Nicknames are everywhere in football; you would struggle to find a team in the world that doesn’t have one, and this begs the question, where do these names come from? The nicknames for football clubs stem from a variety of sources. This could be based on the prominent local industry, such as Stoke City being known as the Potters; or even simply the colour of the kit, such as Chelsea or Liverpool, who are known as the Blues and the Reds respectively.
The beauty of nicknames is that they’re often unique to that club (though not with something like the Blues, of course), and some have rather unique origin stories, such as Everton being known as the Toffees because the club’s original ground had two sweet shops nearby.
Where Does the Nickname “The Gunners” Come From?
Arsenal’s famous nickname stems from the very creation of the club, as it was founded by workers from the Royal Arsenal factory in Woolwich, where the club was originally based. This led to the (now north) London club adopting the name “Dial Square” as a reference to the sundial that was above the entrance to the factory, a name eventually changed to “Woolwich Arsenal”, and then simply “Arsenal FC”.
The factory produced armaments, specifically artillery and munitions, which led to the adoption of a cannon as the club’s badge. This also is where the nickname “Gunners” stemmed from, especially considering that the word “arsenal” means a collection of guns or military equipment, and this name has stuck.
Although the club moved to Highbury in north London and was therefore no longer near the factory, the name and badge were retained, and although the badge has been occasionally altered throughout history, the cannon has always remained the key element of it. To this day, much of the Royal Arsenal factory remains intact, yet has been redeveloped into around 1,700 homes, with around 3,700 more houses planned. The area makes up one of the largest concentrations of residentially converted Grade I and Grade II listed buildings in the country, with more than 3,000 residents currently living within them.
Where Does the Nickname “Gooners” Come From?
Whilst the team themselves are known as the Gunners, Arsenal fans have more recently become referred to as “Gooners”, and the origin of this nickname has been debated. Some believe that this name originated in the football hooliganism of the 1970s, as one of Arsenal’s biggest hooligan “firms” was named the “Goon Squad”, which was then combined with the club nickname to create “Gooners”.
Another possible explanation behind the nickname is that the erratic and loud behaviour of Arsenal hooligans in the 1970s led them to be labelled “goons”, an insult that caught on, and Gunners fans decided to adopt it as their own. On the other hand, it is also possible that the word “Gooners” is simply an alteration in the pronunciation of “Gunners”, just as Newcastle fans have adopted the nickname “Toon Army”, due to the Geordie pronunciation of “Town”.
Have Arsenal Had Any Previous Nicknames?
Although Arsenal themselves do not have any alternative nicknames to Gunners or Gooners, the fans of other clubs have come up with some slightly more insulting names to refer to the north London giants. For example, during the reign of George Graham, Arsenal developed the nickname “boring, boring Arsenal,” a reference to the Scottish manager’s style of ugly (yet effective) football.
Another nickname that is often chanted by rival fans is “same old Arsenal, always cheating!” This chant stemmed from the club’s supposed bribery into the First Division at the hands of Henry Norris, who managed to manoeuvre sixth-placed Arsenal up a division, at the expense of other clubs, especially north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, and the chant has stuck.
Do Any Other Teams Have the Nickname “The Gunners”?
Within English football, the Gunners is a very unique nickname, but there are a handful of European clubs that have are similar nickname to the north Londoners. For example, SD Eibar, who at the time of writing play in the Spanish second division, are known as “Los Armeros”. Meaning the “Gunsmiths”, this nickname also originated in the city’s history of armament manufacturing.
There are also teams that share the name “Arsenal”, who have similar nicknames, such as Russian side FC Arsenal Tula, who are known as “Pushkari”, which also means Gunners. Furthermore, Ukrainian club Arsenal Kyiv are nicknamed the Cannoneers. Despite this, Arsenal’s nickname remains one of the most iconic in world football, and certainly has a more interesting backstory than simply describing the colour of your kit! Apologies to Liverpool, Leeds, Chelsea, Real Madrid and plenty of others.