Sunday, 16 September 2012

Come On You ............. Why? (the Nicknames of Football Clubs)

Listening to a commentary on a game involving Sunderland AFC, one pundit referred to them as the Black Cats. I recalled this 'nickname' was chosen when the club relocated at their new ground having left their traditional home of Roker Park. It was because of this move the club decided they could no longer keep the old nickname of Rokerites - at the time the I failed to see the logic behind this, no more than the reasoning behind the new name simply because a black cat was considered lucky in their FA Cup win and also a tenuous link to a Black Cat Gun defending the river.

As this 'nickname' having no real link to the history of the club, do any of the nicknames by which the clubs are known have any true link to the history? Of course many names are highly simplistic, the Blues of Chelsea and Birmingham city, the Reds of Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, are simply the predominant colour of the respective kits. But what of the others? Are these born of another bright idea, as is the case with Sunderland, or do they have a story to tell? Ignoring the predominant colours, a little research found some interesting facts.

A number were named for the colour of the strip, although not always directly. For example the birds in the names of the Canaries of Norwich City, the Robins of Swindon Town and Bristol Rovers, the Bantams of Bradford City, Magpies of both Newcastle United and Notts County. Animal colours are seen in the Badgers of Fulham's black and white strip, the Bees of Barnet, and Hornets of Watford. Other 'strip related names' include the Cardinals of Woking who wear cardinal red; the Clarets of Burnley; the Hoops of Queens Park Rangers; the Lilywhites of Preston North End; the Mighty Whites of Leeds United; and Coventry City the Sky Blues.

Clearly some are simply pet names for the club, such as Stevenage and Middlesbrough both being Boro; Dagenham are the Daggers; Rochdale and Dale; Rushden & Diamonds are the Diamonds; Milton Keynes Dons were Wimbledon, hence the Dons; Gillingham are the Gills; Kettering the Kettles; Oldham Athletic the Latics; Leyton Orient the O's; while Oxford United, Cambridge United and Colchester United are all known as the U's; Shrewsbury Town are the Shrews; Wolverhampton Wanderers are the Wolves; Aston Villa are the Villains; and Tottenham Hotspur are Spurs.

Much as pub names reflect the local industry, some clubs were founded by workers in the traditional factories associated with the area. Sheffield is still known for its steel and particularly cutlery, hence Sheffield United being the Blades. The Brewers can only be the beer capital of England and Burton Albion. Furniture industries have led to Wycombe Wanderers being the Chairboys. Northampton Town's shoe making is reflected in the name of the Cobblers.

Arsenal probably have one of the most sensible nicknames, the Gunners being founded by workers at Woolwich Arsenal. The employees of the Thames Ironworks founded West Ham United, hence the Hammers from the use of the image on the club's crest, although the association with 'Ham' cannot be entirely unrelated.

Grimsby is synonymous with fishing, hence the Mariners. Yeovil was a town of glove makers, hence the Glovers. Luton Town is famous for its Hatters, as were the Hatters of Stockport County. The pottery industry of Stoke-on-Trent made Stoke City the Potters. Morecambe is famous for its shrimping, hence they are the Shrimps, while Southend United prefer the nickname Shrimpers.

Macclesfield Town is known for its silk mills, the team are the Silkmen. Suffolk is known for its agriculture, hence Ipswich Town are the Tractor Boys. Southampton were founded by St Mary Church Young Men's Association, hence they are known as the Saints. The Yorkshire terrier was the inspiration for Huddersfield Town's name of the Terriers.

The Bulls of Hereford United is from the image of the Hereford Bull, although they no longer walk one around the pitch before home games. The Cumbrians are Carlisle United, the biggest club in that county. Leicester City are the Foxes, the fox featuring on the county emblem. The Imps of Lincoln City are named after the famous imp found in the local cathedral. Lions are seen on the badge of Millwall. York Minster gave York City the name of the Minstermen. The famous bent spire of Chesterfield made the local team the Spireites.

Chelsea are the Pensioners, after those based at the nearby Royal Hospital Chelsea. History provided the inspiration of the Pilgrims who left Boston United's town and travelled to the New World via the city which is home to Plymouth Argyle. Shipping is also seen in the name of the Pirates of Bristol Rovers. Pompey is the nickname of the city of Portsmouth as well as the football team.

Quakers were dominant in Darlington, hence the team are the Quakers. Crew is synonymous with railways, hence Crewe Alexandra are the Railwaymen. The Derby Ram is a popular song, hence Derby County are the Rams. Leatherworking was prominent in Walsall, home of the Saddlers.

Another name said to have been acquired from the kit is the Baggies, said to have been because West Bromwich Albion's shorts were once exceptionally 'baggy'. However this is disputed by the club who claim the name actually began as a derogatory term by opposition supporters. In truth the official nickname for many years was the Throstles, itself from the bird on the club badge.

Crystal Palace are nicknamed the Eagles, a name said to have been copied from Portuguese giants Benfica, although why is a mystery. Exeter City are the Grecians, the ground is at the parish of St Sidwell where the people were also known as Grecians, no explanation of why makes any sense! Similarly the Red Devils of Manchester United 'borrowed' their nickname from nearby Salford Rugby League team, for reasons unknown.

Bournemouth are the Cherries because their ground occupies land formerly used as a cherry orchard. Torquay is a famous resort and the ground is still overflown by the Gulls which gave them their name, Brighton & Hove Albion are similarly known as the Seagulls. Blackpool leave the birds alone and refer to themselves as simply the Seasiders.

Millers play at Millmoor, home of Rotherham United. Sheffield Wednesday's ground is in the city's district of Owlerton, hence the name of Owls. Blackburn Rovers are the Riversiders, their ground is adjacent to the local river. The Royals of Reading are in the Royal County of Berkshire. Barnsley are the Tykes, a more general nickname for a Yorkshireman,

There are also some names which could only ever be found in Britain. For example the Addicks of Charlton Athletic is the local pronunciation of 'haddocks', a reference to the local fish and chip shop. Similarly the Bees of Brentford is a misinterpretation of a chant from the early days which was actually "Buck up B's" (not bees).

On the subject of local shops Everton, also known as the Blues, acquired the name Toffees because of a local toffee shop. A recent revival of an old custom where a woman in blue and white would toss toffees to the crowd before a game probably cemented that nickname. Posh is a very football related name for Peterborough United, which is held to be from former manager Pat Tirrel demanding "Posh football from a posh team".

Bolton Wanderers are the Trotters, so named because one of their early grounds was next to a piggery where the ball invariably ended up at least once in every match. Hence players had to 'trot' through the 'trotters' to retrieve the ball.

However surely the best is that of a club and a region which can laugh at itself. During the Napoleonic Wars it is alleged that residents of Hartlepool hung a monkey which they mistakenly believed to be a French spy. Hence those of Hartlepool United are referred to as the Monkey Hangers. When Hartlepool reach the Premier League and sign players from abroad, I wonder how that will be viewed by French imports?

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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