What’s In A Name?

What’s In A Name?

The first World Cup that I remember properly is Spain '82; I have vague memories of Kempes et al in 1978 but Bryan Robson and Paulo Rossi in 1982 is where it really started for me.

What’s In A Name?

Aged ten and a bit I was embarking on my first Panini sticker mission (I was already an accomplished trader thanks to Star Wars bubble gum cards) and playing World Cup Headers & Volley's, with my official Adidas Tango Espana, until darkness fell. It was the year of Ron's 22 and I learned all the words to England's World Cup song, 'This Time (We'll Get It Right)'. Remember it? I can still sing it from first to last but keep that quiet.

I recall my thrill of watching football matches in the heat – a world away from the cold and soggy bogs common to English football in an 80's winter. It was the first time I'd seen The Nou Camp and The Bernabeu. I was captivated by the exotic names & extravagant skills of foreign superstars who plied their trade with the biggest European clubs and only occasionally visited our shores – Boniek, Rummenigge, Maradona, Platini, Zico, Socrates.

I had never heard of El Salvador or Kuwait or Honduras. I had no idea where they were never mind who played for them. My Panini stickers gave me some insight but I was eager to watch them on a football pitch to see whether they could actually play football. In some cases they couldn't.

Pleasingly, 28 years on, much of this childhood wonder is still there. Although my world is a much smaller place today the magic persists and the sight of fans from around the world celebrating in their own inimitable way is still a joy to behold. The sound of South Africa 2010 looks set to be the noisy vuvuzela horn. The colour and vibrancy of a World Cup provides the basis for the lasting memories of a month of intense sporting drama.

Eight World Cups have passed since 1982 and I still love to scrutinize the squads (mainly for selecting my dream team these days). Like gazing at maps, there is something about poring through 32 lists of previously unheard of player names, wondering what they look like or how good they are; and chuckling at some of the names. I did it at school and I still can't help myself today.

In 1982 I remember Spain had a player called Ufarte – a school boy's dream. West Germany had a player called Reindeers and another called Rubbish. Hungary beat El Salvador 10-1 and a guy called Kiss scored a hat-trick. I wanted Brazil's Eder to score a header and the playground joke was that John Wark couldn't run. I think I may have been too young to read anything into Italy's Conti.

The school boy is still within me today as I come across Mario Eggimann (Switzerland), Prince Tagoe (Ghana), Shane Smeltz (New Zealand), and Gaetan Bong (Cameroon). The USA will have the wonderfully named Edson Buddle & Herculez Gomez lining up against some very pedestrian Franks and Steves and Waynes and Johns.

Nigeria have a winger called Peter Odemwingie and an attacker called John Utaka. Je suis appelé, donc je suis (I am named, therefore I am). However they also have Joseph Yobo. And let's not mention Nwankwo Kanu or Danny Shittu.

There are some old favourites on show in South Africa this summer – Buffon, Yaya, Puyol, Butt. Hakan Yakin sounds like somebody in need of a spitoon. Honduras's George Welcome & Surprise Moriri of South Africa could form a neat little double act.

Some names are just great to say out loud. Say Jeremy Toulalan in a sultry French accent and you'll see what I mean. And I'm sure, like me, you love to occasionally bellow "Bastien Schweinsteiger" in a harsh German accent (his surname translates as pig riser or climber which sounds a bit cryptic so I prefer the consensus that it means pig farmer).

Who can forget Phil Thompson's punditry at the last World Cup where he gave the Scouse treatment to Mexico's Gerardo Torrado? Or Mick McCarthy's bluff Yorkshire translations of Eastern European and South East Asian surnames (imagine him tackling Ujfalusi or Boulahrouz)?

Some player names even write their own soccer chant for us – Harry Kewell cannot part my lips without invoking a dash of Boney M's Daddy Cool, Daniel Agger triggers Black Lace's Agga Doo, and Aruna Dindane recalls boy scout camp fire songs of Ging Gang Goolie.

A personal favourite of mine is the USA's Jonathan Spector who was serenaded at Old Trafford as a Manchester United player to the strains of Inspector Gadget (doodle doodle doo John Spector's magic).

And so to this year's winner. My school boy favourite at the last World Cup was undoubtedly the Portugal goalkeeper, Quim (the coach award went to Otto Pfister). My nomination for best name of the 2010 World Cup is a Chile player who goes by fantastic moniker of Waldo Ponce.


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