8 football teams good enough to earn nicknames
On the anniversary of Scotland's Wembley Wizards triumphing over England, here are eight sides who earned nicknames that will never be forgotten.
Wembley Wizards, 1928
One game was enough to earn the Scotland team of 1928 their own nickname.
In the final match of the 1927/28 British Home Championship, an unfancied side missing several regulars marched into Wembley and thrashed England 5-1 on their own turf.
England had struggled mightily since the First World War and had lost both of their previous Home Championship matches, but they were still a formidable side, with eight Football League players in the starting XI and Dixie Dean – in the midst of a 60-goal league season – leading the line up front.
The Auld Enemy couldn’t cope with a stunning attacking display from Scotland, though, who became the first team to ever beat England at Wembley.
Busby Babes, 1950s-60s
Even for a club that has traditionally built some great teams around homegrown talent, this was a special batch of players.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, a conveyor belt of young players were brought through the Manchester United youth system – featuring Duncan Edwards and Bobby Charlton – resulting in a team that the legendary Matt Busby guided to the 1956 and 1957 Division One titles at an average age of 21 and 22.
Their dominance of English football was sure to continue until eight of the squad tragically lost their lives in the Munich Air Crash in February 1958 when travelling home from a European match against Red Star Belgrade. Two other members of the squad were forced to retire as a result of their injuries.
Busby remained as manager after the tragedy and, with the help of star player and fellow survivor Charlton, rebuilt the club. They won their next title in 1967, before lifting the European Cup in 1968.
Lisbon Lions, 1960s
The first British team to win the European Cup? The first team to play ‘total football’? Both questions to which several casual football observers may not immediately answer Celtic – particularly, in the first instance, as Manchester United won the trophy the following season.
But it was the Glaswegian side who first helped to put British football on the map by beating Inter Milan, one of four teams to have won the competition in its 11-year existence, in Lisbon in 1967.
Not only did they win it, but they won it in style.
Jock Stein’s side played the kind of attacking football that would go on to define Ajax and Barcelona, and did so with a 15-man squad of which 14 were born within 10 miles of Celtic Park.
Crazy Gang, 1980s
No team has summed up English football’s lad culture like Wimbledon in the 1980s.
These legends were notorious for their off-field banter as well as their style of play, with Lawrie Sanchez, Dennis Wise, Vinnie Jones and others responsible for puncturing team-mates’ tyres, setting each other’s personal items on fire and other "disasters", according to Wise. Classic.
Their hard-as-nails approach on the field is what truly defines them, though. This era was made famous when their straight-forward brutish style saw them produce one of the great FA Cup final upsets against Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool in 1988, a campaign that had notably featured Jones squeezing Paul Gascoigne’s testicles in the fifth round at Newcastle.
"The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club," John Motson declared at full-time. The nickname has lived with Wimbledon, even though the club’s future was doomed.
Class of ‘92
Once a nickname, now a brand, the Class of ‘92 is arguably the greatest group of footballers ever produced in England.
David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt all came through Manchester United’s academy together at the start of a 20-year period of dominance for the club.
Remarkably, they all developed into crucial players at a time that United were the best side in the world. All six made at least 44 appearances in the club’s treble-winning 1998/99 season.
Across their careers they combined for a total of 50 Premier League medals, 18 FA Cups, nine Champions Leagues and one slightly self-indulgent documentary.
Spice Boys, 1996-98
This disparaging nickname for a group of Liverpool players under Roy Evans was borne out of unfounded tabloid rumours that Robbie Fowler was dating Spice Girl Emma Bunton.
The Daily Mail latched on to the idea that Fowler, Jamie Redknapp, Steve McManaman, Jason McAteer and David James were partying pretty boys more interested in fame than football, and ran with it as they failed to emulate dominant Liverpool sides of the past.
Nothing epitomised the Spice Boys quite like the 1996 FA Cup final, when Liverpool arrived at Wembley in matching cream Armani suits and were then beaten by Manchester United.
As Fowler correctly noted, nobody would have cared about the suits, or the Spice Boys’ general image, had they been successful. They were good enough to earn national scrutiny, but not quite good enough to win anything.
The nickname died in 1998, when new Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier arrived and – to quote the Mail – "dragged the Spice Boys out of the nightclubs and into the realities of modern football".
Golden Generation, 2000s
How did this lot not win a tournament?
England played Football Manager with the world between 2002-2010, with their Euro 2004 team particularly notable in that it had a bona fide world star in every outfield position, yet still never progressed further than a quarter-final.
The usual excuses do apply. A Wayne Rooney-inspired side were denied a place in the 2004 semi-final by some bad officiating and dodgy penalty-taking, before spot-kicks let them down again two years later.
But, ultimately, this was a team that never gelled as it should have done. The Gerrard-Lampard partnership, Scholes on the left, Rooney never living up to 2004, Ferdinand and Terry’s relationship at the back: all riddles that were never satisfactorily solved.
The Invincibles, 2003-04
"Nobody will finish above us in the league. It wouldn’t surprise me if we were to go unbeaten for the whole of the season."
Those were the prophetic words of Arsene Wenger, just before his Arsenal side embarked upon the first and only unbeaten campaign in Premier League history.
The Gunners of 2003/04 may not have been the best English club side ever – after all, they drew 12 league games and failed to reach a cup final.
In the Premier League, though, the nickname was fitting, and Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat to Watford in February meant that, for now, it remains Arsenal’s alone.
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