James Appell | 02 June 2011
Nicknames are part of the identity of every football club. An essential step in the education process for every young football fan is to learn the difference between the Eagles and the Seagulls, the Reds and the Red Devils, and so on.
Some club nicknames have become somewhat pejorative, however. Fulham may once have been known as the Cottagers for entirely pure reasons – but a quick google search reveals that these days it’s probably not wise to use the term too freely. Meanwhile north of the border, calling Rangers “The Huns” comes with a very stark health warning.
Like in Glasgow, in Russia those who employ certain club nicknames do so at their own risk. That’s because the country’s bigger clubs have developed epithets which aren’t entirely complimentary.
Spartak are typically referred to as “the meat”, because of the club’s former guise in Soviet times as representatives
of workers in the meat production industry. CSKA are referred to as “the horses” because their old home was on the site of Moscow’s hippodrome. And, probably most unflatteringly, Zenit fans are often called bomzhy – a Russian word which means “homeless” – the reason for which is disputed, but may in part be due to the fact that their travelling support often arrive in Moscow for away games without accommodation, and rather the worse for wear after a vodka-fuelled overnight train journey from St Petersburg.
These nicknames are banded about in Russia by most football fans, but you have to take care in what context you use them. To some they are badges of honour – to others, they are an insult.
That was a lesson learned by Zenit midfielder Roman Shirokov this week. After his side’s 3-0 victory over Spartak on Sunday, a game which, due to injury, Shirokov did not appear in, the Russian international tweeted to his followers: “I congratulate everyone on this great victory. The support was super!” He then followed it up immediately with: “Well done to the piglets on their much deserved defeat.”
Spartak fans understood “piglets” as an obtuse reference to their own nickname, “the meat”. They were incensed. One went so far as to respond to Shirokov by telling him that he and his Zenit teammates would need to “prepare the Vaseline” for the return fixture – a phrase which left much to the imagination. Another posted on Shirokov’s personal blog the following ditty: “The Petersburg bomzhy, make friends with Anzhi [Makhachkala], together they shag sheep, you’ll soon all be up shit creek.”
Since then others have called upon the Russian Football Union’s Ethics Committee to look into Shirokov’s tweet, with a view to punishing him for the use of insulting language. Shirokov, for his part, explained that he was merely referring to a select group of Spartak-supporting friends of his, but also raised the valid question that “if someone calls someone a piglet that’s insulting, but if you call them homeless it’s not?”
The Zenit man is unlikely to face any disciplinary action – much like in England with the recent examples of Jack Wilshere and Wayne Rooney, the RFU seems happy to let his Twitter account remain the footballer’s private domain. But the truth is that this is a situation of Shirokov’s own making.
The 29-year-old has history in this respect, having become embroiled in scandals of varying degrees of seriousness throughout his career.