Billy ‘36′ Twelvetrees and the best nicknames in sport
Nicknames perform important functions. Some represent the high regard in which the recipient is held: Ace, The Panther, Big Man, Love Machine, that sort of thing. But enough of my school days. Others confer a sense of belonging, of acceptance to a group: Mr Cricket, The Kid, Eric The Red.
But, personally, I prefer the ones that give me a good old belly laugh.
Billy ‘36’ Twelvetrees
What a start to the Six Nations. I’ll let the proper rugby writers dissect England’s new sense of adventure, Ireland’s thrilling near-collapse in Cardiff and Italy’s monumental achievement in overturning the hapless French.
What I want to celebrate here is the emergence onto the international stage of the man with the finest nickname in the modern game.
Respect to Geordan Murphy. It’s thanks to his Dublin accent that we arrive at this piece of mastery. As in “Twelve trees are tirty six.”
Mark Waugh – ‘Afghanistan’
Life isn’t fair, is it? Mark Waugh was one of the most elegant batsmen ever to take the crease. He was graceful, technically correct, possessed of a cover drive that somehow managed to be both languid and violent, and able to whip good-length balls from outside off-stump through mid-wicket better than anyone bar Viv Richards. Not only that but he remains the finest slip fielder I’ve ever seen, gobbling up catches off seamers and spinners alike in kid-leather hands.
And what nickname did this giant of the game get saddled with, being less of an early flourisher than his brother? ‘Afghanistan’: the forgotten Waugh.
Such is the luck of the draw when you’re a twin, I guess, particularly when that twin is the relentless Steve Waugh (another epithet Mark had to put up with was ‘Junior’). However, one member of the Barmy Army once tried to redress the balance by shouting, “Oi, Stephen. Best batsman in the world? You ain’t even the best batsman in your family!”
Alex Loudon – ‘Minotaur’
Cricket seems to throw up amusing nicknames for fun. The late Graham Dilley was known as ‘Picca’. Allan Lamb was, perhaps more obviously, called ‘Legga’.
My favourite of all time, though, even surpassing dear old Mark Waugh, was the title bestowed on Alex Loudon. Although a highly talented all-rounder, Loudon never quite fulfilled his potential, gaining a solitary One-Day International cap for England. He became known as ‘Minotaur’ because, as someone put it, “that’s all he ever went on.”
Still, Loudon had the last laugh. He quit the game and started dating Pippa Middleton.
‘One Size’ Fitz Hall
I shall never, ever tire of this one.
I could go on about how appropriate a moniker it is for a journeyman pro with an uncompromising style who’s equally at home in midfield as at centre-half.
But, really, it’s just a very funny pun.
Martin ‘Chariots’ Offiah
Brilliant on so many levels, this. As the man himself once explained when asked why he got the nickname:
“Because I could run very fast, I suppose,” he told the interviewer, exhibiting the sort of incisiveness that brought him 501 career tries, “and it rhymed with how people pronounce my last name.”
Reading between the lines, “how people pronounce” his last name is not the way that it should be pronounced. Something like ‘OFF-y-ah’ is more correct, I believe. But, hey, let’s not let that ruin a high-quality piece of wordplay.
Stuart ‘Britsa’ Broad
I know I’ve banged on about cricketers a bit. But I can’t resist finishing on yet another.
You probably won’t have heard this. Mainly because the group among which it’s been shared has, thus far, been quite exclusive. For me and a select band of cricket fans, the current England set-up includes characters such as ‘Tinker’, ‘Foxy’, ‘Yogi’, ‘Previous’ and ‘Vesta’. But there’s one who stands head and shoulders above the others, and not just because he’s 6’5”.
Ladies and gentlemen, in case you haven’t read the sub-head above, I give you Stuart ‘Britsa’ Broad.
Beat that if you can…
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