I thought this week I would comment on my favourite sport but instead of doing an article on how much I love Balotelli and his antics, I thought I’d use my, supposed, skills as a historian and delve into the history books to discover where football teams got their names from; why so many ‘Uniteds’, ‘Rovers’ and ‘Wanderers’? What is the story behind the suffix? Of course it would be too time consuming to go through each individual team and discuss the origin of their name, so I plan on taking the most popular suffixes of club names in Great Britain, plus a few anomalies, and hopefully providing some interesting insight into the history of football team names. Some are quite self-explanatory; Borough, City, County and Town shouldn’t leave too many of you guessing how they came up with these names!
Albion- E.G Brighton & Hove Albion, Burton Albion ,West Bromwich Albion
Albion is the oldest known name for Great Britain, today it is used more predominately as an alternative name to England. It was used heavily in poetry during the 19th century at a time when the word was very popular in Britain; West Brom were the first club to take up the suffix in the late 19th century before Brighton did at the turn of the century. Albion is very sentimental word for England in modern times and highlights why football teams use it as part of their name.
Athletic- Charlton, Oldham, Wigan
Has no actual connotations towards Athletics as a sport or as an Athletics club, but actually refers to a sense of fitness and strength derived from the Latin word Athletica.
An anomaly in league football but I think there are one or two non-league football clubs that have taken to using Hotspur too. Tottenham got their name from a Mr Harry Hotspur, real name Henry Percy, who was the son of the first Earl of Northumberland. The Percy family owned large tracts of land in Tottenham during the 15th century and Henry himself was famed for his riding spurs and his
Cockfights in which he fitted his fighting cocks with spurs, hence why the Spurs crest features a cockerel.
Orient- Leyton Orient
This is another one of the anomalies of English football with only Leyton Orient using this particular suffix. Based in East London and founded in 1881 as Eagle Cricket Club, the name Orient came about in 1898 at the request of one of their players, Jack Dearing, who at the time also worked for the Orient Shipping Company. Due to the high level of shipping business in and around East London at the beginning of 20th century, the name seemed very apt and has stuck ever since. Quite an interesting one this, as it has absolutely nothing to do with football but rather cementing the clubs place in a certain part of London.
Rangers- Glasgow Rangers, Queens Park Rangers
The word Ranger refers to people wandering in search of plunder; plunder in a football sense referring to glory and trophies. Queens Park Rangers epitomise the use of the suffix by having had 18 different home grounds in their 129-year history. Glasgow Rangers too, had 6 different home grounds in the first 20 years of their existence. Judging by their history, both of these clubs were correct in their choice of name.
Rovers- Blackburn Rovers, Bristol Rovers, Doncaster Rovers
Rovers, in a similar way to Rangers, refers to constant travelling in search of glories. Rover seems to have to connotations with pirates and sea-travel; 7 ships in the Royal Navy have been named Rover suggesting ‘Rovers’ travel great distances in search of their glories.
Wanderers- Bolton, Wolverhampton, Wycombe
Wanderers has two meaning its seems. The first refers to a nomadic existence, a case of perpetually wandering around, minus the romantic sentiment of Ranger or Rover. This is how Bolton got their name due to their nomadic nature at the beginning of their history; they played at a variety of different grounds for the first 30 years before moving to Burden Park in 1901. The Second meaning came from the first winners of the F.A Cup. In 1872, Wanderers F.C of South London, previously of East London, became the first winners of the F.A Cup and it Wolves and Wycombe took their name from the cup winners. After Wanderers’ victory, the word took on a rather romantic meaning referring to a group of travelling gentlemen who were playing the game for pleasure rather than solely to win.
The only football club in Britain with a day of the week in their name, the club was initially a Cricket Club named the Wednesday Cricket Club, before the members decided that they should play football during the winter months in order to keep fit. Sheffield Wednesday football club was founded on Wednesday 4th September 1867. The club included a lot of local butchers who had half-days on Wednesday and therefore would play both matches on the Wednesday. Very quickly it became obvious that the football side of the club was far more popular than the cricket and eventually football replaced the cricket as the main sport.
United- Manchester, Newcastle Leeds
Probably the most common suffix, outside of city and town, it quite literally means people have decided to unite together, what is interesting is how they became ‘united’. I decided to look at two of the most popular ‘Uniteds’ in England. In the case of Newcastle United, at the end of the 19th century, Newcastle West End were in serious financial trouble, whereas Newcastle East End has just become a professional team. Newcastle West End collapsed and effectively merged with East End, eventually uniting under one name, Newcastle United. Manchester United, formerly known as Newton Heath, changed their name in 1902 when Newton Heath were ordered with a winding up order due to large un-paid debts. As a mark of the Fresh Start the club changed name to Manchester United, firstly to show solidarity after troubling times and secondly because the owner, manager and captain all thought Manchester United sounded much better than Manchester Celtic.
So there we have it, a quick overview of some of the most popular Football club names. The reason behind this entry was because I find it interesting how so many football team names have nothing to do with the sport whatsoever but are born out of a sense of community spirit and a need of belonging and a desire to win. It highlights how big a part football has had to play in communities across Great Britain throughout the years, how they have helped form community identities and even put certain areas of the country on the map. Hopefully, this has been as interesting to read as it was to research, maybe sometime I’ll have a look at football team nicknames.