Sunday, 26 August 2012

British Football Club Name Terminology Explained

Writing innumerable pieces on the origins of place names, the meanings often come to my mind at the strangest moments. The exit boards at the side of the motorway are an obvious reminder, surnames are another. However the reading of the football results on a Saturday afternoon brought to mind not so much place names as the other half of the team name.

Some require no explanation, Town tells us their home is just that, City too, as indeed does the less common County. Teams known as United show they were formed by the union of two (or more) earlier football clubs. Both Wanderers and Rovers share an origin in informing all that, at least in the earliest days, they had no permanent venue for home games. Athletic, too, is indicative of the sport which was the original reason for the formation of the club.

Less obvious, but still recognisable, are the team from Nottingham known as Forest, clearly a reference to the home of the legendary outlaw in Sherwood Forest. Similarly in Scotland the Thistle is adopted by teams wishing to show pride in their nation and leaving no doubt as to which nation that is in the form of the national emblem.

Albion has been adopted by teams as it is the archaic name for Britain. However in the case of West Bromwich Albion, the first to adopt the suffix, it was a district of West Bromwich where the earliest players and founders of the team lived and worked for the the George Salter's Spring Works. Leyton Orient were formed in 1881, although known by several other names until 1888. The club's historians insist this unusual name came from a suggestion made by a team member, one Jack Dearing, whose day job was with the Orient Shipping Company, later a part of P&O.

The addition in the case of the team from Plymouth has always been debated. Founded as Argyle in 1886 there have been at least three suggestions of the origin. There is a local street called Argyle Terrace and an Argyle Tavern, both of which have been suggested as the original meeting place for the club's founders. However the most popular, and indeed the most likely, is it was named to honour the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, a regiment who had had a strong amateur football team for many years, probably in the hope it would inspire such success in Plymouth.

A similar story is found behind the name of Crewe Alexandra. Founded in 1877, it is said the club were named after the meeting took place in a pub named after Princess Alexandra, later to be queen consort to Edward VII. Unfortunately no official record was kept of this momentous occasion, thus this origin cannot be certain. Crewe can also claim to be one of the most often mispronounced names in British football, more often mistakenly referred to as Crewe Alexander.

Aston Villa were formed in 1874 and based in the Aston area of Birmingham. The four founders were members of the Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel Cricket Team looking for something to occupy them during the winter months, hence they were thereafter known as 'the Villa'. Arsenal are also known for the latter part of their name, however in their case the first part of the name has been lost completely. Formerly known as Woolwich Arsenal, the team comprised workers at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, hence the nickname of 'the Gunners'.

Arsenal's North London rivals are Tottenham Hotspur. Another club with a unique suffix, which again dates back to its founding. As with Aston Villa, the grammar school boys from All Hallows Church bible class decided to find themselves something to do during the winter months when they could not play cricket. They were members of the Hotspur Cricket Club, hence the name, although how the cricket club got its name is uncertain. It could be there was some supposed link with Sir Henry Percy, known as 'Harry Hotspur' in Shakespeare's plays, who certainly lived near here during the fourteenth century.

Rochdale Hornets were formed by a local rugby team, the name of 'Hornets' an alternative to 'Wasps' which, somewhat predictably, remarked on the horizontal stripes of the shirts. Sheffield Wednesday were so named for they were formed by a cricket club of that name, a reminder that this was the day of the week on which they played all their matches. The very young will be unaware that Milton Keynes based M K Dons were formerly Wimbledon and known as 'the Dons'. Unfortunately they were forced out of their home of Plough Lane by the local council and, with no local alternative stadium, shared grounds until settling in their present home.

While Tottenham were founded by schoolboys, it was as members of the cricket team that they clubbed together. This leaves just one professional club in Britain to be founded directly from a school football team. North of the border the name of Hamilton Academical tells of its beginning. Founded by Hamilton Academy in 1874, the 'Accies' are one of the world's oldest surviving football clubs.

As founder members of the Football League, Accrington Stanley were mourned when they went into liquidation in 1966. This original club took the addition when they began playing in Stanley Street, the former home of Stanley Villa. The present club, winning promotion to League 2 in 2006, were founded in 1968 and played their first competitive match in August 1970 and named to honour the original.

Rangers are the most successful club in the history of Scottish football. It is known their name was chosen by the four founders in 1872. The inspiration came from, of all things, a book on English rugby. It seems any other 'Rangers' simply took this from the Scotland club.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

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