By Ryan Ferguson
To football fans, few things are more sacred than the club badge. It’s integral to creating an identity and symbolising the spirit of a certain team. We wear it with pride, and wince when mercenary players kiss it in vacuous gestures of solidarity. Yet, in the case of our beloved Tranmere Rovers, the casual observer knows little about the different elements incorporated into the crest. On the whole, we worship the emblem for what it signifies more than what it actually means. So, with that in mind, it’s time to explore the history of our badge, and explain its distinct anatomy.
Quite incredibly, Tranmere went over seventy years without an official crest. From its genesis as Belmont FC in 1884, the club mainly wore plain shirts, while the commercial need for a logo wasn’t as pronounced as today. However, in the early-50s, Rovers experimented briefly with an emblem on the matchday blazers worn by players. That crest was mainly yellow with blue and white piping, but somewhat predictably, it never grew in popularity, and the idea fizzled out with haste.
The next attempt at launching a club badge came in 1958, when a simplistic design was etched onto the tracksuit jackets of players and staff. That logo was a basic blue cross against a white background, with the letters TRFC divided into the four quadrants. By modern standards, it was rudimentary. But at the time, it was a major step forward.
However, fans waited another four years for Rovers to integrate a crest onto their actual jerseys. On 20th August 1962, the club’s first official badge was unveiled, to coincide with Dave Russell’s introduction of an all-white strip. Designed by Harry Handford, a Liverpool Echo cartoonist, the new crest was based on the Birkenhead coat of arms, with additional touches such as a warship emblazoned on a football to signify the town’s shipbuilding heritage.
The new kit and badge made its debut in a 1-0 defeat to Workington at Prenton Park. Many spectators were keen to catch a glimpse of the new look, and a bumper crowd of 9,329 seemed impressed. Nevertheless, to achieve a greater understanding of the badge beyond mere aesthetics, a journey back in time is required. To truly appreciate the crest, we must learn about the Birkenhead coat of arms, which was its overriding inspiration.
The coat of arms was granted on 28th August 1878, after Birkenhead, Tranmere, Bidston, Claughton, Oxton and parts of Bebington merged into one borough. In designing the seal, it was decided that elements of the most influential settlements would be included.
Therefore, a crosier or shepherds cook was taken from the Birkenhead crest, along with a single lion, which came from the family seal of Hamon de Massey, who founded the town’s Benedictine monastery in 1150.
Similarly, an oak tree was taken from the Tranmere local board insignia, while two lions were included to represent Oxton. Moreover, a wavy-sided star known as an estoile azure was representative of Bebington, and two crescents were used to denote the Laird family, which worked tirelessly to improve living conditions and employment in the area.
Finally, a scroll bearing the borough’s official motto was included. Suggested by Canon Tarver of Chester, Ubi Fides ibi Lux et Robur is Latin for Where there is faith, there is light and strength, and it speaks to Wirral’s unwavering resolve and steadfast optimism to punch above its weight in a myriad of areas. This was naturally adopted by Rovers, a club which shares a similar outlook in the lower divisions of English football.
The badge was strikingly evocative and served to align the football club with its community. Yet, Rovers reverted to plain white shirts between 1964-1972, for reasons that aren’t especially clear. At that juncture, a monogram of the TRFC initials was introduced, although that didn’t feature regularly on the kit until 1977.
In the early-1980s, money was so tight and attendances so low that Tranmere couldn’t convince manufacturers to produce a new kit. There was simply no marketability at Prenton Park. Accordingly, Rovers were forced to buy generic strips from a local sports store or from a nondescript Umbro catalogue. Obviously, those kits didn’t include a club badge, so confusion reigned once again.
Seeking to increase interest among fans, Rovers drew up a new crest in 1983, but it was fairly mundane. The old coat of arms and newer monogram logos were considered too intricate and expensive to replicate, so a simplified emblem was spawned. It was a single colour crest split into four quadrants, with the TRFC initials once again separated into the corners and a ball acting as a central fulcrum. This was initially viewed as a short-term fix, but it lingered as the club was plunged into paralysis by eccentric owner Bruce Osterman.
When Peter Johnson finally rescued the club in 1987, he demanded a widespread modernisation of Tranmere, from stadium renovations to marketing improvements. One easy enhancement was to design a new club crest, and with Johnson eager to affirm ties with the local area, a return to the old coat of arms and its poignant symbolism was deemed preferable. Thus, with austerity measures over, a sleek reincarnation of the original crest was ordained. It remained on the Tranmere shirt for a decade, as Rovers frequented Wembley and rose from the brink of liquidation to the Premier League precipice.
With Tranmere planning for the first division in the mid-90s, Johnson redeveloped Prenton Park to the tune of £3 million and ordered another new badge to be created. Therefore, in 1997, the present logo was introduced as a sleek reworking of its iconic forebear. The individual emblems were maintained, sustaining their sacrosanct meaning, but a blue and white colour scheme gave the badge a cutting edge feel. It was a fitting upgrade for a club that seemed destined for the very top.
In 2009/10, the digits 125 were added to the crest as Tranmere celebrated their Quasquicentennial anniversary, but it has otherwise remained unchanged for almost two decades.
Many people still associate more with the old crest, but an entire generation has grown up knowing only the current incarnation. Ultimately, your preference likely correlates to childhood memories. However, what really matters is that most of the core elements, and therefore meanings, inherent in the original badge are preserved to the present day. And after all, that’s the true purpose of a football badge; to capture the essence of a team and the region to which it is anchored.
*The rights to all crests illustrated belong to Tranmere Rovers Football Club.