Insect inspiration

Insects and football don’t often mix. An influx of flies when England met Tunisia in Volgograd during the 2018 World Cup was a rare occasion. It wasn’t warmly welcomed by players or spectators. Two years earlier at Euro 2016, Silver Y moths were clearly visible as Portugal and France contested the final. But there are a few insects embedded in ‘the beautiful game’ in a more celebrated fashion – in club nicknames.

The recent televised FA Cup tie between Brentford and Leicester City featured several shots of the London club’s badge – which features a bee. Brentford are nicknamed ‘The Bees’ and football writers have long loved the opportunity to craft match headlines centred around that favourite old phrase about a game having a ‘sting in the tail’. A late goal at Brentford is almost sure to provoke this phrase in some guise or other.

At one time the Brentford crest resembled a shield, and featured a traditional skep hive and a couple of impressively stout bees.  A recent make-over has delivered a modern round badge featuring a single bee which is now the proud focal point.

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Brentford are pushing for promotion to the top flight, about to move to a sparkling new stadium, and football headline writers may go into overdrive if there they were to meet Watford who go by the nickname of ‘The Hornets’.

We can presume Watford’s nickname is intended to denote a menacing and powerful force. The connection can seem confusing when the club badge is clearly dominated by an image of a ‘hart’ or stag. Their ‘hornets’ nickname appears to date to the 1960s and is likely based simply on their predominantly yellow and black colours; there was only a brief window when the badge on their strip actually featured a hornet.

England doesn’t have a monopoly on insect nicknames.

In Scotland championship club Alloa Athletic are well known as The Wasps and their vivid gold and black hooped jerseys make the choice of this nickname an easy one to appreciate. Their Recreation Park home enjoys lovely views of the Ochils and Alloa may have had their nature inspired nickname since around the 1880s.

Perhaps not surprisingly the current Alloa club crest prominently features a wasp. It’s not a slavish representation by any means, and indeed has a cartoon element with the wasp depicted in a ‘superman’ pose complete with bulging muscles.  But the nickname has stuck over the years, as have the club’s colours, and as a consequence Alloa have a distinctive identity.

Football is game steeped in tradition, and the retaining of insects in these nicknames and club crests is evidence of the importance of history to many football clubs. It also shows that folk notice insects in many different ways.

It is one thing to have an insect nickname, what about when the actual club is named after an insect?

Since 1886 that’s been the case in the Swiss city of Zurich, where one of the local football clubs is called Grasshoppers. It’s a fitting note to end on as they were in fact formed by a Scotsman – albeit going by the rather Welsh sounding name of Tom Griffiths. The name Grasshoppers is said to have reflected an energetic style of play and lithe athleticism. They visited Scotland in 1958 to play a floodlit friendly match in Glasgow, but apparently it was so foggy that evening it was hard to see from one end of the pitch to the other, let alone determine if the Swiss side lived up to their ‘springy’ name.

So insects and football.  Not an obvious relationship, but there nevertheless.