Nicknames come from a genteel era

Basketball has the Chicago Bulls and the Orlando Magic, while rugby league boasts the Wigan Warriors and the Leeds Rhinos.But, as JOSH WARWICK discovers, football's quaint nicknames are rooted in a bygone era of cloth caps and wooden rattles.

Basketball has the Chicago Bulls and the Orlando Magic, while rugby league boasts the Wigan Warriors and the Leeds Rhinos.

But, as JOSH WARWICK discovers, football's quaint nicknames are rooted in a bygone era of cloth caps and wooden rattles.

THE Peacocks (Leeds United), the Pensioners (Chelsea) and the Toffee men (Everton) are hardly nicknames which strike fear into the heart of the opposition.

But in the tradition-embracing sport of football, these colloquial titles have lasted the axing of players' minimum wage, the first million pound transfer and the saturation of televised matches.

And, according to Michael Heatley, who has recently completed a book on the origins of football clubs' nicknames, such a link with the past is most welcome in a game accused of losing its identity.

The Fulham-supporting writer and former football magazine editor spent 18 months painstakingly researching the book, which will be published next month.

Most Read

“Unlike the names of, say, American basketball teams, the nicknames of English clubs are not very macho really,” he said. “I suppose they date back to the days of the cap and rattle.

“Personally, I'm glad we don't make a big thing of it. It can be difficult to live up to some of the names of the clubs in the States and it can be quite embarrassing if they don't perform.

“Our clubs' nicknames are one of the few things Sky has not managed to mess about with - and I'm quite glad.

“Delving back into a club's history is one of those things where you can find so many different explanations that you have to eventually take a view as to what is the most likely.

“I'm sure there are lots of anoraks out there who will probably write in and tell me I'm totally wrong over such and such a club. But then the book was published because it was deemed there are enough anoraks around to make it viable!”

Heatley admits his book is more for perusing on the toilet than reading from cover to cover, but it is sure to both settle and create arguments in pubs and grounds across the country.

It was written on the basis that every fan, at some juncture, will have stopped to consider why, for example, Peterborough are known as the Posh or Plymouth are called the Pilgrims.

Then there are the puzzling nicknames which have evolved over time.

“Reading is a classic example of nicknames changing,” said Heatley. “They are the Royals now, but they used to be the Biscuit Men, due to the nearby biscuit factory.

“I'm a Fulham fan and we were the lilywhites, but people now know us at the Cottagers, which has some worrying connotations.

“Clubs have even voted on their nicknames, like Sunderland who decided to look for a new nickname after leaving Roker Park. They became the Black Cats because they couldn't be the Rokerites anymore.

“There is even some controversy about one or two. Charlton have been called the Valiants but they are mainly known as the Addicks, which sounds a bit like the word Athletic shouted by a drunk.

“But there is a story that there was a fish merchant operating near the ground who used to scream 'Haddocks' and it caught on among fans.

“Everton are called the Toffees because there used to be a sweet factory nearby and the local shopkeepers used to hand them out to supporters before games.

“Then there's Peterborough who became The Posh because a former manager said he was after posh players for a posh team - although I don't think that was Barry Fry! There was even the story a few years back that Posh Spice Victoria Beckham was trying to sue the club for using her name.”

And what about Norwich City's imposing nickname?

“Norwich are known as the Canaries because of the colour of their shirts, rather than because of anything Delia has served in her restaurant,” Heatley said.

At Portman Road in recent seasons, Ipswich Town have experienced their own nickname addition, becoming the Tractor Boys.

The ironic self-deprecating title was spawned following the regular taunts of rival fans.

“It's a long-term thing that has developed over the years really,” said Phil Ham of the Ipswich fanzine Those Were The Days.

Town's only real nickname has been the Super Blues, but after years of abusive mockery concerning their so-called country ways, the fans turned the joke around and adopted their new identity.

Away fans would regularly sing 'Oooh-arrr, oooh-arrr, but during a home match with Birmingham, the North Stand responded with a chant of “one-nil to the Tractor Boys” - and the rest is history.

Yet not everyone associated with the club is so enamoured - manager Jim Magilton is believed to hate the image of straw-chewing bumpkins coming out of the tunnel.

Football Club Origins and Nicknames is published by Ian Allan Ltd and will be available in paperback from May 8.