The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 26

June 13, 2010


One of Michael Palin’s “Ripping Yarns” concerns itself with the fortunes of a pre-war Yorkshire League team, Barnstoneworth United. It features a running gag revolving round the unlikely surnames of stalwart players in the nether regions of English football. Regrettably I cannot remember verbatim what Palin’s teams names were, but they were along the lines: OLLERSHAW, KIPTON and HOPSCOUGH, CHESLEYDALE, WHADDOCK and TRUMPER, HACKETT, SPANSLEY, FLANSLOCK, WHUMLEY and FENSDYKE (this is the first of a number of team lists in this article. It will make it more realistic if you can adopt a phony David Francey-type accent when reading them).

St John the Baptie

Being blessed with a surname which was invented by a Sunday Post cartoonist in 1948, I reckon I’m fairly well qualified to take the piss out of other unusual monickers. Palin’s programme sent me scurrying for “The Wee Red Book” to find as many chuckle-worthy names as possible among the ranks of the heroic lads who’ve worn the dark blue of Scotland. One squad which can be assembled from among the internationalists to stir the hearts of all die-hard Caledonians is (remember your David Francey voice) –


I Fought D Law and D Law Won

The variety of names of Scottish internationalists positively lends itself to some fantastic combinations. You could have a back four of COOK, HERD, BELL, RING, supported by a midfield trio of FORREST, WOOD, BURNS. Their front three would be MENNIE, ROBB and STEEL (all poachers presumably). In a 4-2-4 system REID and WRIGHT would form an unusually literate partnership in the middle.

A peculiarity which emerges from the internationalists names is that few played for the teams which their surnames might indicate.

Preston played for Airdrie, Kilmarnock played for Motherwell and Morton turned out for Rangers. A squad of Hamiltons represented Scotland but none of them ever kicked a ball on behalf of the Accies. Neither Govan nor Mason played for the ‘Gers. Despite their names, WALES, WELSH, BRAZIL, FRENCH and JORDAN all donned the blue and white of Scotland, though this is counter-balanced by 6 SCOTTS who represented the country which they were named after. Still, we should worry. Ricardo Villa didn’t have the decency to play for the Birmingham team that named itself after him.

Only two QUINS have appeared for Scotland where you might reasonably expect that five would have done so. Despite the number of dodgy penalties which come their way only two DIVERS have played for Celtic and Scotland. However a Celtic Scarff has appeared for the national team. Regrettably Tait and Lyall didn’t play in the same Scottish side (how sweet that would have been – groan!) However, the Spurs pair of White and MacKay were the most truly representative duo ever to play together for Scotland.

The world of literature is well represented in Scotland line-ups by Yeats, Burns, and Thackery to say nothing of the generic Penman.

Ross Jack in the Box

Several years before Gordon Arthur appeared in the Raith Rovers goal, Alfie Conn and Johnny Doyle were colleagues in the Celtic team. Hoops fans looked forward to the day, which unfortunately never dawned, when their line-up included ARTHUR, CONN and DOYLE. The squad would have been neatly rounded off by drafting in Jim Holmes and John Watson.

Name That Tube

Leaving aside Scots players, as usual these funny foreigners provide loadsa laughs, particularly to the brainless balloons of the football media. When RUUD GULLIT first came to prominence, his name, his dreadlocks and his unconventional appearance caused some dubiety as to his country of origin. This was clarified by the dynamic Radio Clyde duo of “Chick” Young and Derek Johnstone during the following exchange:
CHICK -“I think he’s Moluccan” (Glasgow Rhyming Slang)
DEREK -“Moluccan what?”

When Johann Cruyff was the world’s top player, Joe Mercer still couldn’t get to grips with his name and continually referred to him as CRUFT, summoning up images of a dog show (but a pedigree dog show). When GUNTHER NETZER achieved God-like status following his single-handed humiliation of England at Wembley, his subsequent appearance in a UEFA tie against Aberdeen sent Archie McPherson into such ecstasy that he persistently referred to him as “NESTER” (this man’s so brilliant he can fly!)

Van Basten, Van Morrison and Van Hire

During the ’74 World Cup Poland had among its array of talent a player by the name of CASPERCZAK. We all know that these Polish names are so dammed difficult but the nearest approximation by the Telly-men to a correct pronunciation was the slightly unflattering “Gasper Jack”. When it came to CASPERCZAK’s colleague CMIKIEWICZ, the commentator usually contented himself by referring to “the big Pole”. Of goalkeepers BATS and PFAFF we’ll say nothing other than that Jimmy Greaves doubtless regrets that neither play for Scotland.

In 1978 Scotland played a friendly against Argentina who boasted a player in their side by the name of KILLER. In that game Arthur Montford demonstrated the truism that Scottish men are unable to objectively commentate on a Scottish game when he was moved to remark, after an innocuous challenge, “Killer by name, Killer by nature“.

Instant Kozma’s Gonna Get You

I cannot resist filling up a bit of space with a famous true (?) story which possibly one or two of you haven’t heard before. It seems that David Francey (for radio) and Archie McPherson (for TV) were both covering a Scotland international away in Hungary. Francey had the wit to realise that he wouldn’t be able to tell one Hungarian from another and before the game he asked Archie to let him know the name of the goal scorer in the event of the Hungarians getting a goal. In due course Hungary scored. In the ensuing mayhem and recriminations Francey frantically enquired of Archie what the name of the offending Hungarian was. “Fucked if I know” came the irritated reply. “Yes, it’s that man FUCTIVANO” ranted Francey to the startled listeners.

Coisty, Woodsy, Burnsy, Granty,Durranty, Hoddley and Waddley

Footballers nicknames are a whole different ball-game (to coin a cliche). I don’t know enough about this fascinating area to say much about it, but perhaps some other reader can give us the complete low-down. My own favourite nick-name relates to Albert Craig, now treading the boards at Dens Park. When Albert was strutting his stuff for Dumbarton some of the Sons fans occasionally doubted his commitment to the cause. One Saturday as Albert appeared to shirk a tackle a foghorn voice boomed out from the terracing, “ALBERT CRAIG – (PAUSE) – WENDY CRAIG MAIR LIKE”. Henceforth, Albert was known as “Wendy” to those like myself who were fortunate enough to be present at the birth of the nick-name. Another Sons player whose given name I can’t now remember was slightly overweight and was known to the terracing Tams as “BAT’. It required some lateral thinking to appreciate that this was “BAT” as in “BAT FASTARD”.

The modem trend of adding a Y onto the players surname to provide an imaginative nick-name is all very well but I for one wouldn’t fancy being in the same team as Jim Bett.

Happiness is a Bryan Gunn

It’s back to the Wee Red Book for one final (pathetically forced) aggregation of names. Those born before 1960 may nearly recognise a fab foursome of LENNOX, McCARTNEY, HARRIS and STARK. You know my name (look up the number).

Originally published in TAG 18, May 1990

PS – And this is a very belated PS indeed (added 5 November 2009) to my article about footballers names – the actual line-up of Michael Palin’s team was –

Hagerty F., Hagerty R., Tomkins, Noble, Carrick, Dobson, Crapper, Dewhurst, MacIntyre, Treadmore, Davitt.

PPS – I’m sure I’ve written this somewhere else, but if so, please excuse the repetition – I used to get great amusement out of adopting the David Francey voice to read out the following team, designed to wind up the opposition before the game starts





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