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26th Jul 2019

The best kinds of nickname in football

Kyle Picknell

There’s nothing quite like a nickname that sticks

Whilst the NBA does, unfortunately, lay claim to having the best nicknames in sports (don’t argue with me on this, Google them instead) and the NFL once boasted a player nicknamed “The Refrigerator” due to his size and body shape (real name William Perry), football still has a few gems that are worth revisiting.

Indeed, there are too many to list in an article I am writing on a Friday in 70% humidity weather, so instead let’s just group the nicknames together by style and go through the best ones. I’m sorry. It’s too fucking hot.

The Spanish nickname

Whether ‘El Niño’ for Fernando Torres, ‘El Mago’ for David Silva, ‘Chicharito’ for Javier Hernandez, ‘El Cholo’ for Diego Simeone, or the more obscure ‘El Pirata’ for Esteban Granero, nicknames in the Spanish language just work. They just sound great, no matter the word, or the meaning, or even how tenuous the reasoning behind it is.

Bonus points, too, for Javier Zanetti’s moniker ‘El Tractor’ which, along with being in Spanish, also fits into another category later down the list – the inanimate object nicknames.

The English abbreviation

From the Spanish to the English language now as we delve into the linguistic delights of the nicknames dished out on our own shores.

There’s Gazza, and there is, of course, the spinoff, Wazza. There’s JLingz. There’s The Ox. There’s Becks. Lamps. JT. G-Nev. Carra. Rash. Hendo. TAA. It doesn’t matter how an English football player’s name is abbreviated – all that matters is that it is squashed up and shortened. And whilst it’s arguably the simplest form of nickname giving, it’s also one of the most effective.

Special mention, of course, to England’s nickname king simply because he has two of them, which you can also combine together to make a kind of super nickname: Danny Welbeck, aka ‘Dat Guy’, ‘Welbz’ and ‘Dat Guy Welbz’. Incredible.

The [Place name] [Other Footballer]

Arguably the most famous iteration of ‘The [Place Name] [Other Footballer]’ style is Ray Parlour, aka ‘The Romford Pele’. That itself is a masterpiece of incongruous imagery and hyperbole and sets out the formula perfectly. All you need is the place the player is from and an absolute fucking stretch of a comparison. The weirder the combo, the better. Take, for instance, ‘The Welsh Xavi’ pictured above – Joe Allen. A perfect nickname in every way made funnier now by the fact that Joe Allen plays for Stoke City and doesn’t really play like his former possession-retaining Swansea City self.

Further examples include ‘The Scottish Cafu’ (Alan Hutton), ‘The Desert Maradona’ (Saeed Al-Owairan), The Iraqi Bale (Ali Adnan) and The Serbian Roberto Carlos (Aleksander Kolarov). Yes, people genuinely used to call him that. I promise you. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

Bonus points to John McGinn, too, for being dubbed both ‘The Scottish Iniesta’ and, as an extrapolation, ‘McGinniesta’. Phenomenal.

The Inanimate Object

Now then. Much like ‘The Refrigerator’ mentioned in the intro, football has its own subsection of inanimate object sobriquets.

One is quite possibly my personal favourite football-related nickname of them all: Papa Bouba Diop, aka ‘The Wardrobe’. Why ‘The Wardrobe’? Well, as the second line on Wikipedia will happily explain to you, it’s due to his large height and frame. Another classic of the genre is ‘The Lawn Mower’ Stig Tøfting, who was given the nickname due to his scything tackles in midfield. A perhaps lesser-known one, but still a fine example, is former Blackburn Rovers, Huddersfield Town and Sheffield United midfielder Giorgos Donis, called ‘The Train’ due to his rapid acceleration.

It wasn’t official, but I’m very fond of referring to former Aston Villa left-back Wilfred Bouma ‘The Warehouse’ in a similar vein. Everyone start calling Wilfred Bouma ‘The Warehouse’. Let’s get it to stick. Also everyone start talking about Wilfred Bouma incessantly, for no reason at all other than to use his new nickname. Good.

And last but certainly not least, the pun to end all puns nickname

One Size. Fitz Hall. I don’t think I need to say anything else here. It’s the best nickname ever given.