So often as fans we take a team’s name for granted. We grow up up with them, they’re a part of the landscape in a fairly unobtrusive way and we only occasionally wonder at what they mean or why a team is called what it’s called. It’s a shame, really. The name of a team, as well as its nickname or emblem or colors or any other traits, can often tell a great story, can give interesting history lessons or sometimes are just downright bizarre. I present for you today a few of my favorite examples.
Seems easy enough, right? Probably just a simple little acronym for a club from the Dutch town of Breda. Ah, but that acronym is an acronym of acronyms, a result of a merger between two clubs who themselves had excessively lengthy names. Combined the full name is possibly the longest official club name in the world.
Way back in the sepia-tinted days of 1895 a club was formed in the southern Dutch city of Breda (oddly enough the birthplace of Elvis Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker). The club adopted the name NOAD — Nooit Ophouden Altijd Doorzetten. The name translates into English as Never Give Up, Always Go On. It’s an inspired name, really: why don’t people come up with names like that anymore?
Nine years later another club launched in Breda, and topped NOAD with an even more unique name: ADVENDO – Aangenaam Door Vermaak En Nuttig Door Ontspanning. This translates into English as “Pleasant for its Entertainment and Useful for its Relaxation”. Seriously. Maybe it’s a bit of a colloquial expression and doesn’t sound as downright nuts in Dutch as it does in English. But that’s a big maybe.
It seems that after a few years of playing out spectacularly-named derbies the two clubs decided to join forces and take their linguistic creativity on the road. In 1912 the two clubs merged to form NAC, the pride of Breda. In 2003 after the city helped the club through the some financial difficulties Breda was added to the official club name. And here it is in all its glory – Nooit Opgeven Altijd Doorgaan Aangenaam Door Vermaak En Nuttig Door Ontspanning Combinatie Breda. Try to work that into a song!
Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata
From the Netherlands, we make our way to the Southern Hemisphere and the land of the Albiazul — Argentina. Argentina was the first country in Latin America to really get football going in an organized way. In the late 19th century the country was quite prosperous and very much seen as a country on the rise. English expats were thick on the ground launching mining, railroad and other ventures and unsurprisingly they brought their nascent sports culture with them. You can see this influence still in the English names of so many Argentine clubs — Boca Juniors, Newell’s Old Boys and Rosario Central, just to name a few. But one club without an English name, Gimnasia, seems to capture this era best of all.
La Plata is located a little ways east of Buenos Aires and is the capital of Buenos Aires province, the capital city itself being an independent federal district. It is blessed with two major football clubs – Estudiantes and Gimnasia y Esgrima. While Estudiantes are by far the more successful of the two (five national championships and four Copa Libertadores titles), Gimnasia y Esgrima is the older of the two and in fact the club as a whole (though not the football section) is the oldest sports club in the country.
Club de Gimnasia y Esgrima translates into English as Gymnastics and Fencing Club. At the time of its launch in 1887, these were the sports of the elite English-influenced gentlemen of Argentine society and membership in Gimnasia y Esgrima was a ticket to the La Plata big time. Just the name itself conjures up images as bygone as bygone can be. The club’s gorgeous emblem perfectly expresses this era, a fencer with plumed helmet and crossed swords, Olympian olive branches to each side behind a shield with an antiquated CGE at its center. The club’s official motto — Mens sana in corpore sano or a healthy mind in a health body — is a similar reminder of this period and would not be out of place as a motto for any traditional English football club.
Interestingly, despite its highly elite origins, Gimnasia y Esgrima have become the club supported by the working class of La Plata while Estudiantes (formed by dissident members of Gimnasia y Esgrima in 1905) are nominally the city’s middle class club. How and why this evolution occurred, I really have no idea. Maybe a topic for a future article!
Finally, like many an oriundi over the years, we travel from the New World back to the Old, from Argentina to the Italian city of Genoa, who actually provided quite a few immigrants to Argentina and is in fact the origin of the Boca nicknames Los Xeneizes. Genoa is the home to two major football clubs – Genoa and Sampdoria. While the history of the Griffoni of Genoa, Italy’s oldest club, is relatively straightforward, the tale of Sampdoria is convoluted in the extreme.
The story has its beginning in 1891 with the creation of Società Ginnastica Comunale Sampierdarenese, or Sampierdarenese Community Gymnastics Club. Sampierdarena is a neighborhood of Genoa and this was its local club. Twenty years later the club began playing organized football under the name Sampierdarenese Calcio. Meanwhile another gymnastics club got its start in 1895 – Società Ginnastica Andrea Doria. Again with the gymnastics! Andrea Doria took its name from a 16th century Genoan admiral and political leader and all-around hero of the city. Five years after its gymnastics origin, the club added a calcio section.
At this point we are in 1911, we are in Genoa and we have two clubs: Sampierdarenese and Andrea Doria. From here it gets absurdly complicated. Before I detail all the complex mergers, I should mention one unique factor that influenced so much of this. The Fascist government of Benito Mussolini that ruled Italy during the 1920s and 1930s “encouraged” clubs from the cities of the center and south of Italy to merge to create one super club per city to challenge the northern clubs that had dominated Italian football up until this point. It is for this reason that so many clubs merged or launched around this time and why certain large cities — Naples and Florence for example — have only one club.
Back to the mergers. In 1919, Sampierdarenese got the ball rolling by merging with FBC Liguria. Eight years later in 1927 the biggest Fascist-inspired merger occurred with Sampierdarese, Andrea Doria and Corniglianese joining forces to create La Dominante. It seems that this merger didn’t really take, though, as not long after all three merging clubs had relaunched themselves under their old names. Andrea Doria restarted in 1931 and remained an independent club until 1946. Sampierdarenese restarted in 1932 and six years later merged with Rivarolese and a reformed Corniglianese to found AC Liguria.
Sampierdarense were seemingly unhappy with this merger and soon abandoned it for a return to the single life. Finally, in 1946, Sampierdarenese and Andrea Doria culminated their lengthy courtship with the creation of Unione Calcio Sampdoria, the new name obviously a combination of the two.
So there you have it. Three examples of the uniqueness and diversity of football team names around the world — the not-so-simple acronym of NAC Breda, the 19th century nobility of Gimnasia y Esgrima and the complicated saga of Sampdoria. I hope to be back with more of these explorations into football etymology in the near future. Until then — Nooit Ophouden Altijd Doorzetten!