The Name Game: Where Did Your Club Get Their Nickname?

The beautiful game has evolved from decade to decade, however, one trait that has remained throughout all of football’s change is the nicknames given by fans to their respective clubs. For those of you who have ever wondered why Juventus are commonly referred to as “the Old Lady” or how Manchester United acquired their “Red Devils” title, then I suggest you read on.

Wimbledon – The Crazy Gang

The Crazy Gang is a nickname used by the English media to describe Wimbledon F.C. during the 1980’s and ’90’s. The name, originally that of a well known group of British comedy entertainers popular in the late 1930’s, was used because of the often eccentric and boisterously macho-behaviour of Wimbledon’s players, who were in the habit of playing frequent and outrageous practical jokes on each other and on the club’s manager Dave Bassett.

Bolton Wanderers – The Trotters

There are a few reported explanations for this one. Firstly,the term “Wanderers” generally implies a side is willing to travel great distances to be victorious. The term “Trotters” is simply a variation of the Bolton club’s original name. Another explanation claims that the Trotters nickname originates because people from Bolton have a reputation for being practical jokers. Reportedly, Bolton natives who part-take in such activities are known locally as Trotters. Potentially the most bizarre explanation claims that Wanderers’ old ground was built next to a pig farm and stray balls would end up with the pigs.

Everton – The Toffees

This famous nickname comes from a local sweet shop known as Mother Noblett’s. The shop have sold the Everton mint since Goodison Park’s opening in 1892. The sweet shop is located opposite Prince Rupert’s Tower, which forms the majority of the Everton crest,  thus creating the crest and nickname combination.

Manchester United – The Red Devils

A few conflicting stories describe the Red Devils nickname, the source of the name has never been fully settled, take . One rumor suggests that during a pre-season tour of France in the 1960s, the club were branded the Red Devils by French media to their red kit. Sir Matt Busby liked the name so much he asked for the club to incorporate a devil into the club’s crest. Another story suggests it stems from the local rugby club, Salford Red Devils. With United formerly training in Salford the nickname transferred over to the football club.

Arsenal – The Gunners

Arsenal’s nickname goes right back to when the club was originally founded in Woolwich, South London in 1886. Workers at Woolwich Arsenal Armament Factory decided to form a football club initially called Dial Square. The club would be renamed as Woolwich Arsenal before dropping the prefix in 1913. Their original connection with the armament industry in Woolwich would remain and the names Gunners is now synonymous with the club and represented by their iconic cannon crest.

Sunderland – The Black Cats

In 1997 when Sunderland moved to the Stadium of Light the clubs supporters were given the opportunity to vote on the clubs official nickname. With 11,000 votes the club announced their official nickname as ‘The Black Cats’.  The historical link with black cats goes back as far as the 1800’s with a River Weir artillery base named “Black Cat Battery”. This name reportedly developed after a member of the local militia who was manning the station fled after thinking a black cat was a devil incarnate because of the howling wind and full moon at the time.

Fast-forward to 1905 and a black cat was pictured sitting on a football next to the club chairman at the time, and three years later a black cat would appear in the clubs team photo. The fans believed that the animal brought them good luck and in 1937 Sunderland fan Billy Morris took a black cat to Wembley in his pocket, Sunderland would win their first FA Cup trophy that year. The connection grew even further in the 1960’s when a black cat lived at Sunderland’s Roker Park ground and was cared for by the club.

West Brom – The Baggies

One of the most debated nicknames around is West Brom’s. The popular belief is that the name originated from the baggie shorts that the players wore around in the early 1900’s. But club historian Toby Matthews claims: “In its early days The Hawthorns had only two entrances, one behind each goal. On match days the gatekeepers would gather up the takings at each end and be escorted by policemen along the sides of the pitch to the centre line where there was a small office under the stand.

“The gate money, mostly in pennies, amounted to a considerable sum and was carried in large cloth bags. It wasn’t long before some wag in the crowd started shouting “Here come the bag men!” at their appearance in front of the main stand, and this developed into a chant of “Here come the Baggies,” giving the team its nickname.

Juventus -The Old Lady

During its history, the club has acquired a number of nicknames, “la Vecchia Signora” (the Old Lady) being the best example. The “old” part of the nickname is a pun on Juventus which means “youth” in Latin. It was derived from the age of the Juventus star players towards the middle of the 1930’s. The “lady” part of the nickname is how fans of the club affectionately referred to it before the 1930’s.

Bayern Munich – FC Hollywood

The truth is that the name FC Hollywood was coined by opposition fans in Bundesliga. It was first used during the mid 1990’s, when a star studded Bayern Munich team endured one of it s worst periods in history – yet remained the focus of the German football media. It began with the appointment of Giovanni Trapattoni in 1994 and continued through his successor Otto Rehhagel’s reign – during which Bayern failed to lift a trophy and endured mediocre Bundesliga form.
The tag FC Hollywood referred to the fact players were often quoted in gossip columns and tabloid newspapers criticizing the club and their team mates.

This was best exemplified in the actions of their two main German stars of the period, Jurgen Klinsmann and Lothar Matthaus. Hounded and criticized by the media for producing such poor football, Matthaus was dubbed “the loudspeaker” by journalists following a series of outbursts in the media. The most famous of which saw Matthaus quoted as telling a Dutch tourist “Hitler must have overlooked you.” Worse still, Klinsmann and Matthaus notoriously despised each other – with things coming to a head during a live television debate which had to be cut short after the pair began arguing.

Whilst things have settled since then, the spotlight given to Bayern Munich, regardless of league form, continues to see their rivals refer to them as FC Hollywood.

Napoli – The Little Donkeys

On 23 August 1926, the members of Internaples resolved to adopt a new name for their club and Giorgio Ascarelli was appointed as the first president of the Associazione Calcio Napoli. By the time the next season started, the top league system of Italy was split into two groups consisting of 10 teams. Napoli finished bottom of their group with a dreadful 1 point earned from 18 games.

This is what got them the nickname I ciucciarelli which means “the little donkeys”, previously the football club had carried with them the emblem of the city of Naples, which was a horse. But after the aforementioned season, some in the city derided them as donkeys, the club however adopted “O Ciuccio” as it was called, making it their mascot and displaying it with pride. The following two seasons they did gradually better, finishing higher with this system each time.

Real Madrid – Galácticos

Galácticos are expensive, world-famous Real Madrid football players recruited during the “galácticos” policy pursued during Florentino Pérez’s presidency at Real Madrid, where in his first tenure he purchased at least one galáctico in the summer of every year.

The term itself has carried both positive and negative meanings for the club. Initially, it was used to emphasise the greatness of signing superstar players and the construction of a world class team. Later the term attracted a more negative connotation; galáctico becoming synonymous with prima donna and used to deride the transfer policy and side built under it, following media perception that the policy at Real had failed to deliver expected levels of success.

Atlético Madrid – The Mattress Makers

On 22 January 1911, Atlético Madrid played their first match in their famous colours, red and white striped shirts and blue shorts. At the time, mattresses in Spain were made with red-white stripes. With their new kit, Atlético soon earned the nickname Los Colchoneros,or The Mattress Makers.

Gareth Reynolds


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