementing this system, Brazilian has-beens Joinville wear 12 stars, which must be a nightmare for kit designers in this epoch of minimalistic design) –  to the convoluted: the Bundesliga’s a ‘sliding scale of 1, 2, 3, and 4 stars for 3, 5, 10, and 20 titles’. British teams have used stars to signify European cup victories – Nottingham Forest still wear 2 – but the most successful European club of all time, Real Madrid, seem to eschew the system altogether. It can be amusing when two systems rub up against each other: Rangers wear 5 stars to mark their 50 Scottish League titles, but Celtic only wear 1, to signify their single European Cup victory. Here, less might well be more.

Manchester City F.C crest. Image: sport.co.uk

Stars are almost pre-rationally impressive in a sporting context, which is interesting given their complex symbolic history. And the lack of a single, international system for their their distribution has enabled occurences like the post-1997 Manchester City crest, depicted above. Unlike the ship, which represents Manchester’s maritime history, and the three diagonal lines, which represent its three rivers, the three stars here are, by all accounts, ‘purely decorative’. It reminds me of a little fact I picked up in 2nd-year art history, that the post-Medici nouveau riche of Renaissance Florence would include ersatz filled-in street-level arches in their brand-new palaces, to give the impression that their headquarters had once contained merchant premises, and thus that their wealth was not only older than was the case but also more righteously earned (actual trade as opposed to finance). With this design decision (which was, admittedly made years before City’s wealth arrived but which has, nonetheless, persisted) City play right into the hands of those who find a certain tackiness in their arivee pomp.

Medici Palace, Florence. Image: guidancecom.com

By Luke Healey

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One response to “Stars in their eyes

  1. I know you have perhaps stopped short of insisting that there should be an international system for star distribution (which would probably be FIFAs responsibility), but I think I should separately insist that such a system would be overly clinical and prescriptive.

    I would imagine these controversy’s boil down to clubs awarding themselves stars when it isn’t warranted. Surely though, in those cases, the fact that such an accolade is undeserved is patently obvious to the observer and so it loses it’s intended effect. For teams that deserve them, and can convey the message in an uncomplicated fashion, I encourage it as something the average fan of a ‘starred’ club can take pride from.

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