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The 5 logos that made Serie A history in the 1980s

Also known as: an analysis of the transition from heraldry to minimalist design

The 5 logos that made Serie A history in the 1980s  Also known as: an analysis of the transition from heraldry to minimalist design

The recent release of the new Inter Milan crest has represented a pivotal moment for Italian football, and not only. Even if the neroazzurri’s new brand identity doesn’t apparently seem to mark a revolutionary change in the tradition of the club’s history, actually, the new logo has launched clear signals about the future of European football. 

Although introducing graphic solutions dominated by digitalisation and own of contemporary times, the new logo of the neroazzurri promotes the research of essential traits where to stand out is the intersection of shapes over volumes. Mirko Borsche - head designer of Bureau Borsche, the German studio that curated Inter Milan’s crest restyling - explains in an interview on nss sports: “Technical innovations have a big impact on society and on the consumption of content and media–accompanying brand identity requirements have changed drastically. [...] Design is a fluid process as changes in society are.”

The new Inter Milan crest, therefore, breaks free from the research for classicism and the opulence of heraldry typical of the ‘00s and ‘10s. Manchester City, for instance, has been the epitome of such a transition: first with its wannabe heraldic crest, then with the return, since 2016, to the 1960s rounded logo, although reinterpreted in a distinctively plastic and digital key. 

In crucial years for the establishment of a new divide between the past and the future of graphic design in sports inaugurated by Juventus in 2017, Italian football is preparing itself for new scenarios where marketing plays a fundamental role. Just a few weeks ago, in fact, Udinese showcased its latest graphic identity that, similarly to Inter Milan and Juventus’ new crests, embraces a return to the minimalist modernism that blossomed in the Serie A between the ‘70s and the ‘80s.  

In years when the red of protesters, policemen and innocent civilians' blood was the only colour brightening an otherwise grey nation up, the change embodied by the Serie A crests didn’t simply represent a chromatic revolution, but also a psychological one. The influence of multiple factors - including the advent of colour television in Italy and the concession by the FIGC to the use of technical sponsors on jerseys starting from the 1978-79 season - led to a rediscovery of colour in Italian football, later compared to that witnessed on the streets during the Summer of Love. Those were years when, also thanks to the renovated importance of sponsors, Italian football seemed to be updating its way of intending sports aesthetics in accordance to the American mentality. 

Football graphic design, hence, seemed to draw a bridge with commercial design, giving birth to crests that could simultaneously work as brand logos or as elements of the visual identity of the Italian comedy films of the time. Lightened of the weight of shield and standard shapes, the crests turn into autonomous graphic elements, essential in their traits and therefore instantly recognisable. By the late ‘70s a process of renovation of italian sports graphics began,none that is still relevant to these days as highlighted by Borsche’s words: “For a football club to move beyond the stadium gates and weekly games, it needs to present itself as a global brand. To not only be present in society and in the world of sport but to emerge in the broader sphere of consumption (of goods and content), communication, and become a fully-fledged entertainment company.”

AS Roma

Playing on the appeal for zoomorphic logos, the new Serie A crests could more easily be turned into personalised gadgets. The wolf logo designed in 1978 by Piero Gratton for AS Roma is a clear example of this. As a consequence of the intuition of the Roma sports director of the times Gilberto Viti and president Anzalone, the giallorossi were among the first clubs in Italy to understand the potential role of marketing in the football of the future. By attaching Gratton’s studio to the club’s headquarters, Roma used the potential represented by an organic brand identity, previously unseen in the Belpaese, to market a plethora of accessories and branded goods that went beyond the mere replica kit.

The result of the marketisation of the wolf logo? The money to fund the signing of legendary striker Pruzzo.

SS Lazio

Simultaneously to Gratton’s partnership with AS Roma, entrepreneur Giacomo Pouchain - fascinated by the streetwear declination the Americans made of sportswear and baseball teams’ merch -, once returned from his trip to the United State, decided to set up a sportswear brand in Rieti, Abruzzo, so to cater for the new aesthetic needs of European football. On top of signing a deal with the giallorossi president Anzalone, Pouchain also instaurated commercial relationships that will lead his brand to dress many Italian clubs like Bari, Palermo and Ascoli, often in partnership with Gratton’s logos. Among these teams also features Lazio, that Pouchain stole to its historical shirt maker NR when the 1979/80 season had already kicked off.

Although the team is mostly associated with the spread-wing eagle wrapping the so-called ‘flag’ jersey by NR, Gratton actually was the first to design a stylised eagle for the biancocelesti. Once again, the versatility between sports and commercial design gave us a logo transversal to both Lazio and, potentially, a 1970s jet-set airline company. The Gratton eagle, like the Pouchain jersey, though, will only last for one season following the shut down of the Abruzzese firm after less than three years of business. 

Torino Calcio

As it often happens with football teams’ crests, they lay their roots in mythology. That’s the case of the Torino ‘raging’ bull that is historically associated with the granata. One of its most fascinating, yet less celebrated declinations is that adopted from 1979 to 1983. Associated to technical sponsors Superga and Tiko, the zoomorphic logo holds graphic associations with the aesthetic of ancient mythology.

In its traits, more similar to those of a minotaur, the animal seems to evoke the legend by which a bull, energised by a potion made of water and wine, defeated the dragon that was keeping in check the settlement from which generated the city of Turin. 

Inter Milan

Talking of tales and heraldry, with the new decade also Inter Milan opted for a zoomorphic logo, stunning Italian football with a totally innovative crest. Inspired by the grass snake, the so-called ‘bissia’ (or, according to some, a dragon, anticipator of the current Chinese property) associated to Sforza lineage, the logo in use from 1979 to 1988 was responsible for reintroducing the animal on the club’s official crest after nearly twenty years of absence. Standing out on a white shield crossed by a black-and-blue strip - reminiscent of that used on multiple occasions on the team’s away kit - the 1980s biscione remains the most iconic in the history of the club.

Not only its modernist traits break free from the Visconti tradition - that, ironically, in those very same years is picked up by AC Milan’s owner Silvio Berlusconi for the logo of his TV channel Telemilano, later Canale 5 - but the crest will also be fruitful as Inter Milan conquered the Scudetto during the first season with the snake embroidered on their chest. Mostly, in the diversion from tradition lies all the futuristic craze of the ’80s Serie A, that had no fear of abandoning the pompousness of heraldry in favour of elevating mascottes to official crests. The great iconographic and commercial versatility of Inter Milan’s new logo could also be traced in the 1979-80 Panini sticker collection. The Modenese company, that was used to associating a comics-style mascotte to the clubs, in fact paired the neroazzurri with a playful ‘bissia’ not much dissimilar from that emblazoned in the team’s official crest. 

SSC Bari

Not always, though, the iconography of football teams lies in city crests. Bari is an example of this. Its cockerell (or hotspur), in fact, is the outcome of a journalistic initiative.  When in 1928 Guerin Sportivo magazine, following an idea of illustrator and humorist Carlo ‘Carlin’ Bergoglio, decided to pair the main Italian football teams with a mascotte - the so-called ‘animalie’ - Bari found itself lacking significant allegorical symbols. It was Pugliese journalist Alfredo Bogardo who rescued his team by suggesting the nickname ‘i galletti’ (aka the cockerels), allegory of the biancorossi fierce and fighting attitude. However, once again, it’s not until 1979 that the club adopted a truly innovative and representative crest.

Designed by the brilliant pen of Piero Gratton, the Barese cockerel is a gem of minimalist modernism. Straight and curved traits balance each other in an essential way, giving back one of the most iconic crests of Italian football, as well as the most dynamic work in Gratton’s portfolio. The cockerel will emblazon the club’s shirts until 2014, accompanying through highs, first, and lows, later, the epic of its owners the Matarrese family.