Hull City not first team to consider switching
30 March ~ The ongoing saga about the attempt to rename Hull City provides an opportunity to consider how far a new name may change a club’s identity. It poses the question of whether you have been watching two separate teams, “before” and “after”. And as a result it focuses attention on how much the loyalty of fans is bound up in the name of their club.
If, like me, you keep a list of all the teams you have watched, it forces you to make decisions. Sometimes the new name is so different from the old one that it has changed the identity of the club, and indeed that may have been the reason for the change. In other cases the change seems insignificant.
There was once a team called Headington United who played in the Southern League. In 1960 they changed their name to Oxford United, much to the annoyance of Oxford City. Two years later they took the place of the defunct Accrington Stanley in Division Four. I never saw Headington United play, but if I had I would have considered them a different club from Oxford United, if only because I doubt whether they would have been elected to the Football League under their former name. This is a clear case of a change intended to project a new image of the club.
On a snowy Wednesday afternoon in January 1960 I saw a team called Bexleyheath & Welling draw 0-0 in front of 342 at Guildford City’s Joseph’s Road ground. By the time I took up a teaching post in the London Borough of Bexley seven years later they had become Bexley United. The reasoning seems to have been to enable the club to represent the whole of the borough in which its Park View Road ground was situated, and so in my records it is treated as a separate entity. The club folded in 1976.
While working in Bexley, I sometimes took the train beyond Dartford to watch Gravesend & Northfleet. In the unlikely event that I ever see Ebbsfleet United play, I would log them as a new club. Again, the new name was chosen for a reason, to associate the club in some way with Eurostar. If I were to be transported back in time, I would regard Newton Heath, Small Heath and Thames Ironworks as the forerunners of, and so separate from, Manchester United, Birmingham and West Ham.
When I started watching football Swansea City were Swansea Town. That change is not sufficient for me to consider that I have watched two different clubs. I would say the same about the period in the 1970s and 1980s when Leyton Orient became Orient. They were still the Os.
In Italy this problem does not arise so often because nearly all name changes are the result of mergers, which clearly lead to the birth of a new club. AlbinoLeffe, for example, were formed from the merging of two neighbouring teams, Albinese and Leffe, based about 15 miles north of Bergamo, and until the Serie B years ended in 2012 it was an unqualified success. However, if I see AlbinoLeffe play Unione Venezia, I will not be watching the team once known simply as Venezia.
There is a related problem, and that is what you do when what is clearly a new club bears exactly the same name as one that is defunct. One example is Guildford City. If I were to watch today’s incarnation, I would have to separate them from the club that went out of business in 1974 because they are clearly two separate and distinct clubs. There are probably others, maybe Maidstone United, or the current versions of Enfield and Ilford. And possibly even Accrington Stanley. As to what I would do if I were a Hull supporter and the unthinkable were to happen. Simple. Because of the autocratic way in which it would have been done, I would continue to call them Hull City. Richard Mason