The Importance of Nicknames in World Football

Last updated: May 19, 2015 by Leon Marshal

Everyone and everything in the modern world can own a nickname. Regardless if we are talking about a person, place, event or anything else, its actual name can be substituted by a catchy, quirky, affectionate or even mean moniker. Nicknames are really popular in football too and come as a manna from Heaven for those of us who are involved in writing about the beautiful game. Just a quick example: Even with the clubs’ nicknames present in a North-East derby report, the words ‘Sunderland’ and ‘Newcastle’ will be mentioned more than enough times. Any content will be more aesthetically pleasing when every now and then you use ‘Lilywhites’ and ‘Royals’ instead of simply ‘Fulham’ or ‘Reading’. Most epithets are plainly based on the club’s colours or the main industry of the region where it is based. Not the ones you will find here, though. In this article you will find only nicknames with a noteworthy back-stories. I hope that you will enjoy them.

Football Nicknames

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Hungary – The Magical Magyars

For those of you who are not familiar with World Cup’s history, the Hungary national football team is no different to any other mediocre team from Europe. Their last appearance on the biggest football stage was in Mexico 1986 and it’s not very likely that Pal Dardai’s men will qualify for Russia 2018 or Qatar four years later. However, Hungary’s selection in the 1950s, led by Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor remained in football history by reaching the World Cup final in 1954, playing some memorable matches on the road to Bern. Just weeks before the tournament’s kick off, The Magical Magyars tore England apart in Budapest, 7-1. A result that still remains as the heaviest defeat of The Three Lions and hinted at what Hungary are capable of.

Their performance in the group stage was ruthless, trashing South Korea and West Germany 9-0 and 8-3 respectively. Kocsis was the star man with 7 goals, but the team suffered a massive blow as Puskas fractured his ankle, leaving him unavailable until the final. The much anticipated quarter-final against Brazil turned out to be a real disappointment. Hungary won 4-2, but the game was stained with series of nasty fouls, fights and three dismissals. In remarkable contrast to that game, the semi-final against defending champions Uruguay was outstanding and is still considered by some as one of the best pieces of football ever. The Magyars took a two-goal lead, but allowed La Celeste back in the tie, taking the game into extra time. Eventually two second-period Koscis goals meant a victory for Hungary and have granted them a place in the final against West Germany, the team they hammered just 14 days ago.

The Magical Magyars The local team in Cologne is known as the Billy Goats

Talismanic striker Puskas was still not fully recovered from the injury, but he came on the pitch and opened the score with just 6 minutes gone. Moments later Czibor made it 2-0, but by the 18th minute it was 2-2, thanks to goals from Max Morlock and Helmut Rahn. Hungary tried their best in the second half, but the score remained the same until the 86th minute, when Rahn netted the winner, breaking Hungary’s hearts. Their dream was over, but The Mighty Magyars’ football domination continued in the following years. During the period between 1950 and 1956, Hungary have won 42 games, drew 7 and lost only one, sadly the most important one.

Arsenal – Gunners or Gooners?

I won’t reinvent the wheel by mentioning that Arsenal FC was formed as Dial Square in 1886 by ammunition manufacturers and hence the newborn club was nicknamed The Gunners. There were three cannons on the first club badge and since then the North London club is associated with the artillery piece. Today there are statues of large guns situated outside Emirates stadium, the fan store is oozing with cannon-themed merchandise and God knows how many supporters have the club’s crest as a tattoo.

It is not precisely Arsene Wenger’s side that is on this list, but their faithful supporters. Nowadays it’s fairly common to see an Arsenal fan to call himself ‘a Gooner’ instead of the original ‘Gunner’. There is a misconception that the alteration is connected with a certain dialect, but the truth lies elsewhere. In the 1980s, football hooliganism’s prime years, the Clock End bad boys called themselves Gooners. As we know, Goon is a slang for being rude, mad and eccentric. Among the Gooners’ ‘finest moments’ are ugly scenes involving Millwall’s Bushwackers at Highbury in 1988 and the infamous clashes with Galatasaray fans in 2000’s UEFA Cup final in Copenhagen. The nickname was carried into the modern era, but thankfully just as a smart game of words as the shameful antics are left in the past.

Chievo Verona – The Flying Donkeys

Verona is a beautiful city in Northern Italy and is one of the main tourist destinations of the region. It is also the stage of Shakespeare’s famous Romeo and Juliet tragedy. In contrast to the middle-age Montague and Capulet rivalry, today’s main conflict in the city is between Hellas Verona and Chievo Verona. Just like the far more popular Milan and Rome giants, both teams share their arena – Stadio Marcantinio Bentegodi. Over the years Hellas have predominantly been the more successful team of the two and had regular Serie A presence. There even was a joke circulating that Donkeys would fly before Chievo makes it to Serie A and the 1984-85 Scudetto earned The Mastiffs even more bragging rights. However, things were about to change.

Chievo's stadium in Verona Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi – The home of Hellas and Chievo Verona

Slowly, but steadily Chievo made their way up the Italian football pyramid, reaching Serie C1 in 1989 under the reign of president Luigi Campedelli. Eventually in the 2000 – 01 season the unthinkable happened. Future Roma and Juventus manager Luigi Delneri led Chievo to Serie A promotion, finishing third in Serie B, which meant there would be a Verona Derby next season. Hellas have won the anticipated clash, but Chievo had the last laugh, claiming UEFA Cup spot at the end of the campaign that also saw Hellas finishing 15th, which meant relegation to Serie B. Chievo even made it to the Champions League qualification round in 2006, thanks to the Calciopoli scandal that rocked the country. Once being ridiculed with the old saying saying, Chievo embraced the nickname and now proudly call themselves The Flying Donkeys.

FC United of Manchester – The Rebels

Manchester United are one of the most popular brands in the world and have one of the coolest nicknames in English football, The Red Devils. Still, some of you may not know that in 2005 a group of supporters formed a semi-professional football club as a protest, opposed to American businessman Malcolm Glazer’s takeover of the club. ‘F.C. United’ was rejected as a name by the Football Association, so the founders had to settle with ‘FC United of Manchester’. Due to the details about its inception, the club received the vivid nickname ‘The Rebels’. The idea was United’s values and traditions were to be preserved and the club to be fully owned by its fans.

Within months of the formation, FC United of Manchester had over £100,000 in the bank, pledged by people. They’ve been doing OK in the first decade of existence, getting promoted to Northern Premier League Premier Division, the 7th level of English football’s hierarchy. Karl Marginson’s boys are still far behind the original Manchester United, but no one knows what does the future holds. Maybe one day they will surpass them?

FC Köln – The Billy Goats

Cologne is a German city in the west of the country that has a population of just over a million people. Just like everywhere across Europe, people there are crazy about football and passionately support the local team, in their case – FC Köln. The club had its moments of glory in the 60s and the 70s, but in recent times Köln are mostly popular with their constant ups and downs, being Lukas Podolski’s beloved home and with… a goat.

FK Koln's symbol The local team in Cologne is known as the Billy Goats

Hennes, the club talisman is the most popular mascot in German football and arguably in the whole of Europe. The domestic animal is also the reason FC Köln to be known as The Billy Goats around the world. The story began in 1950, when the first Hennes was bestowed to the club as a lucky charm gift. Since then, the living goat is present at every FC Köln home game. The animal is also present on the club’s crest, there are plush replicas in the fan store and everybody adores it. In 2014, Hennes the VIII (who is on duty since 2008) got off his leash during a Bundesliga 2 fixture against Aalen and the stewards had a hard time to catch the runaway. Check out the Youtube video, it’s really funny.