Jess Phillips is wrong about football’s double-barrelled surnames

11 July 2021

6:23 PM

11 July 2021

6:23 PM

As the nation went football mad last week, nowhere was there a more stark expression of the ‘I’m-new-to-this performative fandom’ phenomenon than in Westminster.

We were treated to the Prime Minister wearing an England top over a shirt and tie, Jacob Rees-Mogg bizarrely recreating the John Barnes ‘World in Motion’ rap and so on and so on.

But amid this stiff competition the MP who most – unwittingly – revealed their apparent real lack of interest in or knowledge of the beautiful game was Labour’s Jess Phillips.

‘My youngests question for tonight “why do footballers never have double barrelled names?”’, she asked.

Phillips no doubt intended to score a culture wars point by contrasting the humble origins of the wildly popular ‘boy from Brent’ Raheem Sterling and his teammates with the likes of Rees-Mogg. But instead she unleashed a flood of derision.

That was because one of the most noticeable quirks in the game in recent years, accelerating with each new season, has been the proliferation of double-barrelled surnames.

Just next door to Jess Phillips’ Yardley constituency, for example, is the base of Birmingham City. Not, to be fair to her, a ground that any sensible person would choose to visit. But still, lately it has conspicuously fielded one Josh Dacre-Cogley and teammate Caolan Boyd-Munce.

Meanwhile in the better-known England Euro 2020 squad – as many hundreds of respondents pointed out – we have Dominic Calvert-Lewin and would have had, barring an unfortunate late injury, Trent Alexander-Arnold.

In the last world cup we had Ruben Loftus-Cheek. In the next we could conceivably have Emile Smith Rowe, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

Also plying their trade in England just now are the likes of James Ward-Prowse, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Kyle Walker-Peters. And there are many, many more double-barrelled players coming through.

When I was a lad, standing on metaphorical wooden crates to see from the terraces at West Ham, footballers had invariably plain names. Whole names of just two syllables were commonplace: Clyde Best and Geoff Pike at Upton Park, or, across town, Ralph Coates, Pat Rice and Dave Webb.

The parody manager in Private Eye was one Ron Knee, because that fitted the type.

And these monosyllabic names seemed to suit the game’s then crude image. Attendances were low, hooliganism was rife, on-pitch thrills were few and far between.

In those days seemingly only posh people had double or even triple-barrelled names. Who can’t have admired the bravado of the Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe family, for example. It’s a strong look. And one that clearly began to appeal more widely. Because from the late nineties onwards it seems the working classes began to rush to join the upper classes in creating complex and usually unique compound surnames.

The only social class to apparently largely resist the trend has been the middle classes, which may explain why cricket and rugby have yet to significantly experience the double-barrel phenomenon.

Last week new England caps were handed out in both sports but their recipients’ names were disappointingly mundane: Brydon Carse was the pick of the cricketers joining Ben Stokes but then came Zak Crawley, Lewis Gregory, John Simpson and super plain Phil Salt.

Eddie Jones’s rugby debutants were just as drab: Alex Dombrandt, the most flamboyant, followed by Dan Kelly, Adam Radwan and Harry Wells. I mean come on.

But in football it’s very different. I’m sure others better qualified will advance socio-economic modern family theories on the causes of football’s double-barrel phenomenon. I merely note it – and applaud it.

Because it’s made the whole spectacle of football seem less prosaic, more exotic. Approving fans have long sung – usually if you’re in, say, Barnsley with more than a hint of irony – ‘It’s just like watching Brazil’.

Yet when you listened to the commentary 20 years ago it didn’t sound like it: ‘Tony Adams to Lee Dixon, who finds Alan Smith who feeds Ian Wright.’ It hardly evokes the Copacabana.

However, the seven syllables of Dominic Calvert-Lewin does sound a good deal more melodic, making him more like the boy from Ipanema.

We are unlikely to see any hyphenated stars on the pitch tonight – their only representative, Calvert-Lewin again, failed to even make the bench in the semi-final.

And whether Sir Gareth opts for a flat four or a three-at-the-back tonight he will almost certainly still have a flatly-named two in that defence, John Stones and Luke Shaw. So a fully flamboyant England is not yet here. I just hope that despite this we are able to give Italy both barrels.

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