The coming of age of African football, whose national sides now compete with other countries as equals, has seen many teams’ nicknames become well known all over the world and has also kick-started a trend for such epithets. Nicknames have always existed in South America and Europe, the continents with the greatest footballing tradition, but perhaps not as systematically and with the same degree of ingenuity as in Africa.
The 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany TM, at which four African sides (Angola’s “Black Antelopes”, Ghana’s “Black Stars”, Togo’s “Sparrowhawks” and Cote d’Ivoire “Elephants”) made their debut and which also featured teams such as Australia’s “Socceroos”, Japan’s “Samurai Blues” and Trinidad and Tobago’s “Soca Warriors”, also helped to increase the public’s appetite for nicknames.
The Italian, Raffaele Poli, a scientist at the International Center for Sport Studies (CIES) at the University of Neuchatel (Switzerland) and one of the leading specialists on the sociology of football, believes that nicknames constitute a key element in forging a sense of national unity. “Through giving a national team a nickname, the fans feel closer to it. If you take Africa as an example and bear in mind that African countries only became independent relatively recently, football has been a very important factor in the creation of a national identity,” he says. However, this African trend actually has its origins in the classic nicknames of the teams with the most footballing tradition, such as “les Blues” (France), “la Albiceleste” (Argentina), “a Canarinha” (Brazil), the “Azzuri” (Italy) and “la Furia Roja” (Spain). “A nickname’s main function is as a symbol. This transcends football. Giving a national side a nickname makes it more human,” explains Poli further.
Although the 2006 FIFA World Cup TM popularized the use of nicknames among the 32 finals and their sobriquets were widely circulated on the Internet, the teams of FIFA’s 207 member associations have long have pet names among their fans and in the press of their home countries. As occurs with African teams, these nicknames often suggest strength and power and liken the teams to animals known for their speed or aggression. Nigeria’s “Super Eagles” or Cameroon’s “Indomitable Lions” certainly fall into this category.