German soccer blogs are not a place I usually go to for a story about religion, but an interesting one has popped up on the forum of the Eintracht Frankfurt team. The team let its fans vote over the Internet late last year to pick a 2008/2009 season jersey among 16 proposed models. Despite the fans’ enthusiasm for this innovation, Eintracht has ignored the result and chosen to use the runner-up design. As the team explained on its website:
After a close examination, we have decided that the winning jersey with the cross unfortunately cannot be used because the symbol on the front has a religious background. Inter Milan, an Italian club with a long tradition, has appeared in the current Champions League competition in a similar jersey and been strongly criticised for it. So after careful consideration, Eintracht Frankfurt has gone back and chosen the second jersey, which came in a close second in the vote.
The runner-up that came out on top has what Eintracht calls “hints of eagle claws on the front and a stylised eagle on the shoulder”. The city’s coat-of-arms has a red eagle that also figures on the Eintracht team logo.
So why the change? It turns out that a Turkish lawyer (and Fenerbahçe fan) asked UEFA in December to invalidate an Inter Milan victory over the Istanbul team in the Champions League last November because the red cross on the Italian jerseys recalled the Knights Templar crusaders. Shortly afterwards, the Barcelona daily La Vanguardia reported that fake FC Barcelona jerseys were on sale in Saudi Arabia with the crossbar removed from the cross on the team’s emblem. Eintracht doesn’t mention this Christian/Muslim angle explicitly, but it takes only a few clicks to find it.
Eintracht’s fan forum erupted with comments. The main thread on the jersey is up to 1,728 and climbing, many defending the loser as simply a better design. Almost 500 fans have signed a petition against the winner. The religious angle seemed irrelevant to most of them.