Friday, 25 December 2009


Merry Christmas! Or as they say over here in Florida, "time for Chinese food". Yes, it's Friday 25th December and that can only mean two things - it's Jesus' birthday, and it's time for another of The Cynical Challenge's Friday features. This week it's Kickipedia, the column that moves through sport's rich history like a hot knife through brandy butter, and puts the facts and figures under the microscope like a Food Standards Agency official checking turkeys for E. coli.

I appreciate most of you will have stuffed yourselves full of pigs in blankets, turkey and cranberry sauce, whilst carefully avoiding the sprouts, so I'm going to keep it light this week. You see, once again, as in the first ever post on The Cynical Challenge, I've become interested in names. More specifically, the names of birds.

Some of you who know me well might say that's a welcome development in my chat-up technique, as usually I show no interest at all. But actually I'm talking about birds of the feathered, flighty variety, the reason being that South Florida is home to some fantastic specimens. My parents own a book entitled Birds of Florida, and I've been going through it identifying the ones I've seen. So now I know that the long-legged-long-necked one is a Great Egret, the black-and-white-fuzzy-head one is an Anhinga, and the one-that's-just-showing-off is the Purple Gallinule.

But leafing through Birds of Florida I found two outstanding bird names, the Chuck-Will's-Widow and the Whip-Poor-Will. After further digging it transpired these are so-called because their songs sound like the words chuck-will's-widow and whip-poor-will (follow the links and click 'song' to download and hear for yourselves).

It's quite neat when names so aptly fit the thing they describe - which is why, for Kickipedia, I've cobbled together a list of sportsmen whose names very much precede them.

Football can certainly count a few appropriately-monikered professionals. Robbie Savage, formerly of Leicester, Birmingham and Blackburn and now winding down his career at Derby, is one. Never has the aphorism 'never judge a book by its cover' been more apt than in Savage's case, for despite his perfectly-conditioned shoulder-length blond hair, the midfielder has forged a career out of kicking the ankles, bruising the shins and crippling the nipples (probably) of his opponents, picking up a Premier League-record 89 career yellow cards in the process. Funnily enough video evidence of Savage's brutality is hard to come by - the most popular offering on Youtube is actually of Savage himself being injured in a variety of comic ways. Perhaps that's karma. As a footnote, Savage's behaviour doesn't seem to have been replicated by namesakes Bas and Dave, though they would have made a great tribute act together.

If ever a man was born to manage a team it's this next example. VfL Wolfsburg are the current Bundesliga champions, but back in the late '90s when they were relative newcomers to Germany's top flight they famously appointed Wolfgang Wolf as coach. Arsenal made a pretty half-hearted effort at this kind of synergy when they appointed a manager named Arsène; over in Wolfsburg, for five seasons club and coach had the kind of mutual understanding that only a shared name can bestow.

Incidentally, the town of Wolfsburg has its own naming story. Constructed by the Nazis as the factory town for their new 'People's Car', it was originally known as Stadt des KdF-Wagens - or in English, in full, The City of the Strength Through Joy Car. Catchy eh?

A few tennis players merit inclusion. There's Maria Bueno, who was, as her name suggests, quite good. There was Margaret Court, who made a career playing on one. But they all rather pale in comparison with the Israeli Anna Smashnova. For a while after her marriage in 2002 Smashnova insisted on being called 'Anna Pistolesi', but thankfully for sportswriters around the world she compromised with the double barrelled 'Smashnova-Pistolesi' until giving up completely and getting a divorce.

In cricket meanwhile notable mentions go to Peter Bowler, who took 34 first class wickets with his part-time offbreak, as well as a trio of Battys, Jeremy, Gareth and Jon (though only the latter could really wield a bat with any authority). In a similar vein, there have been plenty of cricketing Glovers, but none of them seem to have been wicket-keepers. And then there's the, albeit tenuous, example of Dominic Cork - for those unclear on this, the famous cherry cricket balls are made using a core of cork wood, wrapped in string and leather.

In motorsport American Scott Speed did his level best to live up to his surname in three seasons as a Formula 1 driver, but failed to pick up a single point. Speed left his team, Toro Rosso, in controversial circumstances in 2007, amid allegations that he came to blows with team chief Franz Tost. At the time Toro Rosso's co-owner Gerhard Berger commented on Speed's departure, saying, "he didn't perform and that's why he isn't here any more". Which is Formula 1-speak for "he was total rubbish". He now races NASCAR in the States.

A few others to run through include rugby players Neil Back (though he was a forward) and speedy winger Austin Healey. If you don't understand the latter, click here. Any football goalkeeper named 'Hans' deserves a mention, so that's Hans Tilkowski, Hans Segers, Hans-Jorg Butt and Hans Vonk. In golf it's no surprise Gary Player actually became a sportsman, while Tiger Woods used plenty of woods (no jokes now), along with drivers and irons, until his personal life caught up with him recently.

And then there's swimmer Mark Spitz - winner of seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics, and the man who set 33 world records in his career. His name is derived from a German word meaning 'peak'. Amen to that.


Not A Textbook said...

I'm lovin' it. Da da da di daaa!

H. van Smeiter said...

I am surprised that whilst in the US, you did not trawl through American sports for inspiration.

Have you not heard of:

Rusty Kuntz formerly of the Minnesota Twins
Lucious Pusey, former Linebacker for the East Illinois Panthers

And of course, they do say basketball is a simple game of getting from hoop to hoop which would probably mean that the Mapp brothers, Majestic and Scientific would be rather good at it

Good night and good luck

Post a Comment

Always glad to hear your thoughts. Be nice now! James