Last Updated on April 23, 2021 by Samuel Waihenya
One particular question that a football fan who has followed the sport closely for a number of years is likely to have is why most clubs possess the same suffix as part of their naming structure.
Particularly within the English game, words like ‘Town’, ‘City’ and ‘Wanderers’ are used as part of football nomenclature to identify and distinguish different clubs from one another.
But perhaps one of the most common suffixes that you will come across when looking at league standings throughout the English football pyramid is the word ‘United’.
Teams usually have the word ‘united’ in their name as a result of historic amalgamation where two or more clubs within a local town or city joined forces to form one larger and stronger team. In other instances, it is simply used to evoke a sense of togetherness and unity among the players that represent the club and the fans that support it.
Before I expound on this in more detail as well as provide two other reasons that are not usually considered, I will start by revealing the first club that took up this specific naming structure.
Who was the first football team called ‘United’?
Sheffield United were the first to use the ‘United’ suffix within their club name. The Blades were initially founded in the year 1889, and despite the fact that Manchester United had been formed 11 years prior to this date, the latter were still known as Newton Heath Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway (L&YR) Football Club at the time.
What’s also quite intriguing is that the Yorkshire-based team came to be as a result of Sheffield United Cricket Club, who were themselves founded in 1854 and decided expand by creating a football branch 35 years later.
So, there’s your answer!
It’s quite easy to think that Manchester United is where the widely recognised use of the suffix originated from, but it was in fact Sheffield United who carried the mantle first.
Reasons why several team names end with ‘united’
Now the article will touch on some of the different factors that have led clubs to adopt the suffix as part of their identity.
1. Mergers between clubs
Popularity of the sport over the last couple of decades has grown to astronomical levels. This growth has seen many clubs created, and it’s pretty unavoidable for some of these teams to be within the same local area.
This closeness in proximity has brought about a number of intense rivalries within the sport.
For example, Aston Villa facing off against Birmingham is known to be a very fierce clash of two clubs who have stadiums that are about 3 miles apart. The fact that a Birmingham fan was jailed for running onto the pitch and hitting Aston Villa skipper Jack Grealish should tell you all you need to know about this ongoing feud in the West Midlands.
On the flip side however, short distances between clubs has also brought about a consolidation of resources, where two or more sides unify together.
A great example of this is Newcastle United’s creation.
The battle on Tyneside used to between Newcastle West End and Newcastle East End, as the two local clubs were rivals in the Northern League.
In 1889, the former found themselves in serious financial trouble which had massive implications for the survival of the West End club.
Newcastle West End therefore settled on a take-over deal by their rivals, and after their approach to a merger, the club was finally dissolved with many players and members of the backroom staff joining Newcastle East End – who also took over the lease on St James Park stadium which was originally held by their adversaries.
After that, the fusion was then signified by the name change to Newcastle United.
2. Symbolising unity
I don’t think there is a better example of unification within football than the team that plays its home games at Elland Road.
For those of you who aren’t aware, I’m referring to Leeds United.
The club – founded in the year 1904 – was formerly known as Leeds City.
However, this team was disbanded from the Football League 15 years later because they were found guilty of making illegal payments to players during the period of the first World War – an act that was strictly forbidden by the Football Association.
When an auction was held for 16 members of Leeds City’s playing squad, Leeds United was created soon after through the guidance of a former Leeds City player called Dick Ray.
Now, the fact that there’s only one major club within the city of Leeds brings the entire local fanbase together, and their attendance figures for away fixtures are usually quite impressive – with the side ranking 1st for average away attendance with a figure of 2,966 fans in the 2019/20 season.
More so, according to a study conducted by Sky Sports, the Yorkshire club stands as the 12th biggest within the entirety of England.
That’s certainly no small feat!
So, you can clearly see how Leeds was formed out of an overarching unity for the city, despite the turbulent history that the club had encountered.
3. New beginnings
In this very article I’ve already alluded to the fact that Manchester United underwent a name transformation.
To be more specific, the club was previously called Newton Heath, having been founded by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway company in 1878.
The club’s jersey colours were gold and green, which in itself was a tribute to the railway company who used those two shades as their own brand colours.
However, as a result of growing debt which brought the club to its knees and on the brink of liquidation, it was saved by a group of local businessmen.
These outside investors renamed the football establishment as Manchester United in 1902 following their relegation from the Football League in 1894.
It was a fresh start that enabled the club to thrive under new ownership.
Today, the team is recognised as the most successful in England, having won multiple sporting accolades under the stewardship of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, including several Premier League titles and 2 Champions League trophies.
4. Attracting lucrative sponsorships
At the end of the day, clubs need funding in order to survive and thrive.
Sometimes, the income received from selling players just isn’t enough.
So, the use of ‘united’ fits in well with the aforementioned objectives because when the suffix is used in conjunction with another word, it creates a name that is easy to market and foster a positive brand association around.
Traditional affiliation deals within football would normally have sponsor logos present on playing jerseys, but teams seem to have found another way to generate money through this particularly lucrative avenue.
Perhaps the best example of this was when an Indian team who were initially founded as Eveready Association in 1927, changed their name to United Sports Club for the sole purpose of attracting sponsorship deals with other companies.
It is my hope that this article has solved the question of why many soccer teams have the word ‘united’ in their names.
As a reminder, clubs use the word to either signify a union of two or more teams that are in close proximity with one another, or as a way of symbolising solidarity between all the players and staff involved at the club as well as the fans.
Additionally, it can be used to denote the start of a new era in the history of a club and perhaps, less commonly, as a way of attracting lucrative sponsorships by way of making it easier for companies to associate themselves with a football organisation.