FOOTBALL fans who are fighting to scrap an archaic law that has forced clubs to abandon their crests have been left in limbo as heraldic rules become mired in confusion.

More than 20 clubs may fall foul of ancient laws governing heraldry, which date back to 1592, if their badges include traditional elements such as shields, lions, thistles or saltires.

Airdrieonians have already been forced to ditch their historic badge after a complaint was made to the Court of the Lord Lyon, which enforces the rules, by a fan of a rival club.

Ayr United have been granted special dispensation to continue using their crest until June 2017, although they will be forced to adopt a new badge from the 2017/18 season.

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Other clubs that could be affected by the rules and be forced to change their badges are thought to include Dundee, St Johnstone, Hamilton Accies and East Fife.

St Mirren and Kilmarnock were both forced to alter their badges in the 1990s after being found in breach of the Lord Lyon rules.

Framing a badge within a shield could be enough to break the rules, while crowns, the Lion Rampant, castle turret designs and the use of letters are also frowned upon. The Lord Lyon has his own procurator fiscal, but will generally take action only if a complaint is received.

While many schools, rugby and gold clubs may breach heraldry rules, football clubs have found themselves particularly vulnerable to action as rival fans are more liable to raise the issue.

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Airdrieonians Supporters Trust fought to resist the enforced change of their badge but the campaign was abandoned after it was decided there was little hope of persuading Westminster to change the law.

Solicitor Colin Telford, who is a member of the Trust, explained that the Lord Lyon is a part of the Royal household and the underlying law reserved to Westminster but his judicial role is devolved.

“The decision to prosecute is taken by the Lord Lyon’s Procurator Fiscal,” he said. “That role is fulfilled by one man in Aberdeen who is firmly of the view that it is in the public interest to prosecute football clubs who are using “unregistered arms”.

“This will continue to affect other clubs, it’s happening with Ayr United and it only takes one letter from a rival fan to see another 20 or so clubs being forced to change or alter their badge.”

Corri Wilson, the SNP MP for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, has raised the issue at Westminster, asking the Cabinet Office whether it would review the operation of the 1592 Act in respect of the restrictions it placed on the “granting of arms”. Scottish Conservatives’ leader Ruth Davidson has also raised the issue with London.

However, Minister for Constitutional Reform John Penrose said any questions of “judicial functions” were devolved to Holyrood.

But the Scottish Government claimed that while functions of the Lord Lyon in his judicial capacity were devolved, his role in relation to the granting of arms, including the registration of football club crests, was not.

Ms Wilson said she was frustrated the issue had been palmed off, leaving football clubs in “the middle with the prospect of huge financial implications”.

She said: “It’s disappointing this issue continues to be passed from pillar to post. If the football badge was granted then there would be no need for any judicial involvement.

I will continue to pursue this matter.”

Previous attempts to petition Holyrood have been rejected on the grounds that the issue is reserved at Westminster.

A spokesman for the Lyon Office said that heraldry had been used in Scotland since the 12th century as a means of identification, with a coat of arms having a similar function to a trade mark. 

He added: "The Register was established in 1672 and records all arms lawfully owned since that date; as such it is a significant cultural treasure recording the rich history of Scotland and the people of Scotland. This necessity of recording arms in the Public Register has ensured that Scottish heraldry is regarded internationally as among the best in the world.

"In modern times heraldic authorities have looked to the Lyon Office as being the best model upon which to base their own rules. Nowadays any Scottish individual or organisation is free to petition the Lord Lyon for a grant of arms and grants are regularly made to people and groups from the broad spectrum of Scottish life; the registration of these arms makes it possible for anyone in Scotland to know who owns which coat of arms by a simple enquiry at the Lyon Office."