What's in a name? Tall tales and some laughs

Watching television football pundits babbling away the other day, there were frequent references to JT, RVP AVB and RDM. But there was a time when the nicknames of footballers and managers were a bit more fun than these dull acronyms.

John Terry— unimaginatively known as ‘JT’.

When I was a kid in the 1950s, perhaps the first nickname I came across was that of Stanley Matthews, known as the Wizard of Dribble. It was quite a mouthful but he lived up to it with sparkling displays on the wing for Blackpool and England. An Irish defender at that time, Johnny Carey, himself nicknamed Gentleman John, once said: "Playing Stanley Matthews is like playing a ghost."

Speaking of gentlemen, another star of that era was the great Welsh player John Charles, whose mild demeanour earned him the nickname Gentle Giant.

Another top player on the international stage was the marvellous Hungarian, Ferenc Puskas, who was serving in the army and became known as The Galloping Major.

Also from that period, we must not forget Newcastle United's great Jackie Milburn, better known as Wor Jackie (Our Jackie.)

Most players have nicknames that are simply derived from their surnames. Anyone whose name begins Mc or Mac is automatically called Macca, as in Steve McManaman, and it's probably the most common footballing nickname.

Nicknames of many players often reflect their style of play. In the late 1950s, when I used to watch Reading in the Third Division at Elm Park, they had a defender called Ray Bomber Reeves.

He loved taking long-range shots at the goal, hence Bomber. He could really whack it and occasionally scored some memorable net busters but, more often than not, the ball went into orbit, otherwise known as Row Z.

The nicknames of the so-called hard men needed little explanation. At Chelsea there was Ron 'Chopper' Harris, while during his Nottingham Forest days, England defender Stuart Pearce became known as 'Psycho'.

But perhaps the most famous tough guy was Liverpool's Tommy Smith, a key defender in the successful Liverpool team of the 60s and 70s. His uncompromising style earned him the handle 'The Anfield Iron'.

When the skillful Argentinian Ossie Ardiles joined Tottenham, before the Liverpool game Smith issued a warning for the little man: "I think Spurs should buy large stocks of cotton wool for such posers."

Perhaps a little fearful of what could happen on the pitch, Ardiles responded with: "Tommy very nice man, very nice player."

Goalkeepers usually have cat-like nicknames, although this was not always the case. The legendary William Foulke, a rather large man, was known as 'Fatty' or jokingly, 'Little Willie'. He once ate all his Chelsea teammates breakfasts after arriving early at the hotel dining room.

One of the greatest of all custodians, USSR's Lev Yashin was known as 'The Black Spider'. Less fortunate was Leeds keeper Gary Sprake, who, after throwing the ball into his own net against Liverpool, picked up the name 'Careless Hands'.

Nicknames for forwards have sometimes been a bit over the top. Man United's Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was known as 'the Baby-Faced Assassin', not to be confused with Dwight Yorke, 'the Smiling Assassin'.

Someone I loved watching was John White at Tottenham in the 1960s, before he was tragically killed by lightning on the golf course. Whites ability to find spirit his way through defences earned him the nickname 'The Ghost'.

Some names are a bit more cryptic than others. In his Sunderland days, Irish player Stephen Elliot, now with Coventry, picked up the nickname 'Sleeves'. Apparently in the dressing room, he would always try to motivate the team by saying: "Let's roll our sleeves up."

Another curious nickname 'Sniffer', given to former Leeds star, Allan Clarke, came from his ability to sniff out half-chances.

Perhaps one of the neatest nicknames is that given to Watford defender Fitz Hall, who in his early days at Oldham was labeled 'One Size'.

Most nicknames are of a benevolent nature, but a few can carry a bite. In his Spurs days, Darren Anderton picked up the unwanted 'Sicknote' sobriquet because of his frequent injuries, while Nicolas Anelka became known as 'The Incredible Sulk' because he never looked happy.

Then there is Ashley Cole,or should we say 'Cashly', after his autobiography in which he expressed outrage at being offered 55,000 pounds a week at Arsenal.

One player always in the news, but not necessarily for the right reasons was Scottish striker Duncan Ferguson. Something of a loose cannon, after altercations both on and off the field he became known as 'Duncan Disorderly', although he preferred 'Big Dunc'.

A player's physical appearance sometime leads to the nickname. Paul Scholes was known as the 'Ginger Ninja' while Spurs fans used to call Gary Doherty the 'Ginger Pele'.

Perhaps one of the best nicknames was also the simplest. When Congolese striker Guylain Ntumbu-Nsunga joined Sheffield Wednesday in 2003, no one could pronounce his name so they simply called him 'Dave'. It worked because Dave went on to be top scorer for the Owls that season.

As for managers, apart from 'Turnip Taylor', my favourites are Claudio Ranieri's 'Tinkerman' and Steve McLaren's 'Wally With a Brolly'.

To end on a family note, my dad, who played inside left at an amateur level, was known by his teammates as 'The Duke'. This was because, even on the muddiest pitches, his shorts always remained sparkling white.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Nobby Piles
Position: Reporter