American fans new to the Premier League may find the nicknames of the various football clubs to be surprising, confusing, amusing and even offensive. I thought I should write this short introduction to the nicknames for newly minted American fans coming to the Premier League. There will be so much in the colo(u)r commentary to send you to the Internet it helps to know which team they are talking about when they refer to the defense as “shambolic” or the wingers as “pacey”. Many Americans will be wondering if these are compliments or criticisms, so it helps to put things in context if you know WHICH team they are talking about. Here is a quick guide to some of the nicknames in the BPL.
To the average Brit, this may seem unnecessary. Having a team named Sheffield Wednesday is not at all surprising. I mean the lads all met on Wednesdays to play and practice. It makes perfect sense to name your team after the place and day you are available for matches. No? Of course, it makes perfect sense. The average Brit is thinking this is normal and not THAT weird.
After all, Americans won’t be surprised by the Derby County Rams or the Hull City Tigers. Mean mammals are a staple of American football with Bears, Rams and Lions all coming to mind immediately. However, Americans think Terriers are “cute” and not ferocious and perhaps that is why Huddersfield was relegated last season. On the other hand, Americans probably feel the same about Foxes. Nonetheless, Leicester City rose quickly from lower leagues through promotion to take the Premier League title a few seasons ago. Not only did the Foxes avoid relegation upon their promotion to the top flight, but they also took the title! (Relegation and Promotion are a WHOLE other essay Americans.)
I admit to the British that there are some similar animals shared between the countries sporting teams, but such different contexts. Yes, there are Bucks in the United States as there are in the BPL. One of the more famous male deer mascots is the Watford Hart featured on their crest. Once an American gets their brain around the fact a Hart is a male deer in the Queen’s English, they will be surprised to learn the Watford nickname is the Hornets! What? Why? Not exactly sure, except that the owner wanted a deer on his team’s crest instead of the Hornet that was there when he bought the team.
If you think the Hart is confusing, wait until you hear about the Wolves. Wolves are a ferocious mammal, so Americans should get that just fine. There is a wolf on the crest for the team. They hail from Wolverhampton! Again this makes perfect sense UNTIL the American learns that they are known as the Wolverhampton WANDERERS. What???!!! The commentators can switch back and forth between Wolves and Wanderers so much that at first an American might think there are THREE teams on the field. By the time Americans figure out this confusing habit of the commentators, the next question is what the hell is a Wanderer?
Americans think a Wanderer is: (… type of guy who will never settle down. Where pretty girls are, well you know that I’m around) just like Dion sang about. It is actually a fairly common nickname in the BPL and occasionally depending upon the wheel of relegation there can be more than one team in the top flight with the nickname the Wanderers. I am still not 100% sure what the Brits mean by a “Wanderer” if it is not what Dion defines. Perhaps that is exactly why they like the nickname.
Birds are surprisingly heavily represented in the Premier League. Americans will be used to ferocious birds of prey, like the Eagles of Philadelphia versus the Eagles of Crystal Palace. Yes, there are British equivalents to Cardinals, Orioles, and Ravens, too. Notwithstanding the Magpies of Newcastle, who are already well-known in America, many of the other Premier League birds seem a bit unusual to the American mind with mascots, like Robins, Sea Gulls, Bluebirds, and Swans.
Brits will object as Swansea surely should be allowed to use a Swan of course. Sure, I respond, but what about Norwich I say? When the season opened this year, the newly promoted team of Norwich faced the previous season's champions Manchester City. Manchester City’s nickname is appropriately the Citizens. When the Norwich team unexpectedly won this game, I was quite amused to hear the announcers say, “..the Canaries were ascendant today over the Citizens.” The Canaries? The Canaries were RAMPANT that day. Yep, the Canaries…quit laughing…they won with a goal from a forward named Pukki! Now you can laugh.
Of course, there are some very mundane names among the big clubs. Chelsea simply refers to their players as the Blues. Liverpool similarly refers to their players as the Reds. Though Burnley’s nickname, the Clarets will sound a little odd to the American ear. Nicknames can get even odder too at least to American sensibilities.
Perhaps Bournemouth fans are fine with the nickname of the Cherries, but American fans would demand a name change after suffering drunken abuse from opposing supporters about their lost virginity. There would be a lot of such abuse too because the Cherries are an erratic team. Also, one must wonder if Americans would tolerate the Everton nickname, which is a piece of candy. Yep, they are nicknamed the Toffees? What will be next Americans ask…the Lollipops?
Perhaps now a Brit can see how Americans could be confused and amused by the nicknames of British Football Clubs. However, what did I mean by “offensive” my British friends will ask. Well, for example, the Tottenham Hot Spurs have a chicken logo. It does not take much imagination to understand that this is a reference to cockfighting. Though most of the club’s literature refers to Harry Hotspur, a medieval nobleman said to wear very fancy spurs. However, it does not take much digging to figure out that Sir Henry Percy, his real name, was known to affix vicious and shiny spurs upon his fighting cocks. Given that soccer is about kicking a ball the animal nickname makes sense, even if it does reference a cruel and brutal sport. It is no wonder the club tries to point to Harry Hotspur as the inspiration, but a cockerel logo is a dead giveaway. Finally, the HotSpur appellation is really part of the club’s name and their “official” nickname is the LilyWhites. Goodness, Americans shudder!
American sensitivities can be like a raw nerve, but it is all in good fun, right? I personally cannot resist the drama of the Premier League, like when a team such as the Wigan ‘Latics top the Citizens in the FA Cup but still get relegated! Latics is slang for Athletic as the club name is Wigan Athletic, though they have a tree for their logo. Moments like Ben Watson’s off the bench header cannot be duplicated in American sports, because we lack national tournaments where all levels can compete or the consequences of relegation to add this drama to our sports. Given the penchant for teams to “tank” in American professional sports, I think a case could be made for Americans to adopt the practice.
I hope you find this essay helpful while watching Premier League games because there is a lot of cognitive dissonances. It will take a little time for you to sift through the accent and learn that “Gooners” are Arsenal fans whose team nickname is the Gunners. Also, when you are watching West Bromwich Albion, I can tell you that Albion is an Old English reference to white rocks, like the chalky cliffs of Dover. However, I cannot tell you for sure why they are referred to as the Baggies. Some nicknames in the Premier League may never be decoded since people have been living there for thousands of years.
When I first started watching I puzzled for quite a while about why the heck Portsmouth was often referred to as Pompey. Was it like Harry Hotspur? Nope, there are many answers, apparently. I have heard the HMS Pompey was stationed in Portsmouth or that there is a famous statue of the Roman General Pompey in Portsmouth. However, this explanation about a supporter chant derived from a local intellectual’s speech in 1904 makes as much sense as any other. Fortunately, Portsmouth has been relegated for a number of years, so Americans need not be troubled by this riddle…for now.
Relax and enjoy the footie!