March 5, 2024

MICHAEL WOLSEY: Want to be a soccer star? Get yourself a hyphen

There was a time when you could safely assume that anyone with a double-barrelled name was a chinless wonder, an upper-class toff like Britain’s former prime minister, Alec Douglas-Home, or its would-be prime minister, Jacob Rees Mogg.

Now he (or, indeed, she) is more likely to be a professional footballer.

You can accelerate with the pace of Mo Salah, swerve like Lionel Messi, or display the trickery of Cristiano Ronaldo, but for soccer success it’s hard to beat a hyphen.

It is 28 years since England’s Premier League allowed clubs to display players’ names on the backs of their shirts. Across the 22 clubs there was just one player with a double-barrelled name:  Chris Bart-Williams, a defensive midfielder with Sheffield Wednesday.

Today there are more than 30 of them.  Sorry to be vague about the number, but it keeps changing, partly because of transfers, but also because some players just like the sound of a second name and add one, usually the name of their mother.

This name-game has drawn the attention of Debrett’s, the handbook of Britain’s upper classes, with one of its editors explaining:  “Many women prefer to retain their maiden name in some form after marriage and to pass it on to any children. A double-barrelled surname can be a form of compromise, ensuring that both members of a marriage feel that their family is represented through a combined surname.”

Lawks! What will the ladies think of next? Some of them have even taken to playing professional football. Like Caroline Graham-Hansen (Barcelona and Norway), Kim  Maslin-Kammerdeiner (Patriots and USA) and Niamh Reid-Burke (Peamount United and Ireland).

It’s good news for those market traders who sell football shirts as a blank canvas and who charge for each letter of a player’s name they put on the back. But where will it end?

Trent Alexander-Arnold is expensive enough. Suppose he teams up with Kim Maslin-Kammerdeiner and their offspring is a talented footballer. Even if there’s room for the name of Bartholomew Alexander-Arnold-Maslin-Kammerdeiner, the shirt will cost more than the player.

I was talking about this naming phenomenon with some friends and we decided to pick our top international hyphenated team. (Thank God pubs are back, or important projects of this sort would never get done.)

I have doubts about some of our choices, I must admit. Peacock-Farrell is only there because we couldn’t think of another double-barrelled goalkeeper and Dina-Ebimbe makes the team because the PSG man has the distinction of hyphenating both his first and second names.

Still, it was fun. More exciting than some football matches. And  here are our First XI names, or should that be First XXII?

Bailey Peacock-Farrell (Sheffield Wednesday), Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool),  Eric-Junior Dina-Ebimbe (PSG), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Man United), ) Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea),  Emile Smith-Rowe (Arsenal), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Liverpool), Jose Carlod-Parrales (Real Madrid, ) Callum Hudson-Odoi (Chelsa), Allan Saint-Maximin (Newcastle United) and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (Bayern Munich) .

In the days before footballers’ names took up so much space, the number on the back of a shirt told you the position he was playing:  2 for a right-back, 3 for a left-back, 4 for a right-half and so on. Today the numbers are meaningless, but I can read the name of the player, probably the name of his father, possibly the name of his mother and definitely the name of the club’s sponsors.

It’s a growing business. Schoolboy players used to taunt opponents with the jibe: “My granny could play better than that.” Soon they may be able to add: “That’s why her name’s on the back of my shirt.”

PHOTO: Liverpool FC 

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