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  • Writer's pictureJessica Taylor Yates

How do AFL teams get their nicknames?

The mighty Blues, the Pies, the Tigers. These colloquial AFL nicknames are as well-known as the official footy club names. But where did the footy monikers come from?

For this list, we’ll be focusing on when teams joined the official AFL League (previously known as the VFL) that are still operating as Clubs in the present season.

Okay, so full disclosure: I don't really 'footy.'

I technically went for the Blues because my late dad did, but when pressed, I thought the captain was Anthony Koutoufides. I converted to the Cats, my partner's religion, when I got married, as I was basically trapped in a never ending cycle of hearing about football, watching football, going to the football. My main interests in footy lie around white powder scandals on Kmart plates, and the Brownlow Red Carpet.

That said, I do find the idea of the nicknames, or monikers, interesting. Why the Cats? Why do 'The Blues' wear navy? If you're heading to the footy this year or plan on shouting out for the Bombers, Dockers or Saints from the tv, now you'll know why!

Image: News Corp Australia

AFL Team nicknames - origins

Adelaide Crows

Adelaide Crows Football Club started flapping their official AFL wings in 1991.

Their colours of navy, red and yellow are a nod to the South Australian flag featuring the same hues, while origin stories on the ‘crow’ are mixed.

Some trace it back to the chosen moniker for the at the time, up-and-coming Port Adelaide team that wouldn’t get off the ground until 1997.

Brisbane Lions

The team that had previously operated as Fitzroy and the Brisbane Bears officially became the Brisbane Lions in 1996.

Becoming the ‘Lions’ was to represent being strong, with a previous slogan attributing the team as “kings of the jungle.”

Carlton Blues

One of the AFL’s oldest teams joining in 1896, the team referred to simply as the ‘Blues’ or ‘Navy Blues’ comes from the uniform, which added navy in 1871.

This was from a suggestion by T.S Marshall, known as the ‘Godfather of the Game,’ who played in founding matches and was a player, captain, committee member and vice president of the Club.

Collingwood Magpies

The Pies, are a founding team, with their colours of black and white made to match the native Australian magpie bird, which is also where they get their name.

Some stories suggest this was taken from the large among of magpies that nested in the suburb of Collingwood during swooping season, while others state it could be an homage to ‘magpie’ suites at Pentridge prison - hence the black and white stripes.

Essendon Bombers

Also a founding team sometimes referred to as ‘The Dons’, the 16-time premiership winners apparently got their Bombers nickname way back in the 1940s.

The team’s former home ground was close to the Essendon Aerodrome that was used by military aircraft at the time, and so the name ‘Bombers’ was born, even making it into their catchy theme song where the ‘Bombers fly up, up!’

Fremantle Dockers

Western Australia has entered the chat. Following on from the West Coast Eagles, ‘Freo’ came into the AFL in 1994 as a representative of the city of Fremantle.

The colours of purple, white, red, and green have a few meanings – that of traditional port colours, as well as the large Italian community of Fremantle.

As a primary port city, the ‘Dockers’ is a nod to the ship docks in the area, as well as the wharfies and people of Fremantle.

Geelong Cats

As the second team to join the League, Geelong are one of the oldest football clubs on Earth.

The colours of navy and white are a nod to blue water and white seagulls in the bay, while the nickname ‘Cats’ has been around since 1923.

It goes back to a local cartoonist, who after a string of losses, stated that the Club would need a ‘black cat,’ to bring its luck back – perhaps the Otways Big Cat that roams the area at night?

Gold Coast Suns

While the name here seems obvious due to the sunny nature of Queensland, the new-ish Club has only been kicking around in the AFL since 2011.

Launching in 2010, the team also launched an accompanying theme song, Suns of the Gold Coast Sky, keeping in tune with the formal title as well as the nickname.

Greater Western Sydney Giants

Sometimes stylised as GWS, GW, the GIANTS or simply ‘The Giants,’ the New South Wales team came on board in 2012.

Representing the west Sydney region as well as Canberra, the Giants name may have coincided with the original slogan to ‘Stand Tall,’ and current motto to ‘Think Big. Live Big. Play Big.’

Hawthorn Hawks

An abbreviation of the suburb of Hawthorn, the modern team was founded in 1902, and went on to win 13 premierships throughout this time.

While the original colours of blue and gold were taken by a rival team, the brown and gold which they are now famous for were voted in.

The ‘Hawks’ moniker heads back to 1943, when then-coach Roy Cazaly said they were now the Hawks, “ready to fight hard and carry the ball away with pace and dash to the goal.”


When did the Redlegs become the Dees?

As the oldest professional football club in the world, forming in 1859, it’s fair to say the team has had its share of changes over the years.

The colours of red and blue came about by accident, after Club members adorned some red socks and blue knickerbockers from England, becoming colloquially known as the ‘Redlegs.’ They then kept the colours as more teams joined the league.

The feared moniker is said to come from former coach Frank Hughes, who told the team to “lift your heads and play like demons.”

North Melbourne Kangaroos

Debuting in the now-AFL in 1925 and winning four premierships, the North Melbourne ‘Roos’ or ‘Kangas’ were previously known as the ‘Shinboners.’

It goes all the way back to 1954, when then-president Phonse Tobin decided the team needed a more Aussie nickname – and what’s more quintessentially Australian than a kangaroo?

Port Adelaide Power

The powerful nickname had a few changes from the Club’s original iteration. While founded in South Australia 1870 as the Magpies, the team only entered the AFL in 1997, where of course, that title (and the colours) was already taken.

Feeling that no new animal could replaced the beloved bird, the new name and colours of silver and teal were launched at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre to the blaring sound of Midnight Oil’s Power and the Passion.

Richmond Tigers

The team with one of the more popular team songs referring to its namesake (We’re From Tigerland), the signature call refers to the tiger-like colours of black and yellow.

While the 13-time premiership winners originally wore blue with a yellow and black cap, the blue was ditched for the tiger-esque outfit to match their cricket team of the same name in 1915. Apparently, a superfan called out ‘Eat ‘em alive, Tigers!’ in 1921, and the team from Tigerland was born.

St Kilda Saints

Despite not winning a premiership since 1966, membership for the almighty Saints is still strong, at around 60,000 Australia-wide. The name is an abbreviation of the area of St Kilda, while their catchy tune is adapted from the original recording of When The Saints Go Marching In.

Another one of the Game’s founding Clubs, the colours are a combination of two former teams that made the modern team – the red and white of South Yarra, mixed with the black and white of then-St Kilda, then provided them with the now-famous stripes of red, white, and black.

Sydney Swans

The winners of five premierships, the Swans are also the home of the player who has kicked the most goals in the history of the game, Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin.

Becoming the Sydney Swans after previously being known as South Melbourne in 1983, the name is a nod to all the Western Australian players who joined the team in the 1930s (with swans being the official emblem of the state).

West Coast Eagles

As one of the most supported clubs with over 105,000 members, West Coast are relatively new, entering the AFL scene in 1986 and going on to win four premierships in that time. A team to represent WA, the origins of the ‘Eagle’ name appear unknown.

However, the wedge-tailed Eagle is a popular species found throughout the state, so the name may be an homage to the killer species who feast on their prey.

Western Bulldogs

After a few name changes after the areas of Footscray in and Fitzroy, the team became officially known as the Western Bulldogs in 1996.

The nickname is said to go back to 1920 (when they were known as Footscray), where a flag with a bulldog on top of the team colours was presented to then-Club president. Since then, it took on a life of its own – in stamps, merchandise, and even a real-life bulldog mascot who comes to each game.


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