There are 13 clubs known as United in English football’s top four divisions. Aside from its array of Citys and Towns, ‘the 92’ also include three Wanderers, five Rovers, a couple of Athletics and a Rangers. There are a trio of Albions and just as many Countys. In contrast, as those from a corner of Devon will insist, there is only one Argyle.
On top of all those suffixes can be added, among other quirks, an Arsenal and a Vale. There are names to conjure images of elegant stately homes or gleaming palaces of glass, all memories from yesteryear… as well as a day of the week.
We take them all for granted these days. They are part of the lexicon of the game across England and the world, names that are accepted as dividing lines in cities, counties, even households. Rallying points for their partisans. Institutions whose origins are woven into a region’s history.
But occasionally, as the Saturday results roll in and we learn Stanley are still in the FA Cup, United are dysfunctional and Forest are on fire, we might still check ourselves and ponder what all these odd monikers actually mean.
Why, for heaven’s sake, is there an Orient currently loitering in League Two? And a Hotspur, hardly a commonly used English word, signing players left, right and centre as they aspire to enter the race to win the Premier League?
The Athletic attempts to provide some answers as to why clubs adopted their particular appendages, or even carry handles with no obvious links to their modern-day environment. Or, in some cases, to their roots.
It is far from an exhaustive list, for all that it might be exhausting to read in one sitting.
The compilation does illustrate that, while some clubs are clearly named after local landmarks – albeit some long since gone – the influence either of the church or the industrial revolution, with factory workers now granted the rare luxury of Saturday afternoons off, in their formation is clear.
Friends, schoolmates and work colleagues founded these teams. Some will have pinned names to their new creations that were fashionable at the time, reflecting established sides in the higher echelons. Others merely maintained the names of the clubs from which their football wing was an offshoot. The game in England owes much to the popularity of rugby, athletics and, in particular, cricket in Victorian society. So many of our current football clubs stem originally from the English summer sport of bat and ball.
The reasoning behind a club’s given name is not always detailed in the accounts of the late nineteenth century.
There are bound to be some omissions from what follows – clarifications and other theories, hand-me-down tales that have taken hold within fanbases that might even contradict the more conventional explanations put forward by historians over the years.
If there are, please share them in the comments section at the bottom. The narrative, however tenuous, does matter, because club folklore is passed down from generation to generation and cherished.