Arsenal are one of the most famous teams in world football and their badge is iconic and instantly recognisable. But the cannon symbolism is not just a fearsome image, the makeup of the crest traces its roots in the fabric of the club that has existed ever since they were first founded in 1886.
An ‘arsenal’ by definition is a place where arms and ammunition are made, stored, maintained or repaired. And it was for a group of 16 workers at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, south east London, that what we now know as Arsenal FC was formed in the late 19th century.
The club was initially called Dial Square, named after a particular workshop in the arms complex, but it was changed to Royal Arsenal soon afterwards. Another renaming followed in 1893, two years after becoming London’s first professional football club, when the team was registered as Woolwich Arsenal to better reflect the area of the capital they were from.
20 years later, in 1913, the club relocated to north London and dropped Woolwich from the name. But even long since leaving the original ‘arsenal’ behind, Arsenal FC are still steeped in that identity. Being nicknamed ‘The Gunners’ is an obvious clue in itself.
It is also depicted on the club badge. Cannons have featured on Arsenal crests since the 1880s, the first versions of which bore similarities to the coat of arms of what was the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich. The three upward pointing guns on early Arsenal badges can sometimes be mistaken for towers or chimney, but they are indeed cannons.
Arsenal’s history risked being lost after the 1913 move and the cannon was briefly forgotten until it was then firmly embraced from 1922 onwards. Although the Arsenal badge has gone through a handful of updates in the decades since, a cannon has always been at the centre of it.
A full badge wasn’t worn on Arsenal shirts until the 1990s, with a single cannon instead symbolising the club from when logos were first regularly used on jerseys from 1967.
The Arsenal badge first seen in the Premier League era had been the club’s logo since 1949, until it was finally replaced by the more modern current crest in 2002.
One of the main drivers for the change was commercial as Arsenal had been unable to copyright the previous badge that had been used for over half a century because various elements had been added over the year and therefore establishing its origins was difficult.
Arsenal have occasionally added extra embellishment to the badge, even in modern times, incorporating oak leaves and laurel leaves to the design for the 2011/12 season to commemorate the club’s 125th anniversary.