This article appeared in the Cambridge United official programme for the game against Accrington Stanley on Saturday, 1 October 2016.
Footballers’ nicknames can be really boring, can’t they? Too often it’s just a case of adding a ‘y’ or an ‘o’ to a surname – Mooro, Bally, – or shortening the name and adding an ‘s’ – Becks, Blatts, Cholmondeley-Warns.
The U’s have been as guilty of this lazy practice as any other club. On the other hand, we have a proud history of nickname creativity: who was the genius who first dubbed John Taylor ‘Shaggy’? How did Gary Clayton become Hedgy? Was Lindsay Smith’s ‘Wolfie’ moniker the result of a Habbin wit’s contribution to a Saturday afternoon?
Go further back in U’s history and you’ll come across the likes of Buzzer, Cruncher and Scobie. But if you explore the period covered by Andrew Bennett’s wonderful book Newmarket Road Roughs, published this month by Lovely Bunch, you’ll be able to mine a fabulously rich seam of nickname gold.
Here are some of the mysteries 100 Years of Coconuts researchers hope to solve (if you know the answers, please get in touch at email@example.com): whence came the ‘Pop’ in Stan ‘Pop’ Ballard? Why was Harold Watson known as Darley? Who put the ‘Pim’ in Bill Stearn? What was the story behind Jim ‘Squatter’ Smith? Why did everyone call William Freeman ‘Fanny’? Was it a result of dressing room bants? I shudder to think.
My favourite is the byname bestowed on Albert Dring, who was Abbey United’s top goalscorer in 1922/23 and finished his Wasps career with 34 goals from 46 appearances. I would love to know why he rejoiced in the nickname ‘Twitter’. We can rule out the suggestion that he spoke in sentences of 140 characters.
An extract from Newmarket Road Roughs (yours for £14.99, or £13.99 if you’re a CFU member, via the CFU online store or the caravan on a match day) shows how important Twitter was to the Abbey, and gives a flavour of the kind of football they were playing in the 20s: ‘In the Minor Cup, Abbey were favourites to beat Soham Comrades in the semi-final at Cambridge Town’s new Milton Road ground, but found themselves two goals down after 70 minutes. Wilson then swapped positions with Dring and converted a penalty to pull one back before Soham’s Talbot skied a spot kick that would surely have clinched it; duly encouraged, Dring headed an equaliser ten minutes from time and seconds later right winger Tom Langford snatched a dramatic winner.
‘The final at the same venue two weeks later was against Cambridge GER, whom the Abbey had already thrashed 10-2 and 5-1 in the league, but they were shocked when Cracknell fired the Railwaymen ahead inside the first minute. Dring soon equalised, but GER had a game plan that involved stopping the Abbey from playing their normal game and the nearest United came to scoring again was when Wilson hit the post in the second half.
‘United had no such difficulties in the league. In February they thrashed their nearest rivals, Newnham Institute, 6-0, with Wilson and Dring contributing two goals apiece. “Abbey played on the top of their form, and won with ease,” stated the match report. “They are a well-balanced side, and it will not be a surprise if some of their players find a way into higher class teams.”’
Recognise the players pictured above? Of course you do. Now, recall their nicknames, then order Newmarket Road Roughs here and enter a nickname wonderland.
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