As a sportsman, I am a member of the ‘ -y’ family. I’m related to Straussy and Backy. In our small sub-species, Homo Olympiens, there are three primary families. We are joined by the ‘-o’ family (Wilko, Johnno) and the ‘-ers’ family (Aggers, Athers).
We get along famously, because these sporting nicknames are names stripped down. They are names in the dressing room in their jockstraps. They’re no respecters of names. On the team-sheet nobody escapes – the system is automatic and egalitarian, and amid the mud and studs everyone is quickly allocated to one of the families.
The same does not happen in individual sports. One of the horrors of golf coverage on the TV is the smarmy use of first names – ‘Tiger’, ‘Lee’ – as if everyone was on first name terms. You’re not fooling anybody.
I’m thinking about this because I was surprised to be referred to on the net as Beardy. Over on his excellent blog designed for auto-didact, spliffy, anti-establishment ranting polymaths (who like trains), Ian Marchant reminded me (and all those in his wide constituency) that I’d offered to take the Physical Education Classes at the Free University of Radnorshire.
(This will be free like the National Gallery and not like Westminster Abbey, which is free except if you don’t pay you can’t go in. At the National Gallery there’s no bullying, and you’d have to have a heart of socialist stone not to bung a few coins in the tin or pay a couple of quid for some overpriced postcards).
But Ian is right. I have put myself forward as the Professor of PE at FUR. He was therefore correct to give me my active sporting name, and you know what, Marchers? That’s going to be the first class we take, before preparing for the more philosophical Race With No Finish Line (practical).
What are team nicknames all about? They announce an intimacy. They also infantilise, which makes them true. Those of us who like games and rolling about on grass are in touch with our inner child. A baby name is the best we deserve, and there is no room for airs and graces.
I was reminded of this once in the letter pages of the Times. A show-off Dad proudly wrote in to say that his eight-month old son was a keen fan of BBC’s Test Match Special. Not only did he like to listen to every ball of a Test match, at the age of eight months, but only the day before he’d uttered his first words: ‘Aggers.’
The next day another reader replied that his son, too, was eight months old and listened to every ball of the Test match. His first words were ‘Christoper Martin-Jenkins.’