Behind the badge: how a rugby fan and his creative wife devised Marseille’s famous crest

Behind the badge: how a rugby fan and his creative wife devised Marseille’s famous crest

Behind The Badge is a series by COPA90 exploring football’s unique crests. These Football Times teamed up with their COPA Collective partners to tell the story behind each one.

It’s just an ‘O’ and an ‘M’, what’s all the fuss about? If you look back at Marseille’s first badge in 1899 and latest, modern logo, I wouldn’t blame you if that question popped into your head. Now, unlike the New York Yankees’ two-letter symbol, Marseille’s crests, yesterday and today, represent how a club, sport and society have moved with the times.

Olympique de Marseille were formed in 1899 by all-round athlete René Dufaure de Montmirail, with a particular focus on his speciality: rugby. The Olympique prefix, like many other clubs at the time, hinted at the multi-sport nature of the organisation and, in this case, harks back to the Greek founders of the city of Marseille, the Phocaeans, which is where L’OM’s nickname Les Phocéens comes from. Local heritage is evident on the kit, too, with white and blue representing the traditional colours of the city.

At the turn of the 20th century, personal seals were all the rage. So much so that, inspired by his own initial-style seal, René Dufaure de Montmirail decided that OM would follow the same pattern, with the letters ‘O’ and ‘M’ appearing together on the first badge along with the club’s motto ‘Droit au but’ (‘Right to the goal’), which René Dufaure de Montmirail’s wife, Madeleine, came up with.

That particular badge would remain in place throughout the next three decades as professional football came to the fore in France, with Marseille winning national league titles and the Coupe de France on more than one occasion.

It was Marseille’s fourth Coupe de France triumph in 1935 that prompted a switch in style, following the art-deco trend that, if you look in dismay at badges of other prominent French clubs at the time like St-Etienne and Le Havre, was sweeping the nation. Marseille’s motto was dropped as they entered a new age, moving into the Stade Vélodrome in 1937. There would be a lengthy domestic drought in the decades after as OM dipped down divisions before rising back to prominence under the presidency of Marcel Leclerc in the late 1960s and early-70s.

After winning their first Ligue 1 titles in almost 30 years in 1971 and 1972, Marseille moved to update their crest again, capturing the ‘O’ and the ‘M’ inside a circular border. The rest of Europe were beginning to get to know Marseille at this point, too, as they featured in the European Cup, losing to eventual champions Ajax in the second round in 1972 and eventual runners-up Juventus, despite a 1-0 first-leg victory, in the first round in 1973. By the time Marseille next competed in the European Cup in 1988, the crest on their chests had changed again.

After over a 50-year absence, the motto returned as the seal-like style was re-adopted. The ‘O’ and ‘M’ were painted a lighter shade of blue four years later as Marseille stormed to four league titles on the bounce, two of them under the legendary Raymond Goethals. That lighter shade of blue didn’t stand out as much on the club’s white home kit, but the team certainly didn’t go unnoticed in Europe, claiming their maiden European Cup triumph in the first edition of the Champions League in 1993, two years after being beaten in the final by Red Star Belgrade. 

That momentous victory against AC Milan in Munich called for a new addition to the badge as a golden star was placed on top of the white initials. It’s remained there ever since and was joined by further progress for their centenary year in 1999. Marseille-based agency Encore Nous came up with the current logo – the blue initials, the club motto and, of course, the sole star. It’s been a symbol of the city and French football ever since its introduction in 2004, the year they were beaten in the UEFA Cup final by Valencia.

A trip back in time greeted the start of the 2009/10 season as Marseille honoured their 110-year anniversary with a more elegant badge, complete with a white ‘O’, a blue ‘M’ and the motto scribed on a golden scroll across the middle. As chance would have it, that was the year Didier Deschamps – the Champions League-winning captain of 17 years prior – guided his Marseille side to a first official Ligue 1 title for almost two decades.

A few years later, the badge had another face-lift as the ‘OM’ initials were surrounded by a circular border complete with club name and foundation year on the home strip for the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons. Perhaps it was an effort to modernise the Les Phocéens, but it didn’t prove popular enough as the rim was dropped after the two-year experiment. So, when you Steve Mandanda, Dimitri Payet and Florian Thauvin sporting that wonderful club crest on their chests, you can be reminded of that 19th-century rugby player and his wife.

By James Kelly @jkell403
Art by Tom Griffiths @ARTomGriffiths

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