What’s in a nickname?
The English Premier League clubs are referred to by their nicknames all the time, but where do they they come from? What are the histories and the stories behind them?
Here’s where you’ll find out…
1. AFC Bournemouth (The Cherries)
Initially formed in 1890 as Boscombe St. John’s Institute, Bournemouth have been known as the Cherries ever since moving to their current home at Dean Court in 1910.
The club itself says there are two main stories as to why. One comes from the colour of the striped shirts they played in at the time, cherry red. The other is to do with the fact that Dean Court, these days known as the Vitality Stadium, was built on wasteland next to the Cooper-Dean family estate which included a number of cherry orchards.
2. Arsenal (The Gunners)
Arsenal’s ‘Gunners’ nickname originates from the same piece of history that gives the club its actual name. Formed in the late 19th century by workers at Royal Arsenal, where weapons for the British army were manufactured and stored, they were known as Woolwich Arsenal.
It wasn’t until 1913 that the club moved from Woolwich in south east London to their present location in north London, ultimately dropping ‘Woolwich’ altogether. But the Arsenal name stuck, as did the links with weaponry and guns.
3. Brighton & Hove Albion (The Seagulls)
Brighton’s beachside location is responsible for the club’s association with seagulls. But it apparently wasn’t until the 1970s that the nickname caught on, supposedly surfacing as a result of a chanting match with rival Crystal Palace fans.
Cries of ‘Eagles’ from Palace fans are said to have been met by chants of ‘Seagulls’ and things moved from there. Brighton then adopted a new club crest that included the seagull image in 1977, with their 2001/02 centenary the only season since in which a seagull hasn’t featured.
4. Burnley (The Clarets)
Burnley take their famous nickname from their colours, which the club has worn for more than 100 years after first adopting claret and sky blue in 1910.
It is said that Burnley chose their colours to mimic Aston Villa, the most successful club in the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Villa had won the league five times in seven seasons between 1893 and 1900, and a further time in 1910 as Burnley decided to change.
5. Chelsea (The Pensioners)
In more recent years, Chelsea have come to simply be known as ‘The Blues’, but the club’s original nickname was ‘The Pensioners’. The image of a Chelsea Pensioner adorned the club’s first badge in 1905 as a nod to the Royal Chelsea Hospital where army veterans were housed.
It was wasn’t until the 1950s that the pensioner was removed and replaced with a lion, a name by which Chelsea are also occasionally known. The lion is believed to have been influenced by the coat of arms of the Metropolitan Borough of Chelsea, which ceased to exist in 1965.
6. Crystal Palace (The Eagles)
From 1905 until 1973, Crystal Palace were nicknamed ‘The Glaziers’ because of the obvious connections to the great Victorian Crystal Palace exhibition building for which an area of south London was renamed and where the football club would be formed.
From the early 1970s onwards, the club has been known as the Eagles when the badge was changed and the team began playing in the red and blue stripes they are known for today.
7. Everton (The Toffees)
One theory behind Everton’s unique ‘Toffees’ nickname is said to come a famous toffee shop that had existed in the area for 100 years. It was called Ye Ancient Everton Toffee House and was run by Old Ma Bushell, the original ‘Toffee Lady’ and creator of the Everton Toffee.
The shop was apparently located near Prince Rupert’s Tower, which as the central feature of the club’s badge obviously plays a prominent role in Everton history. This is despite the fact that Everton FC have never actually played in the Everton district of the city of Liverpool.
Another shop run by Old Mother Nobletts close to Goodison Park also later started producing the iconic black and white Everton Mints in the late 19th century.
8. Huddersfield Town (The Terriers)
Huddersfield owe their nickname to fans in 1969 who chose it as part of a vote. An image of a terrier, a symbol often associated with Yorkshire, was added to the club’s badge in time for the club’s return to the op flight in 1970.
A pair of terriers – Terry and Tilly – serve as mascots to entertain young fans on matchdays.
9. Leicester City (The Foxes)
Leicester City were originally founded as Leicester Fosse by former students of a local grammar school in 1884 – Fosse Way was an old Roman road that passed through the town. But rather than a misappropriation of this, ‘The Foxes’ comes from a link altogether different.
The county of Leicestershire is considered to be the birthplace of fox hunting in the mid-18th century and the animal is a prominent symbol in the area. The nickname was adopted by the football club in the late 1940s when a fox featured on the shirt for the first time.
10. Liverpool (The Reds)
Known as ‘The Reds’, Liverpool’s famous nickname obviously comes from their club colours. But it was only after a few years of existence they adopted red after initially playing in blue and white halves, and not until the 1960s that the club changed to an all-red kit.
The brainchild of legendary manager Bill Shankly, a fully red strip was viewed as much more intimidating to opponents – Ian St John recalled Ron Yeats looked ‘terrifying’ when he saw the imposing defender in a red shirt and red shorts for the first time. Prior to 1964, Liverpool’s red shirts had usually been worn with white shorts.
11. Manchester City (The Citizens)
Manchester City regularly go by ‘Citizens’ these days, a nickname that is obviously an extension of the club’s actual name. ‘Sky Blues’ is another that is commonly used, again with a distinct and clear reasoning behind it.
City are believed to have worn sky blue for most of their history, with records suggesting they have used the colours since the 1890s when ‘Manchester City’ as we know it today came into being. The club had earlier been known as St Mark’s from Gorton, and then Ardwick AFC.
There is no concrete answer as to why sky blue was chosen, but one theory suggests it could be the result of links to Freemasons in those very early years.
12. Manchester United (The Red Devils)
Back when the club was still called Newton Heath, Manchester United’s original nickname was ‘The Heathens’, both as a nod to the part of the city they called home and because legend has it they were the first English football club to play a game on a Sunday.
After the name change and swap from green and gold colours, the club started to become known as ‘The Reds’. That later became ‘Red Devils’ as a nod to the rugby team from Salford being dubbed ‘Les Diables Rouges’ by French media in the 1930s, with Matt Busby adopting it in the 1960s. It also then began to feature on match programmes and other merchandise.
13. Newcastle United (The Magpies)
Newcastle owe their famous Magpies nickname to the black and white club colours, and the story of how the team came to wear such kit can be traced back to the origins of the club.
Newcastle United essentially formed when Newcastle East End, the more successful of the city’s two clubs at the time, merged with struggling neighbours Newcastle West End in 1892 and took over their rivals’ lease for the St James’ Park site.
The new team, now ‘United’, continued playing in East End colours, red shirts and white shorts, for a time, but soon adopted the iconic black and white stripes when a decision was made in 1894 to play in new colours that were not associated with either former club.
14. Southampton (The Saints)
‘The Saints’ is one of the most famous club nicknames in English football and was given to Southampton by their origins in a local church in 1885 – St Mary’s church, to be precise.
Members of the church’s Young Men’s Association formed the team, which became known as St Mary’s YMA, St Mary’s FC and Southampton St Mary’s in various forms in the remaining years of the 19th century, but always retaining the ‘Saints’ element.
The name finally changed to Southampton FC in 1897 and the history came full circle when the new St Mary’s Stadium was opened in 2001.
15. Stoke City (The Potters)
Stoke’s ‘Potters’ nickname is a nod to the pottery industry in the city and surrounding area, which had become a centre for pottery from the early years of the 17th century onward.
The football club was formed in 1863 and is one of the oldest in the world, with ‘The Potters’ an obvious choice in later years when it came to choosing a nickname for the team. Like many Premier League clubs, there is deep local meaning behind it.
16. Swansea City (The Jacks)
Swansea being shortened to Swans was an obvious move as far as the Welsh club’s common nickname is concerned, with Cryil the Swan becoming one of the most famous mascots in British football over the last 20 years. But Swansea also hold another nickname.
There are two accepted theories that are believed to have contributed ‘The Jacks’ nickname. The first pays tribute to 19th century local seamen, who were named ‘Jack Tars’, while the second comes from a dog called ‘Swansea Jack’ that rescued 27 people from drowning over the course of a number of year in the 1930s.
17. Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs)
Spurs is obviously a shortening of Tottenham Hotspur’s full name. But the reasoning behind use of the term ‘Hotspur’ at all when so many other clubs opt for things like ‘United’, ‘City’, Rovers’ or ‘Athletic’ can be traced back hundreds of years to the 14th century.
At that time there existed a knight named Sir Henry Percy who was given the nickname for his speed, attacking spirit and courage. His family is said to have also owned land around Tottenham, while he himself was immortialised by William Shakespeare in Henry IV Part I.
When it came to setting up a football club in Tottenham in 1882, there was only one man to honour. In fact, until 1884 the club was named simply ‘Hotspur FC’.
18. Watford (The Hornets)
It is Watford’s yellow and black colours that dictated them being nicknamed ‘The Hornets’, but it wasn’t actually until 1959 that the club settled on such a kit. Prior to that, Watford strips had been various colours – blue, black and white, white, and red, green and yellow.
The club crest later also included the hornet image, although it was quickly changed in 1978 to depict a ‘hart’, or stag, instead. The hart is a nod to the club’s home in Hertfordshire, which is thought to have taken its name from the creatures.
19. West Bromwich Albion (The Baggies)
The root of ‘Throstles’, West Brom’s original nickname, and inspiration for the club badge, came with a move to The Hawthorns site in 1900, with the birds (thrushes) often seen in the hawthorn bushes from which the whole area took its name.
There is far less certainty as to how ‘The Baggies’, an unofficial nickname that wasn’t accepted by the club until much more recently, came into being.
One popular theory suggests it could come from the baggy protective trousers worn by fans who arrived at games after working in local foundries, while another claims it is from the bags fans used to fund raise to help save the club in 1905.
20. West Ham United (The Irons)
These days commonly referred to as ‘The Hammers’, West Ham’s traditional and proper nickname remains ‘The Irons’ and was born out of the club’s earliest existence in 1895 when a football team was created for employees of Thames Ironwork on the river in east London.
Thames Ironwork FC was the original name of the club until 1900. While a Union Jack flag with club initials was featured on Thames Ironwork shirts, the original club crest featured a pair of riveting hammers, used for shipbuilding – which is also where ‘The Hammers’ comes from.