THE AIRLIE EXILE: #1 What’s in a name? Everything

Wakefield are back to being Wakefield Trinity again. Well, they barely ever stopped, but the main point is: ‘The Wildcats’ are no more.

As a rugby league exile who’s lived in London, Edinburgh, South Korea, China and India, I find myself not only explaining Hull FC a lot, but also explaining rugby league’s general existence to confused people of all colours and creeds.

We’ve all been there, explaining yourself to your ruddy-cheeked Union-loving brother-in-law, or to an impressionable American, or the Irishman that remembers Rugby League fondly; although he can’t quite recall any team other than Wigan.

When talking to these guys I cringe to mention the name of the Magic Weekend, which still sounds like a Harry Potter convention. Even tougher to explain is why Bulls, Rhinos and Vikings represent teams that already more hold traditional, and often more beautiful, nicknames.

Make no mistake, Wakefield’s decision to de-brand back to ‘Wakefield Trinity’ is a little victory. Hopefully it’s a big step towards an overall RL brand that the rest of the country can respect.

British sport has history; it oozes it. Hull FC were founded whilst the American Civil War was winding down, Huddersfield decades before the Scramble for Africa. The British fan expects a team to be have an old, solid moniker, combined with a nickname gifted to it by chance rather than some ill-conceived zoo-based marketing ploy.

There is a sad fact at the heart of all this rebranding. Manchester may play in The Etihad rather than Eastlands, Exeter may be the ‘Chiefs’ and a significant few at Hull City may be desperate to be Hull Tigers, but it is with Rugby League where the revolutionary scorn will always fall.

We the usurpers are the sole arbiters of this Americanisation, the evil commercial arm of a global conspiracy to sap Britain of its heritage faster than TTIP and the EU combined.

In truth, we’re far from it. Despite the names and flashy tat, we’ve stayed truer to our roots than football ever has.

Our heritage comes from a outsider’s rebellion against power. Football had shown the way, commercialism was a strength. But it needed be a foreign commercialism.

Rugby League should have two aims with its branding. To appeal to those in its own communities and to spread the game outside the heartlands. This can be achieved best by either a de-brand or a traditional re-brand, both similar but differing concepts.

Wakefield have undergone a de-brand. Turning them back to the team that everyone remembers from the BBC Floodlit Trophy or Eddie Waring’s references on ‘It’s a Knockout’.

Hull FC, on the other hand, have undergone a subtle and very traditional re-brand. After banishing all the ‘Shark’ nonsense and recovering from a difficult and unfortunate merger with Gateshead, Hull came out the other side as a team they never really were. Hull RLFC certainly existed and Hull FC might have in some distant eon, but if we’re honest the ‘FC’ suffix was a branding decision, a pitch-perfect one.

It’s the Peaky Blinders of reinventions, a past you can be proud of, that never existed, but still feels like it should have. It made Hull feel as old as time, which they almost are, whilst being fresh and clean, untainted by the horrors of shark-infested kits and ‘Boris the Black & White Knight’.

Where does this leave us?

If we’re honest Leeds won’t stop being ‘The Rhinos’, and I’d be shocked if Bradford gave up being ‘The Bulls’. My fried Harry, an RL convert from Norwich, agrees that ‘Bradford Northern’ is possibly the hardest sports team name in history. But don’t expect it to come back anytime soon.

Strangely, Warrington’s new badge, naff as it is, may have shown us the way. Placing the traditional nickname on the bottom of the crest actually helps new fans connect with the club. If we are honest, most of our converts will come from the working-class world of football. The Union boys have their own set of rules and too many years of in-built prejudice to produce many full conversions.

Football fans on the other hand expect a team to have a nickname like ‘The Cobblers’ or ‘The Hatters’. They understand that suffixes like ‘Argyle’ or ‘Thistle’ are strong brands, steeped in history. Names that have evolved naturally, not been administered as part of a diktat.

So, Widnes could become the Widnes Chemics, or just Widnes RLFC and place their old nickname underneath. There’s beauty in ‘The Gallant Youth’ that will never be represented by a bulldog.

We need to be memorable, but not for the sake of it. No matter how clunky Hull Kingston Rovers sounds, it is the name I always hear spouted at me first when I mention I’m a Rugby League fan from Hull. Its evolution is its strength.

It is my firm belief that calling Coventry ‘The Bears’ just relegates them to a status no better than that of the American sports leagues that litter our land, lurking in the shadows with their promises of Flyers, Phantoms and Radioactive Bobcats.

The people of Coventry deserve a team that reflects them. A ‘Rovers’ or a ‘United’. A team that feels like it’s always been a part of local life (despite being founded circa. 1998).

If we must bring in anything new to our collection of names, let’s follow the French and introduce ‘XIII’ for expansion clubs. Let people know what we are and what makes us different, then let the nickname come with time. Most of all, let me explain the sport I love to a red-nosed Scot without sounding like a demented zoo keeper.

As a sport we’ve been on this on this Earth longer than powered flight. There’s a special power in that. We need to take it back.

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About Tom Crosby
Tom has been an Airlie Exile since he left university in 2010. Living in South Korea, China, India, Argentina, London and now Edinburgh, it's been pretty difficult for him to keep up with the mighty Black and Whites. However, using twitter, online radio, dail-up internet, some very dodgy websites and a hundred programs to climb the Great Firewall of China, he's managed it. Right now, he writes the gloriously self-indulgent Airlie Exile blog and unfortunately, he thinks he's funny.

1 Comment on THE AIRLIE EXILE: #1 What’s in a name? Everything

  1. Author Image john crosby // 8th June 2016 at 9:50 pm // Reply

    just a small point. Hull were first billed as Hull FC in the late 70s on their official programmes so it’s not that new as a name. A pedantic parent replies….

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