Ever wondered why Arsenal are called the Gunners? Or how Everton became the Toffees? We explain.
By Tony Harper
8th Apr 2021, 10:16 PM
Arsenal: The Gunners
Arsenal’s nickname is a reference to the club’s origins, having been formed by workers from the Royal Arsenal armament factory in Woolwich, which produced munitions, weapons (such as artillery and small arms) and explosives.
Cannons have featured on the Arsenal crest since 1888 and Arsenal retained the nickname and logo despite the move from Woolwich to Highbury in north London in 1913.
Aston Villa: The Villans
The name Villa derives from Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel, the name of a former cricket club which provided the founders of the football team. The nickname, ‘Villans’ is a wordplay that can confuse outsiders who think it’s spelled ‘Villains’. The team was also once known as the ‘Lions’ from the lion on their badge – but it’s no longer used as a nickname.
Brighton: The Seagulls
Brighton’s big rivals Crystal Palace can take some credit for this one. The club’s first nickname was the ‘Dolphins’, coined in the 1970s (although a dolphin had been on the club’s crest back into the 1940s) but it was short lived thanks to some creative Brighton fans.
The story goes that during a hectic drinking session on Christmas Eve 1975 a group of regular Brighton fans cooked up a plan to respond to Palace fans chanting “Eagles, Eagles” with “Seagulls, Seagulls.” The nickname swept through the fan base and in 1977 a Seagull was added to the badge (although removed in 1998).
“We didn’t really mean to give Albion a nickname. All we were trying to do was have a go at Palace and find a chant that could drown their fans,” said Derek Chapman, one of the group who gave them the name.
It proved a dolphin-sized headache for Rob Pavey, the club’s commercial manager.
“We had a whole lot of stock with Dolphins on it and really all I could do was ditch it and we concentrated on the Seagulls.”
Burnley FC: The Clarets
So named because watching Sean Dyche’s team struggle to score a goal this season is enough to drive a fan to drink copious amounts of red wine to numb the boredom. Or it’s to do with their shirt colour. One of the two
Jokes aside, Burnley has a famous history as one of the 12 founder members of the Football League, coming into being in 1882 when members of Burnley Rovers rugby club decided to ditch their sport for the far superior game of football.
The club colours of claret and blue were adopted before the 1910–11 season in tribute to the then Football League champions Aston Villa. Before that move the club had gone by the nicknames of ‘Turfites’, ‘Moorites’ or ‘Royalites’, as a result of their ground’s name and a royal connection.
Chelsea: The Blues
While the Blues is as obvious as the Clarets, it replaced the nickname of ‘The Pensioners’, held into the 1950s because of their association with the famous hospital home to British war veterans – the Chelsea Pensioners.
Before COVID, loyal “pensioners” were still given seats for games at Stamford Bridge.
‘The Pensioners’ was dropped in the 1950s on the say so of coach Ted Drake, a former star player, who felt it was an embarrassment and went on TV to tear it down. For want of a better name, Chelsea went with ‘The Blues’ from then on. Their pensioners, meanwhile, ended up getting contracts at Arsenal.
Crystal Palace: The Eagles, The Glaziers
The evocatively named club was formed by employees of the Crystal Palace in 1861. The original Crystal Palace was itself a nickname – of a large glass and iron structure erected in Hyde Park, London, for the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was moved to South London and was part of a theme park until 30 November 1936, when it burned down.
From their inception, the team has been known as ‘Palace’, but also ‘The Crystals’ and ‘The Glaziers’, because of the association with the glass building. That latter nickname stuck until 1973 when flamboyant manager Malcolm Allison decided it was too fragile, and he insisted on the more aggressive ‘Eagles’. Allison also ditched the team’s claret and sky-blue colours in favour of red-and-blue stripes to imitate the Barcelona look.
Everton: The Toffees
Still to this day (pre-COVID of course) women in traditional dress hand out mints to fans before games at Goodison Park. The ‘Toffees’ nickname originated very early in the history of the club, and its genesis is still argued over with two local rival toffee shops playing a large role in the club’s early history.
Ye Anciente Everton Toffee House was operated by Old Ma Bushell, who invented Everton Toffees and sold them to Everton fans when they played at Anfield. ‘Mother Noblett’s Toffee Shop’ was located near Goodison Park and became more frequented when the club moved from Anfield in 1893. Both laid claim to being the reason for the nickname.
Fulham: The Cottagers
The nickname arises from Craven Cottage, the 1903 building that is present at the corner of the ground. But that building is not the original cottage built for Lord Craven in 1780, which was once home to French Emperor Napoleon III before it was destroyed by fire in 1888.
Leeds United: The Whites, The Peacocks
Although the team is widely known as ‘The Whites’ these days, because of their kit, fans of generations past knew them as ‘The Peacocks’. The original name for Elland Road was ‘The Old Peacock Ground’, which was named by its original owners after their pub called ‘The Old Peacock’ which did a roaring business across the road.
There are also those who believe the ‘Peacock’ name was inspired by the first club colours of royal blue with yellow trimmings. The all-white outfit which inspires the current nickname didn’t appear until the arrival in 1962 of their great manager Don Revie, who wanted fans and players to believe that the club could become as successful as Real Madrid. Ten years later the blue and gold were revived as trim colours. Revie, a very superstitious man, also got rid of the club’s owl emblem, believing the creatures to be unlucky.
Leicester City: The Foxes
Leicestershire’s fame as a fox hunting hub inspired the nickname and choice of the club’s emblem, with a simple fox design appearing on the club’s shirts for the first time in 1948.
The county is the birthplace of fox hunting with Hugo Maynell establishing his pack of hounds there in the 18th century and Leicestershire has hosted some of the most famous fox hunts in the UK. The name is everywhere in Leicestershire – from the village of Foxton to a multitude of pubs, such as the Fox & Hounds, carrying the foxes name.
Liverpool: The Reds
While there is nothing intriguing about the nickname that pays tribute to their shirt colour, there is when it comes to Liverpool’s badge, which features the Liver Bird. The Liver Bird is a mythical creature – an imaginary cross between an eagle and a cormorant and was used as the seal of the city from well before the formation of the football club in 1892.
The most famous section of the club’s fans, and at times the club itself, is referred to as the Kop. It gained the name from a battlefield in South Africa called Spion Kop where a local regiment had suffered heavy losses during the Boer War in 1900. In 1906 the club erected a new stand made of cinder and brick and a local sports editor Ernest Edwards came up with the name to honour the fallen soldiers.
Manchester City: The Citizens
One of City’s first nicknames, after rising from the embers of failed club Ardwick FC, was ‘The Brewerymen’ thanks to the financial support poured in by a local brewery called Chester’s – who leased the club’s original Hyde Road ground, which was home until the move to Maine Road in 1923. They also helped purchase players, and the club’s headquarters was a pub called The Hyde Rd Hotel owned by Chester’s, with many of the club’s officials and directors involved in the brewery trade.
The Citizens nickname has evolved from the word City, but doesn’t convince everyone. Talk SPORT ranked it the worst of all 20 Premier League nicknames, which seems to let the Blues, Reds and Clarets off easy.
“Most football folk call them ‘City’, but then there are lots of clubs known as ‘City’ and Man City certainly haven’t made that their own.” said TalkSPORT. “It turns out their official nickname is ‘The Citizens’, which absolutely no one called them until recently. And it’s still rubbish.”
Manchester United: The Red Devils
While neighbouring Ardwick changed their name to Manchester City, local rivals Newtown Heath decided they should too, to give the impression of being a big city club. They couldn’t have imagined just how big they would both become.
After the names Manchester Central and Manchester Celtic were rejected, Manchester United was adopted in April 1902, along with a change in colour. White shirts with black shorts were tried at first, then a period of all white with a large red V before the famous red shirts were adopted.
Local rugby league club Salford are credited with helping United find their nickname. It’s thought that the French media were so impressed by all-red Salford’s performances on tour in France in 1934 they branded them ‘Les Diables Rouges’. Legendary United manager Sir Matt Busby, who had seen eight players among 23 lives lost in the Munich Air Disaster in 1958, apparently liked the nickname, thinking the reference to the devil sounded intimidating. The club began officially implementing the devil logo into its merchandise and it was added to the team’s badge in 1970.
Newcastle United: The Magpies
Before United was formed, Newcastle was dominated by two big forces and rivals – West End and East End. By the end of 1892 the East Enders had become dominant and the West End, on the brink of financial ruin, offered their lease of St James’ Park to East End along with their players.
At first the club played in red and white stripes – of course synonymous with their hated rivals Sunderland – but a change to black and white happened soon after, with the colours giving rise to the Magpies nickname.
In recent years the club has also picked up the moniker of the ‘Toon’, particularly in reference to its fans, derived from the Geordie pronunciation of “town”.
Sheffield United: The Blades
Sheffield United are nicknamed ‘The Blades’ from the most famous trade of the town, cutlery and knives made from steel. However, that nickname, or ‘The Cutlers’, was given to all sports teams from the town of Sheffield, including, at first, their local rivals Sheffield Wednesday, and a match between them was referred to as a clash of the Blades. Wednesday fans felt they deserved the Blades nickname more as they were older, but a newspaper cartoon in 1907 depicted Wednesday as an owl, due to their base at Owlerton, and United as a blade and both nicknames eventually stuck.
Southampton: The Saints
Southampton were originally founded at St. Mary’s Church, on 21 November 1885 by members of the St. Mary’s Church of England Young Men’s Association. They became St. Mary’s FC in 1887–88, before adopting the name Southampton St. Mary’s when the club joined the Southern League in 1894. They won the Southern League title in 1896–97 and renamed as Southampton FC.
Saints played at the Dell for 103 years before moving into their new St Mary’s Stadium for the 2001-02 season.
Tottenham Hotspur: The Lilywhites, Spurs
Tottenham’s earliest jerseys, from their formation in 1882 were navy blue, and later ‘half and half’ blue and white shirts. A brown striped combination, similar to Bradford City, was also used before Tottenham adopted the famous white jersey in 1898. The club directors chose to emulate Preston North End who had just gone through a season unbeaten, appropriating their kit and their nickname, which Preston still use.
Tottenham started out as the Hotspur Football Club, formed by schoolboys from Saint John’s Middle Class School and Tottenham Grammar School, most of whom played for the Hotspur Cricket Club formed two years earlier. The clubs were named in honour of Sir Henry Percy, a 14th century knight nicknamed Harry Hotspur for his aggressive horseriding style.
West Bromwich Albion: The Baggies, The Throstles
The club’s first popular nickname was ‘The Throstles’, the Black Country word for the thrush birds that frequent the hawthorn bushes from which the club’s Hawthorns ground took its name. One story goes that in the early years a thrush was kept in a wooden cage hung above the player’s tunnel. Another is that a thrush was kept in a cage in the pub where the players used to change for games. Whichever is true, a replica of a large thrush was later placed on the scoreboard and it’s still there on the club’s badge – a throstle on a hawthorn branch.
The Baggies nickname has several explanations, none of which have convinced everyone. One is that it represents the gatekeepers who would gather up the gate takings in big cloth bags and as they moved along the pitch the crowd would chant “here come the bag men” or “here come the Baggies” at them.
Another version suggests many of the supporters worked in the local ironworks and because of the intense heat, they wore loose, baggy clothing and would go to the games straight after work in their baggy attire.
West Ham: The Irons, The Hammers
In May 1895, West Brom beat Aston Villa in the FA Cup Final and David Taylor, foreman in the shipbuilding department of Thames Ironworks, suggested to his boss Arnold Hills, that the company should form its own football club.
Hills had been involved in a bitter dispute with his workers and saw it as a way to ease tensions. With more than 3000 employees, it also crossed his mind that a Thames Ironworks club would also have an inbuilt fan base, along with the local dock workers and factory men.
The team was launched and have had the two diagonally crossing hammers on their badge since the beginning. The Hammers nickname is nothing to do with the name West Ham, which they became in 1901 after being kicked out of their Canning Town home in an ownership dispute, moving to Plaistow.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Wolves
The Wolves nickname was an easy step from the name of Wolverhampton, but it took some time for it to be adopted.
The club were invited to join the Football League in 1888 and first played in their famous gold and black in the 1891-92 season, with gold the prominent colour in the borough’s arms and black representing their place in the ‘Black Country’.
The wolf design the club is renowned for, also giving rise to the nickname, wasn’t the Wanderers’ first insignia. A wolf first appeared on a Wolves kit during the 1970s, before the animal was incorporated into the club badge during the 1980s.