Have you ever wondered how these clubs got their nicknames?
Perhaps one of the best things about football is the affectionate nicknames fans come up with for their clubs and themselves. In many cases, the nicknames are obvious and are based either on the crest or the colour of the team's home kits and flag, etc. For example, Liverpool are called ‘The Reds’ because of the colour of their flag and home kits; Real Sociedad in La Liga call themselves ‘Txuri-urdin’, which might sound complicated, but it really just translates to ‘’White and Blues’ which are historically their colours. We also have Manchester United who are called the ‘Red Devils’, or Real Madrid being known as ‘Los Blancos’ (The Whites) for their traditional all white kits and their fans being called ‘Madristas’ which is a simple derivation from the club's name. However, some names that are used by fans make no sense; at least, not anymore. Today, let me tell you about some clubs whose nicknames sound bizarre and nonsensical in the present times, but if their history is examined, they make for really good stories. Let's get started.
The club might not have been doing too well in the Premier League for the last couple of seasons, but there is no denying that they are an extremely historic club, with many titles and records to their name, including the much envied “Invincibles” team of 2003/04. It should come as no surprise then, that they have one of the most dedicated and passionate fan bases in all of England. When Arsenal's style of play and lack of identity is not giving fans an existential crisis, they are proud to call themselves Gooners. This is where the confusion should set in because while the fans call themselves the ‘Gooners, the club and players are referred to as Gunners? There's really a very simple explanation for both cases. The original term of endearment is in fact Gunners and goes all the way back to when the club was founded in Woolwich 1886. Originally, it was called Dial Square (not really a great name for a football team in my opinion), however, the name was changed only a few weeks later to Royal Arsenal. This is because the founders of the team worked in an ammunition factory, making guns and arms in general. This is where the nickname Gunners comes from, because the creators of the club were literally gun makers. As for the Gooners, we're not really sure, but it is believed that the name was derived when an Irishman pronounced Gunner which, in his accent, made it sound like “Gooner” and so the name stuck.
Another club that is going through a bit of a rough patch. Barcelona may net be as covered in glory in recent years as it is used to historically, and regrettably, many of their fans may have migrated to Paris with Leo Messi, but they are still one of the biggest clubs in Europe. Barca fans have various nicknames for themselves and the club, but the most used pseudonym is “cules”. This is quite a fascinating story. Back in the early 20th century, Barcelona did not have the biggest stadium in Europe in the form of the Camp Nou, in fact they played in a tiny ground called Calle de la Industria which could only hold about 6000 people. Even back then, Barca had more fans than they could accommodate and apparently, fans who were eager to watch their team would sit on the walls surrounding the ground. As a result, all the people who crossed the stadium from outside could see the backsides of the Barca fans. The Catalan word for backside is ‘cul’ and so the name ‘cule’ came about. Even though Barca have shifted to a significantly bigger stadium, the fans prefer to use the cheeky nickname.
3. Newell's Old Boys
Speaking of Lionel Messi's much beloved, now-ex club (even though he swears he'll be back someday), let's travel to his hometown in Argentina and have a look at his boyhood club Newell's Old Boys or NOB. This is a club that should really be more famous than it is considering it is linked to playing and coaching legends like Lionel Messi, Marcelo Bielsa, Gabriel Batistuta and Mauricio Pochettino. Now, the name in itself, is quite out of place, considering that Argentina is a Spanish speaking country, but what makes it even weirder is the fact that NOB fans' nickname for the club is “La lepra” (the leprosy) and for themselves “Los leprosos” (the lepers). It might sound horrifying, as it did to me at first. But the reason is pretty good. NOB’s arch rivals are the cross city club, Rosario Central and the Rosario derby is particularly fierce. Apparently, sometime in the 1920’s, both teams were invited to play a charity match for victims of leprosy and Rosario Central, surprisingly, refused to do so. That is where the nickname is derived from, and you have to admit, considering the historical context, it is a pretty cool name to take on. NOB fans really deserve some sort of an award for choosing a nickname that will forever remind their rivals that they are historically terrible people. I think it fits in with the spirit of South American football sh*thousery perfectly.
4. A.S. Roma
One of Roma’s nicknames is ‘I lupi’ which translates to ‘The Wolves’ and where this name comes from is somewhat of an interesting origin myth (no, it doesn’t have anything to do with Wolverhampton Wanderers). If you’ve ever noticed Roma’s crest and badge, it has always been a wolf, in some form or another. While recently, they changed it to the original black silhouette of a wolf with red eyes, the earlier badge used to be the image of a she-wolf feeding her milk to two children. This image has been taken from the legend of the founding of Rome. The legend goes, that twins Romulus and Remus were thrown into the river Tiber by their uncle. They were rescued by a she-wolf who looked after them until they grew up like a mother. Things got a bit dark after that, because the twins killed their uncle as revenge and then fought between themselves. Romulus killed Remus and named a city a.k.a. Rome after himself. It seems fitting that Roma, a club that embodies liberal Rome should take so much of their identity from the founding legend of their city. Plus, you have to admit, it is a pretty cool story!
5. Atletico Madrid
We’re going to end with the underdogs of Spanish football - Atletico Madrid, affectionately called Atleti. Outside viewers may think of the Spanish league as being dominated by the two ‘big’ clubs - Barcelona and Real Madrid, facing Atleti in a match is no laughing matter. Led by the indomitable Diego ‘El Cholo’ Simeone, the club has prospered in Spain and Europe in recent years. While many people may criticize them for playing ‘anti-football’ they are a team with great fighting spirit or ‘huevos’ and an identity that Simeone strictly implements. You would expect their nicknames to sound like war cries. However, the name that supporters of the club use most commonly is ‘Los Colchoneros’ or ‘the mattress makers’. I have to admit, I was disappointed when I found out. The story goes that in the post Spanish civil-war era, Spanish mattresses were typically covered with a cloth that had red and white stripes on it, similar to the traditional kits of Atletico Madrid and that is why supporters started calling the players ‘colchoneros’. It’s one of the most random things I’ve heard, but this just goes to show how in football something as random as a mattress can be synonymized with an entire club. We love the bizarre and randomness of the name!