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Mascot Madness! Birds in Football

Herring gull birds in football

The Christmas holidays can be a real treat for football fans. The games come thick and fast, and as we reach the season’s halfway point, fans start to get an idea of whether their club’s campaign will be a successful one or not. But during those (hopefully few and far between) duller moments in a match, have you ever wondered about your club’s nickname or badge? A surprising number of clubs in the English leagues have birdy associations. From Newcastle’s Magpies to Bristol City’s Robins, read on to find out about some of those avian connections as we explore birds in football.

Colour Coordination

Unsurprisingly, the majority of bird nicknames come from a club’s colours. Notts County and Newcastle United, for example, both play in black and white and are nicknamed the Magpies as a result. Only Notts County, however, actually feature the birds on their badge. Newcastle United instead includes a pair of seahorses from the city’s coat of arms. Fun fact: Juventus’ famous black and white striped kit is down to Notts County. In 1903, the Italian club needed to replace their existing kit and asked their English player John Savage to help. A Notts County supporting friend from home duly sent out his favourite team’s kit and the rest is history.

Notts County Badge
The Notts County Badge sports two magpies
As well as black and white feathers, magpies have beautiful iridescent sheens too

The sheer number of teams playing in red means that a host of teams are known as the Robins. Three league teams (at time of writing!) sport the name and feature robins on their badges: Bristol City, Swindon Town and Cheltenham Town. A number of non-league clubs follow suit, as well. Evesham United, Ilkeston FC, Bracknell Town and Altrincham FC are all called the Robins, although Altrincham’s badge is bird-free. Charlton Athletic have been Robins in the past but are usually called the Addicks now after an old association with ‘addick (haddock) and chips.

Bristol City Badge
Bristol City are one of many clubs with a robin badge and nickname
Robin birds in football
The robin’s red breast matches a host of football teams’ strips

The story of Cardiff City’s Bluebirds tag is slightly more convoluted. Although based in the Welsh capital, the club has been playing in the English league system since the early 1900s, hence their inclusion here. The club adopted a blue and white kit as far back as 1908 but the Bluebird nickname only stuck after 1911. According to club lore, a popular children’s play called the Blue Bird was staged in the city that year. One supporter was so impressed with the bird’s connection to happiness, he pushed for the name to be adopted by the club. The bird first appeared on the badge in 1959 and now resembles a swallow as much as anything else. Controversially, the club changed to a red strip for three seasons from 2012. Current owner Vincent Tan, a Malaysian Chinese businessman, wanted to tap into the Chinese market where blue is an unlucky colour. Happily for angry supporters, the club is now back in blue.

Cardiff City Badge
Cardiff City’s ‘bluebird’ looks very much like a swallow these days
Swallow birds in football
Cardiff’s strip loosely matches the barn swallow’s blue colouring

Location, Location, Location

Some club emblems come from their current or former location within a town or city. West Bromwich Albion’s main nickname is the Baggies. This non-bird name’s origin is lost to the mists of time, but a couple of rival theories link it either to the baggy trousers many fans wore to protect them at the foundries they worked at in the early 1900s or to the bagmen who collected the club takings after each match. However, they were also once known as the Throstles, the old name for song thrushes. A throstle apparently first appeared on the badge, and as a nickname, in the 1880s because the bar that the team used as a changing room kept a caged song thrush. When the club moved location in 1900, they named the new ground the Hawthorns after the many hawthorn bushes uprooted during the build. Hawthorns are a favourite of song thrushes, so the badge stayed the same and remains to this day.

West Bromwich Albion badge
The West Bromwich Albion badge with its song thrush, or throstle, and hawthorn
Song thrush
Throstle is an old name for the song thrush

Sheffield Wednesday are famously called the Owls and the bird features on the club’s badge. Interestingly, the club was once known as the Blades, a name now the sole preserve of their city rivals, Sheffield United. At one time, Sheffield’s association with cutlery production was so strong, any team from the city tended to be given the nickname. For a few years after forming, Wednesday played at a number of grounds around the city, including Bramhall Lane, now the home of United. The Owls nickname presumably came after they finally settled at Hillsborough in the Owlerton district of Sheffield in 1899, although it wasn’t fully adopted until one of the players gave the club an owl mascot in 1912.

Sheffield Wednesday Badge
Once more stylised, the Sheffield Wednesday bird now looks most like a tawny owl
The Oldham Athletic bird, meanwhile, looks a bit more long-eared!

Oldham AFC also have an owl on their badge, although their nickname is the Latics, short for Athletic. The owl in this case comes from the town’s coat of arms, supposedly a homage to some pronunciations of the town’s name. Swansea, meanwhile, are known as the Swans for the obvious reason that it is short for Swansea. The club, who play in the English league system, like Cardiff, fittingly play in white, and the club crest features a swan. The team’s mascot is also a swan. Named Cyril, he is one of football’s most famous mascots. While popular with fans, he has been known to get in trouble, including fights with other mascots…

Swansea City badge
Swansea City’s badge currently sports a black swan to stand out on the white strip
Mute swan
A sleepy mute swan

You’re History

A few of our football club’s nicknames pay homage to events long before the clubs themselves came into being. Norwich City, for example, are called the Canaries and their kit includes the birds’ yellow colour. Unlike the teams named for the strip colours, though, the colour in this case came second. In the mid-16th century, Dutch and Flemish refugees arrived in the city in large numbers. Fleeing persecution as religious heretics, they became known as the Strangers. Many ended up working in the wool industry. Key to our story, though, is the fact they also brought canaries with them and popularised canary breeding in Norwich, hence the adoption, hundreds of years later, of the club’s nickname and badge.

Norwich City badge
Canary breeding took off in Norwich thanks to Dutch refugees
Canaries are native to the Canary Islands, Azores and Madeira

Tottenham Hotspur’s cockerel emblem has an even older connection. The club’s name comes from Lord Henry Percy, often called Harry Hotspur. Percy was a key figure in Henry IV’s rise to power in 1399, and he features in Shakespeare’s work. He was nicknamed Hotspur by the Scots for his fast riding and supposed use of ‘hot’ spurs. The Percy family were, and still are, earls and dukes of Northumberland but also owned land in the Tottenham area of London. The club’s name pays tribute to this connection and the family’s most famous son. The cockerel was added to the badge in 1921 and references the spurs that fighting cocks wear in common with Harry.

Tottenham Hotspur badge
The Tottenham cockerel links to Harry Hotspur and his spurs
Chicken birds in football
Ok; this is a chicken not a cockerel…

Daggers Drawn

Our final pair of clubs adopted bird-related imagery much more recently. In the early 1970s, Crystal Palace were struggling and found themselves relegated to the old second division at the end of the 1972/73 season. Manager Malcolm Allison decided an image overhaul would help inspire the club to new heights. As well as changing the kit from light blue and claret to much brighter red and blue stripes, he targeted the club’s nickname. The club was previously called the Glaziers, in reference to the original Crystal Palace housing the 1851 Great Exhibition. Allison took inspiration from successful Portuguese club Benfica, nicknamed the Eagles, for a stronger name and the bird was added to the badge as well.

Crystal Palace took inspiration from Benfica for their badge and nickname
White-tailed eagle
Eagles, like this juvenile white-tailed eagle, are a symbol of strength and power

This new name directly influenced a name change for Brighton and Hove Albion just a few years later. Despite being about 50 miles apart, Crystal Palace and Brighton have been fierce rivals since the 1970s. The animosity has less to do with geography and more to do with the fact the teams had a number of fractious run-ins in a short space of time, having been literal leagues apart for some time previously. Apparently, when Palace fans started chanting their new ‘Eagles’ name in the pub before one game between the two, Brighton fans responded by chanting ‘Seagulls’ back. Presumably the fans wanted to pick a rhyming rival bird that fitted their seaside location, despite the fact the club had only recently been christened the Dolphins. The seagull name quickly stuck and has been on the club badge since 1977.

Brighton and Hove Albion badge
‘Seagulls’ are synonymous with seaside locations like Brighton
Herring gulls
The term ‘seagull’ is a generic catch-all for a host of gull species like these herring gulls

Christmas Crackers

That completes our tour of birdy football clubs apart from an honorary mention of Walsall FC. Nicknamed the Saddlers for the town’s saddlery history, the League Two club’s badge features a swift. This honours the 1888 amalgamation of the town’s two former clubs, Walsall Town FC and Walsall Swifts.

Walsall FC badge
Honorary mention goes to the swift badge of Walsall Fc

It only remains for all of us here at Purple Plover to say we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! And if you follow football, we hope your club’s Christmas fixtures prove fruitful!