Impending fatherhood has forced Greg Theoharis to begin thinking about names but inevitably, his mind has wandered back to football...
Everybody has their own particular story for why they began supporting their team. I had several reasons as to why Spurs, for better or for worse (for yes, this relationship has felt somewhat like a marriage over the past twenty-five years) became the object of my affection. There was the fact that I was born and raised a mere fifteen-minute walk from White Hart Lane. And there was the irrepressible compulsion to rebel, coming as I do from a Greek Cypriot family that means I should have and would have supported Arsenal. Added to all this, the cockerel gallantly balanced on the pigskin was the first silver sticker I pulled out of a Panini sticker packet and naturally I was transfixed by the shimmering treasure in my tiny little hand. But what really sealed the deal was the uniqueness of the word that trailed Tottenham.
The word ‘Hotspur’ conjures up passion, fire and skill. Images of cowboys in white shirts driven and motivated to fight a noble cause on their trusty steeds. To vanquish foes set on attacking the fort of N17. Not for me the suffixes of United, City or Town. It seemed that every man and his club had one of those. And as for others, well they couldn’t even be bothered to add anything onto their name which struck me as lazy and lacking in creativity…take a bow Arsenal and Chelsea. I was always drawn to teams such as Plymouth Argyle, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday. They stood out. Seemed different. It was as if these clubs looked to forge their own unique identities that although different, nevertheless remained beautifully and resolutely stoically understated and British with it all.
Come April this year, I will be initiated into the world of fatherhood and my wife and I have naturally spent many an evening, day and text conversation mulling over what name we will bestow on our firstborn. Whilst attempting to steer clear of the names that everybody seems to be giving their children at the present time, we’re also fully aware that anything involving the names Gruff, Stormtrooper or Blade (and that’s just the boys) will inevitably and probably justifiably result in the little mite hating us both eternally whilst outlaying a small fortune on therapy bills. The name you choose, whether it be for a child, a football club, a dog or even a car necessarily needs to strike just the right chord, treading the unspoken line from the mundane to the ridiculous.
This is nowhere more obvious than in the USA in which driven by the pioneering frontier spirit so indicative of the American character, ‘franchises’ have been given names such as LA Galaxy and New York Cosmos; the basic premise being that anything is achievable in America (after all they put a man on the moon). Added to this is the American tendency to flamboyancy and razzamatazz, hence names such as Kansas City Wizards (‘there’s no place like home’), Chicago Fire and San Jose Earthquakes. All names that reference the cinematic mythology and drama of the natural environment of the geographical locales the clubs find themselves. It’s uniquely American, whether you like it or not. And then there’s DC United that somehow doesn’t fit into the bombastic labels ascribed to the MLS’ finest. There’s just something a little quiet about it. Mundane even. In McCarthy’s day, it might have even seemed somewhat communistic.
‘United’ is in fact the most common suffix given to football teams in England: fifteen in total. Like many of the names we hold dear in football (Wanderers, Albion, Rovers), ‘united’ is steeped within the Victorian desire to create a nation forged upon the ideals and philosophies promoted by the British Empire; adventurous in spirit, beholden to a vision of a country moving as one towards a glorious destiny. Whether we in the twenty-first century hold similar perspectives with the benefit of hindsight and historical revisionism is beside the point. Nevertheless, it’s somewhat incongruous that the name ‘United’ is really synonymous with the most famous United of them all. If somebody tells you they support United, you naturally assume they mean Manchester. Rightly or wrongly other Uniteds need to be qualified, with either Leeds, The Blades or The Hammers. What was originally meant as a symbolic gesture to show a club’s togetherness has inadvertently lurched into the singularity and individualism that was not at the heart of its original inception. It’s the same with City. Try it. It’s inexorably linked with the team of Tevez, the Gallaghers and Eastlands.
The choice of name links a club to its foundations and its history and consequently is significant when forging the identity that fans inevitably gravitate towards. Hence Glasgow Celtic’s referencing of the Irish diaspora that populated the Scottish city in the nineteenth century, Partick Thistle using the Scottish national flower as a rallying call or Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk referencing its origins of the city’s mining community. Having said that, I’ve never quite understood why Accrington Stanley was thus called but nevertheless had the name burned into my psyche forever more because of a milk advert.
What, if anything can be ascertained from all this is that a name can either come to personify a club, raising it above and beyond the limited constraints of geography and place or it can be the butt of many a pub and schoolyard joke, making supporters cringe with every defeat suffered. With all that in mind, I’m resolved. The name of my first born, boy or girl will thus be Hotspur Galaxy United Thistle Theoharis. Should cover all the bases then. Now, I just need to get it by the wife…
As well as writing for In Bed with Maradona, Greg Theoharis produces his excellent weekly blog, Dispatches From A Football Sofa, you can also find Greg on twitter @gregtheoharis