Saturday, October 27, 2007

A team by any other name

The other day I got an email newsletter from the Internet Chess Club which, among other things, gave us the latest results from the United States Chess League, of which I'd not previously been aware. In the course of doing so it listed the names of the teams, which were some distance, in more senses than one, from the Ponders End or East Grinstead IV that some of us are used to.
  • New York Knights

  • Queens Pioneers

  • New Jersey Knockouts

  • Boston Blitz

  • Baltimore Kingfishers

  • Philadelphia Inventors

  • Miami Sharks

  • Tennessee Tempo

  • Carolina Cobras

  • San Francisco Mechanics

  • Dallas Destiny

  • Seattle Sluggers
To tell the truth, one or two of these aren't exactly to my taste. Boston Blitz is fine, although I hold the same opinion about blitz as did Botvinnik's: San Francisco Mechanics I like, the name coming from the Mechanics' Institute in that city. But Seattle Sluggers? Philadelphia Inventors? The second of these is more than a bit clunky and the first of them is asking for trouble. Does it refer to how they play or how they behave in the bar afterwards? Do they live up to either description? As for Miami Sharks, personally I wouldn't believe a word they tell you.

I don't much go for this sort of thing: I wonder if it's not another example of trying to give chess a new image, but one that nobody will actually believe. Yes, chess can be exciting and we should say so: no, it's not normally exciting and if we claim it is we'll just look like we're desperate.

I never much liked it when Superleague started and a number of time-hallowed and original rugby league club names gave way to names that were flashier, more exciting and fundamentally more stupid. Bradford Northern became Bradford Bulls and Wakefield Trinity became Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, the latter trying to have it both ways and hence having it neither. Then I discovered that they'd renamed all the cricket teams for one-day games so that I found myself supporting Middlesex Crusaders against Kent Spitfires.

I once took a walk across Oxford, when I lived there, and came across the local American Football team, midway through a match. Oxford Bulldogs. They had cheerleaders, as presumably we will eventually do at chess if this sort of thing continues, and they were chanting:
Who are we? BULLDOGS!
Who are we? BULLDOGS!
What do we do? KILL!
What do we do? KILL!
What do we do? KILL!
This might have been more intimidating had the game not been taking place in a public park. Or indeed had the Bulldogs not been trailing by forty points to nil.

That's the thing, you see: get yourself a ridiculous nickname and you end up looking ridiculous. Leeds Rhinos - how many rhinos are there in Leeds, anyway? Can they be seen on Ilkley Moor? Carolina Cobras? What's the point?

The London League does feature Drunken Knights which has the merit of probably not being a name that would be selected by one's image consultants, were such people to be consulted. Wad Green is an amusing nickname, for reasons London players will understand, but it is not one the team themselves are likely to select. But Hackney Hackers has a ring to it, even if it's not the ring of truth.

What should we call ourselves? What has the ring of truth? Streatham and Brixton Blunders would be appropriate, I think. Who are we? Streatham and Brixton Blunders! What do we do?


Ryan said...

Your post really struck a chord with me. When I last played chess regularly for a club (over 20 years ago), the team names were sensible - the name of the place where the team was based followed by 'A' for the 1st team, 'B' for the seconds, and so on.

Checking out the league recently, I found the following new names:

Aberdare Wasps
Aberdare Bees
Penarth Piers
Penarth Barons
NC Cheetahs
NC Hornets
Barry Quarks

and my personal favourite...

Bridgend Jedi.

Chris Morgan said...

Good to see my home town of Aberdare mentioned on the blog. I used to play for the club.

Anonymous said...

How about the Streatham Pawn Gobblers?

Tom Panelas said...

As fan of the Pioneers, I've expressed my feelings about the team's name and branding.

For better or worse, though, this is the kind of overstatement with which sports teams here in the U.S. are named.

BTW, the Philadelphia Inventors would be an allusion of Ben Franklin, the city's most famous resident.

David said...

Back in Hull, we used to take a more prosaic approach. Actually, it looks as though nothing changes: league tables here show that the Hulls A, C, D, E, F, J, K and X are still going strong.

(So far as I remember, there never was any real correlation between alphabetical position and playing strength - Hull C usually win. I don't know what happened to Hull B. Hull J was my team - we thought that we were pretty crazy coming up with that name - and I'm delighted to see that they're in the first division still).

Anonymous said...

This is totally off topic but can I have the name of the game in that GIF movie? The one where the guy seems to zwang black with an a3 and then if the hanging queen is taken the rook mates on h file and the knight protects the queen with a recapture, and then they all go to the pub?

Tom Chivers said...

I'm afraid I don't know Anonymous. It was made by JKF from the website You could try contacting him via that site to ask. He also I think has his own site somewhere. &/or, try a database!