Not only crests and colours iconise football clubs. So do nicknames. Some nicknames have gone out of fashion to be replaced by new ones.
West Bromwich Albion’s dazzling combination of scarlet and blue broad striped jerseys and black knickers with scarlet stripes down the side was too much for their faithful and inspired the name in pre-political correctness days of the ‘Nigger Minstrels’. These days West Bromwich Albion are simply referred to as Albion.
Nicknames generally fall into different categories. The first category comprises of principal occupations of the town, city, borough or county. Other tags are derived from the the club’s name or ground. A third category are animals, birds and insects. Stereotyped and ephemeral colours or shirt patterns, shared with numerous other clubs, could inspire only the commonplace nicknames of ‘The Stripes’, ‘The Blues’, ‘The Reds’ and ‘The Whites’.
However, there are exceptions. The origin of Cardiff City’s nickname, ‘The Bluebirds’ is truly fascinating. It had started being used, along with ‘The Cardiffians’, ‘The City’ and ‘The Citizens’, after the club changed from their first colours of chocolate and amber to royal blue and white, sometime around 1910.
There is a connection with a classic children’s play, called The Blue Bird, written by the Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck in 1909. The bird, a symbol of happiness, is pursued by children who want to imprison it in a cage and the play’s theme urges us not to try to hoard happiness for ourselves. This play had come to the New Theatre in Cardiff in late October 1911. It received good reviews during its six-night run and a week after the production had left town, Maeterlinck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his symbolist plays including The Blue Bird and Pelleas and Mesilande. The publicity surrounding the play’s arrival in the Welsh capital and then Maeterlinck’s honour led to an unknown Cardiff City supporter deciding to call the team, resplendent in their blue strip, ‘The Blue Birds’. Gradually, it emerged as the favoured nickname before being adopted officially by the club.