Nicknames are bad names. So says David Brent, iconic comic creation of Ricky Gervais, hitherto a fan of jokey workplace monikers until he finds out that Toad Of Toad Hall & Bluto are two assigned to him & are circulating widely around the office behind his previously unwitting back. They certainly can linger. At school a boy named Kevin Goodwin would habitually have the dried green remnants of a runny nose trailing down perilously close to his top lip. As a result he was known to all as Snot Goodwin & even today, well over 40 years since I last saw him, I guarantee anyone of my vintage recalling his memory would not refer to him as Kevin, no matter how many mountains he may have climbed in adult life. As it was then so it is now. Snot has stuck. At college there was a girl whose actual name I can no longer remember. I do remember her nickname though. The Swansea Swallower. It’s a cruel world. She was a rabid Thatcherite so that tempers any potential sympathy somewhat. Was the nickname accurate? I am unable to shed further light. She had a Welsh accent but I have no idea if she was actually from Swansea.
The world of the British football dressing room has long been notorious for both the durability & lack of imagination of the assigned nicknames for its occupants. Tag on a y or an o (or less frequently an s) to the end of the subject’s name & Bob’s your uncle, or should that be Bobby’s your uncs? Holly. Clarkey. Wisey. Speedo. Steino. Furs. The personnel at Stamford Bridge changes, the cliched nickname formula remains. Even the late, great Peter Bonetti, widely referred to as ‘The Cat’ given his feline agility in goal, had that altered to Catty by his team mates. We all give in to it in the end. Nearly twenty years after leaving for Leicester City Dennis Wise is still Wisey.
However, hearing coach Frank Lampard (Lamps to most or Lampty if your name is Jody Morris) refer to new signing Ben Chilwell as Chilly is making me shiver. The preeminent figure in the current dressing room giving the royal seal of approval means it is unlikely to go away. Does this mean Mason Mount is known as Mounty or Reece James as Jamo? Possibly, even probably, & I had hoped the new foreign arrivals might herald a further shift from the nickname status quo. One of them conveniently has a y tagged on the end of his surname. Take a bow Eduard Mendy. Timo Werner is a no-go & good luck with amending Kai Havertz to fit the template lads. The fact is that foreign names generally don’t lend themselves to the continuation of the trend. Chelsea have had a lot of oversea players in the last 25 years so I suppose it is inevitable that any opportunity among the home grown lads to revert to the norm is grasped eagerly. Ben Chilwell has made a splendid start to his Chelsea career. Two years ago Blues social media ‘experts’ were loudly trumpeting his cause when potential new signings were discussed. A dip in form at Leicester last season led to a widescale volte face & suddenly it was Telles or Tagliafico they were heralding, anyone but Chilwell. Now Ben’s name is back in lights but when he has an inevitable dip in form, however mild, these intellectual & emotional incontinents will doubtless be screaming for him to be tied to a lampost & tarred & feathered outside The Butcher’s Hook before you can say Chilly. Best ignored on the whole. Chilwell is a more than welcome addition, although Tagliafico would at least have avoided the curse of the English nickname, while the Old Trafford dressing room now has its work cut out maintaining the nickname bantz hilarity with Alex Telles. Chilly it is though. Will we never be set free from this tyranny?
Nicknames in school years may be short of subtlety & frequently strip the recipient of any remaining shreds of dignity but compared to British football they are a beacon of originality. How did footballers fare themselves in schooldays, in tags given by them to others & vice versa? Sadly I have only a couple of examples. The only professional footballer to attend our school was Chelsea’s very own Clive Walker, but he had left years before I got there so if he had a playground nickname I have no idea what it was. In a recent joint interview with former ’80’s colleagues Colin Pates (Patesy) & John Bumstead (Bummers) it was clear though that Clive had not avoided the dressing room curse himself. They still refer to him as Walks. He did famously earn another nickname on the terraces courtesy of an unfortunate off the field indiscretion in the late 1970’s but we’ll draw a discreet veil over that. As indeed Clive should have done at the time.
My best friend at college had been to school in North London with Terry Gibson, later a striker with Spurs, Coventry, Man Utd & Wimbledon. At school he got his name in lights amongst his peers by disrupting an assembly, mooning the teachers from a balcony area immediately above the stage, in the process displaying an arse decorated with a profusion of hair impressive in one so young. He was known as Spiderman after that. Whether colleagues at the four top division clubs he frequented ever got past calling him Gibbo is unclear. In the modern Premier League dressing room some specific & immediate manscaping would doubtless be called for before Terry & his formerly hirsute buttocks were allowed through its metrosexual door.
A lovely woman called Julie used to sell books to me in my buying days at Blackwell’s, sometimes lightening the gloom of the surroundings in Oxford’s second best bookshop with tales of footballers she had known. She also revealed that at school she had made such a noise wearing a heavy pair of shoes that she been nicknamed Stompie. Many years later a friend phoned her from the Etihad Stadium halfway through a Man City game telling her he was sat next to an old school colleague of hers who wanted to say hello. The phone was duly transferred. ‘Alright Stompie, how are you?’ were the first words in a couple of decades Julie had heard from the lips of one time England winger & her aforementioned former classmate Trevor Sinclair (Sincs?) .You see, nicknames really don’t go away. As with Gibson’s Spiderman antics at least Stompie was unique & earned. Where Frank & the team’s use of feeble nicks like Chilly is concerned I can only conclude with that well worn teacher’s rebuke throughout my schooldays, a phrase doubtless also employed in the Goodwin household when monitoring poor old Snot’s incompetent nose blowing efforts all those years ago.
Must do better.