Norwich City of the English Premier visit one of their poorer cousins, Hitchin Town, in a friendly game to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of a football club in the North Hertfordshire market town.
The link between Hitchin foot-ball club (yes, there was a hyphen) and the current Hitchin Town FC is a little tenuous at times, but the Southern League Premier club can claim its roots in that fledgling and frequently troubled club. Certainly, if it was not for that original club, football would not have taken root in Hitchin for some years. They were pioneers.
Hitchin will run out in a rather fetching magenta and navy strip for this special game. The first Hitchin club had an identity crisis for much of its 46 years’ existence. Full-time one minute, amateur the next and then ill-fated professionalism once more. The kit also changed frequently – subsequent strips included all-white, sky blue and even red.
But it was not until 1928 that the club adopted the yellow shirts that influenced the nickname “Canaries”. If Tom Wooding, who would become chairman of the reformed club, had his way in 1928, Hitchin Town would have played in all white, just like his beloved Swansea Town (later City). But a batch of yellow shirts and navy shorts was available and so it became the reformed club’s new kit.
Norwich City were called the Canaries long before Hitchin – around 1905. They also adopted yellow after earlier playing in light blue and white halves, often switching from left to right. The club adopted the nickname, allegedly, due to the popular pastime of raising canaries in the city. The link between Norwich the city and these birds dated back to the 16th century when Flemish weavers brought them to East Anglia. There are other less flattering explanations.
So who were the first club to use the nickname “Canaries”? It’s not Hitchin and it isn’t Norwich. It’s none other than the predecessors of Caernarfon Town of the Cymru Alliance. Caernarfon Athletic, formed in 1876, was the first team from north west Wales to enter the FA Cup. They went out of existence in 1894 but another club, Caernarvon Ironopolis, was established in 1894 and within a year, they were known as the “Canaries”.
The attractive yellow – and often green – bird has also been adopted by clubs outside Britain. Nantes of France were formed in 1943 and to match their yellow and green colours, they have always been called Les Canaris (the Canaries).
Not all clubs that are linked with canaries play in yellow and green, however. Fenerbahce of Turkey play in yellow and black, but they are known as the “Sarı Kanaryalar” – yellow Canaries. Sparta Rotterdam of the Netherlands play in red and white, but the club has a strong association with canaries, thanks to an eccentric fan who sat behind the goal with a bird in a cage. FC Koper of Slovenia have the nickname, but play in blue and yellow hoops. Lillestroem of Norway have an amber and black strip, while Modena of Italy’s Serie B are known as Canarini are resplendent in yellow and navy. Bulgaria’s PFC Botev Plovdiv, who date back to 1912, also play in yellow and black, but are known as Канари.
Why are football and birds so indelibly linked? Teams have called themselves after swifts, bluebirds, robins, blackbirds, hawks, buzzards, eagles and seagulls for years. It’s probably the fact that birds are agile, quick and, in many cases, they have wonderful poise. Whatever the reason, they fit nicely onto a club badge, don’t they?