What’s in a football club’s name?

FOOTBALL fans have always been intrigued by club names. Just scroll down a list of fantasy football team names or even Sunday clubs – there will be a plethora of Dynamos, Sportings and the odd Real and Lokomotive. People don’t always know what they might be giving their club in terms of the original meaning of that exotic name and mostly it doesn’t matter.

Borussia, a name we associate with Dortmund and Mönchengladbach, is the latin word for Prussia. However, “Dynamo” is a name that’s linked to secret police or the military, so too is “Spartak”. I once met a chap at a football meeting called Steve Spartak. He was an amusing fellow but not for one moment did I think he was named after a Russian army team.

It was interesting that David Beckham has named his US team Inter Miami. Actually, the full name is Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami, an attempt to appeal to a large Hispanic population as well as implying a vague connection with the world of Latin American football. “Inter” suggests a very international club but it also could be misinterpreted as being associated with Inter Milan. Beckham, more than any member of the football community, knows the value of publicity and media attention, so he’s probably been well advised. Inter Miami does roll of the tongue nicely, unlike another MLS club, Real Salt Lake. Do they not realise that “Real” effectively means “Royal”?

In Britain, the names of many clubs hint at the origins and evolution of a club. But not everyone understands their true meaning. An interesting example was when I was involved in the possible merger of two non-league clubs. One was a “Town”, the other just the name of their location. The merged entity was a combination of the two towns, but when it came to rounding off the club name, they wanted to call it X and Y Town.

I explained this was ludicrous as this was a club representing two towns and therefore you couldn’t name it that way. The usual route would be “United” as it was a merger of two clubs. That would be the most logical nomenclature. It took some time for people to grasp that.

Three of English football’s most ancient names are the result of clubs lacking a permanent home ground. Wanderers, Rovers and Rangers are all names given to clubs that will go anywhere for a game. These date back many years and their true meaning has been lost in the sanded pitches of time.

Albion is an interesting one and is an old English term to describe Great Britain and is said to have been inspired by the white cliffs of Dover. Given it is a well-known term, it is perhaps surprising that there are only three teams in the Football League with Albion as part of their name: Brighton & Hove Albion, West Bromwich Albion and Burton Albion. The most common add-ons are City (14), United (13) and Town (12). There are a further 15 clubs who use the name of their town, city or part of a city as the sole descriptor.

English football is well known for its peculiar and slightly eccentric football club names. Are there more evocative names than Accrington Stanley, Crewe Alexandra or Port Vale? These names seem to be more associated with the past, but they also highlight the very diverse and sometimes romantic histories of the country’s football clubs. Many clubs can trace their roots back to a number of influences: churches, military, schools and industries all figure very prominently. Others owe their formation simply to wealthy local businessmen setting up a club. Indeed, Chelsea was founded by someone who owned an athletics ground and wanted to start a club to get better use out of it. Some clubs, such as Liverpool, were breakaways from their parent club. And the idea of a franchised club can be found, to a certain degree in Arsenal’s history. If the Gunners hadn’t moved from Woolwich to north London, the history of the game in the pre-WW2 years might have been very different. Tottenham fans like to tag Arsenal “Woolwich Wanderers” but Emirates regulars will roll-out the honours list in response.

Purists tend to lean towards tradition and don’t necessarily like the Americanisation of sporting names. Cricket and Rugby League seem to have embraced a more US approach, but English football will always eye any attempt to bastardise their team names (as Hull City’s owner found out) with suspicion. There are a number of reasons for this – pride in their home town, loyalty to the club itself and also continuity. Fans like to think that they are carrying on the tradition of watching their football club and that when they have long gone, the name of the local “United”, “Rovers” or “Borussia” will live on. Play up, Stanley!!


This article first appeared in Football Weekends magazine.


Photo: PA

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