A fair proportion of the originality and levity of the past in top-line sport is now goneburger. Professionalism and big business has seen to that. I’m not one who cares about having hundreds of channels and dozens of different mediums or devices to watch through, as big business tell me at the same time that their money has made all that possible.
But I’d quite happily take a few less channels and the ridding of lecherous and morally bankrupt companies slicing up sport like that slippery insurance group who sponsor the All Blacks, in return for having back a bit more of the humanity back. Most of the principles of big business are complete anathema to what sport was always supposed to be about really.
Because it’s all been rather hijacked by mercenary values over the years, much of sport at the highest levels these days is a fairly cream-trousered, dumbed-down pursuit. You have to search pretty hard for any real characters. Name some off the top of your head- you may find it almost impossible. If a bit of colour has disappeared, then so too has the creativity or wit around nicknames.
Australia is probably as about as dire as it gets on that front: ‘Dazza, Bazza, Trazza, Razza etc. Or, in reality: Tayls, Heals, Warney (Horny, better?). The nicknames are almost as bad as the cheerleading in commentary.
Take the Black Caps even. They seem like a good bunch of guys and the kind you might introduce your daughter to, but they too suffer from the colourless nickname malaise.
Guppy (nothing at all to do with a fishy characteristic- only coz his blimin’ name is Guptill), Rosco, Wags, Boulty etc…zzzzz, pass the Horlicks.
Compare those starkly unoriginal efforts to the halcyon days of the nicknaming 80s, when in our men’s national cricket team we had players called: ‘Shake’, ‘Bootsie’, ‘Hogan’, “Chopper’,
‘Mantis’, “Paddles’, ‘Springers’ and ‘Charlie’ (or ‘the Naenae Express’ or ‘Mer’). Many readers will already be familiar with these, but the reasons for how they were acquired are not always known.
‘Shake’ was John Wright, on account of his habit of shaking the contents of this suitcase or his cricket coffin up and down until the top would close. ‘Bootsie’ was his opening partner Bruce Edgar, due to his fondness for buying shoes.
‘Hogan’ of course was the late, great Martin Crowe, because the team he used to captain at Auckland Grammar was practically invinicible- like the gang of PoWs on the old TV comedy, Hogan’s Heroes. His brother Jeff was known as ‘Chopper’ because of having shoulders like an axeman.
‘Mantis’ was Jeremy Coney, as he resembled a praying mantis insect. ‘Paddles’ was Richard Hadlee due to his large feet. Lance Cairns was ‘Springers’ because he hailed from Spring Creek, at the top of the South Island. And ‘Charlie’ was Ewen Chatfield, seemingly as he walked with splayed-out feet a la Charlie Chaplin. An old book of Sir Richard Hadlee’s basically alluded to the history of these nicknames, so, indirectly, thank you Paddles.
There’s been some doozies through the All Blacks, as well. The eccentric, but brilliant Stu Wilson was known as ‘Gizza’ because he always desperately wanted the ball…even though he almost always had no idea what he would do with it once he got it- in fact he usually took off on a run, often pretty successfully.
In probably the craziest selection decision ever undertaken in All Blacks’ history, Wilson was appointed captain of the 1983 team to England and Scotland. He later admitted that he still has little idea why. And so probably did the other players.
Wilson was a right jester. There’s the famous (but possibly little-known) story of him being on the bottom of a ruck copping a sprigging and asking the opposing pack of forwards if they could tell him the time. Some say it was against Auckland, others say Southland.
Then there was the late Frank Oliver, who was ‘Filth’- the reason I can’t tell you (because I don’t know exactly), plus the greatest All Black halfback of them all (along with Sidney Milton Going), David ‘Trapper’ Loveridge. The modern day equivalent to this might be Aaron ‘Cubicle’ or ‘Cuby’ Smith. Not quite as endearing somehow.
And the greatest of all All Blacks’ nicknames, held by the most legendary All Black of them all, Colin ‘Pinetree’ Meads. It’s worth considering if Sir Pinetree had been playing today they would probably have given him some vanilla moniker like ‘Meadsy’. And he’d have probably told them to piss off, or worse.
In all of sport the greatest nickname to ever grace a piece of turf, court, arena etc belonged to the footballer, Edson Arantes do Nascimento or ‘Pele,’ of Brazil. When he was he bit more of an unknown his nickname was ‘Gasolina.’ The late Ivan Mauger won over a thousand races and Pele did the footballing equivalent, scoring more than 1,000 goals in top-level matches. That seems almost unbelievable.
In fact, eclectic nicknames in Brazilian football are almost the norm, not the exception. Their five World Cup-winning teams have been chock-full with nicknames that probably still send shudders through their opponents. Players like Pele, Didi, Vava, Garrincha, Jairzinho and latterly Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho (a shudder through David Seaman at least).
Obviously I’ve missed several hundred other great sporting nicknames. Feel free to post a comment or send a mail on that very topic.
firstname.lastname@example.org (Paul Montague)
PS. Well done to ex-international netballer and now parliamentarian Louisa Wall last week for her words in the wake of the Israel Folau thing. I one hundred percent agree with what she said.