I can't decide whether I like football or not, but I've always been interested in the names of the players. As a young boy I asked my mother whether George Best was George Best's real name, or more in the way of an honorary title. My other favourite name amongst Sixties players was Nobby Stiles, which sounded old-fashioned even then, and really ought to have belonged to some lad who got his head blown off in the First World War. Now, of course, that superb name - so redolent of working-class English pluck - has been sullied by Cockneys who've incorporated it into rhyming slang for the purposes of describing a certain embarrassing ailment.
In the Seventies, I was a big fan of the name Cyril Knowles, but knew little of the man except that he was a fullback for Spurs, and the girl at the end of our road fancied him when she should have been fancying me. The interesting feature here, as with the name Glenn Hoddle, is the way the modest pretension of the Christian name is immediately and poignantly undercut by the unglamorous surname.
The Eighties were a lean decade for football, name-wise, but the ultra- cosmopolitan nature of the game in the Nineties has provided a cornucopia of memorable monikers. My current favourites from the Premier League are Tore Andre Flo (a flowing name for a flowing player), Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (the appeal of which is surely self-explanatory), and Marc Overmars. This last surname is vividly evocative of abstraction, alienation, and strangeness - not, I admit, qualities you necessarily want in a team mate when you're one-nil down with a minute to go, but the effect is darkly poetic nonetheless. Hence, no doubt, its employment by Martin Amis in his novel Night Train.
Ruud Gullit is a damn good name too. On first hearing it, a restaurant critic friend of mine gasped out the instinctive translation "rude gullet", before wistfully adding "I wish I was called that".
But no Premier League figure has a name to match Zinedine Zidane, who was recently voted "European Footballer of the Year", and would have equally walked off with "European Name of the Year" if such an award existed. With an incredibly swashbuckling name like Zinedine Zidane you could hardly fail to be European Footballer of the Year, or a freedom fighter, or a maverick intellectual. You certainly couldn't be a bank clerk. With a name like Glenn Hoddle, though, you could very easily be a bank clerk.
But I don't suppose it'll come to that.Reuse content