This is the story of Keith Young and how he helped create the UEFA Champions League Brand 30 years ago using the game of Subbuteo to make the process a little easier!
Keith has worked in branding most of his life, generally on the redesign of things like McVities and Knorr, only to name a few, but being a QPR fan he loved football, so always longed for the challenge of doing some type of design work within the game. In 1991 Keith took a phone call that would change his life, it was UEFA, the governing body of European Football, on the line, saying that he had been recommended to them as they wanted to develop a new brand and didn’t know how to do it! At first, he thought it was a wind up and a mate having a bit of fun, but know, it was UEFA! And what followed was a boy’s dream. Exposure to football at the highest level, it was first class all the way!
UEFA had acquired the rights for the European Cup and wanted to commercially exploit the opportunity that a league of the best teams in Europe could offer. Keith's brief was to create ‘The Game of the Gods’ with football played at the highest level. The brand identity was created using a colour palette of black and white with the icon being what became known as the ‘star ball’. Look at the number of stars that is on the logo, unchanged from when it was launched and you’ll see eight, representing the eight football stars of Europe.
Design Bridge, Keith’s company had never worked in football before and with his fellow directors not really into football this was going to be Keith's baby, so Keith formed a team of like minded people and they got to it. 1991 was a gazillion years ago in technology terms. There was no CGI, and his team couldn’t go to a stadium and mock up ideas but Keith remembered he had given his son his old Subbuteo set along with stands and other stadium accessories, this would become the way he and his team developed the brand to see how it might work. Below is an image of a little area in Keith's office! you can see the Subbuteo setup and what would be the very first Champions League stadium.
Below you can see the "Star Ball" logo running along the front of the upper terrace and the Champions League sponsors running along pitch-side.
This is at Arsenal's old Highbury stadium which you can see is very similar to the Subbuteo setup that appears in Keith's Subbuteo stadium designs.
One of Keith's other ideas was to use of the center circle as a branding device, so the "Star Ball" logo was used with local children flapping it just before kick off to set the scene and it made great live feeds when shot from above. This concept has since been used not only for Champions League games, but at many other sporting events but seen first on Keith's Subbuteo setup.
Below is the "Star Ball" logo in the center circle that is used at every UEFA Champions League match to date.
Keith worked with Adidas on the creation of the star ball design to go onto a football that took 5 years. his client was ex Liverpool player Craig Johnston who is still a friend to this day. As a result of this work with Adidas he ended up creating the graphic designs for all Euro and World Cup balls until 2002. This included believe it or not the first ball with coloured graphics for the Euros in 1996 in England.
Some more photos from Keith's Subbuteo Setup
It has been a huge pleasure for me to listen to Keith's story and to share it with the whole Subbuteo community, it has been a superb project and on behalf of The English Subbuteo Association, I would like to Thank Keith Young for sharing this great piece of history with us.