An excerpt from a piece in the Guardian notes, inter alia:

“Blyth Spartans were named after the Greek army,” James Henry points out, before getting to the heart of the matter: “What is the weirdest explanation for a football team’s suffix?”

Blyth are named after the Spartan army, the legendary fighting force of the 6th to 4th centuries BC. This kind of classical allusion wasn’t uncommon in the era of the late Victorian amateur. Corinthian, now Corinthian Casuals, were formed in 1882, their name referencing the mythic Greek code of amateur sportsmanship. This was a common practice across Europe at the time. Ajax of Amsterdam are named after Ajax the Ancient Greek warrior hero from the Iliad (and latterly also inspiration for a popular brand of domestic scouring powder). And the Spartans themselves left an imprint beyond Blyth – Sparta Rotterdam (Holland) and Sparta Prague (Czech Republic), both founded within a few years of Spartans, took their name from the same bunch of Greek hard-cases.

Speaking of Ajax, last summer I was pondering doing a little series of posts on towns in Ontario which seemed to have Classical origins and the one I began with was Ajax (near Toronto). Imagine my chagrin when I thought I had a sure thing, only to find out that Ajax, Ontario was actually named after a battleship — the HMS Ajax — which, along with the HMS Achilles and HMS Exeter, defeated the Graf Spee in 1939. I assume the ships had Classical origins, but it ain’t quite the same …

UPDATE: a number of folks have written in (thanks to all!) to note that the Ajax was a light cruiser, not a battleship. Special mention to Albert Nofi who suggested ” … calling her a battleship would be like calling a liburnian a quiquereme.”

3 thoughts on “Ajax

  1. To the list of classically named association football (=”soccer”) clubs (and aside from Brasil’s Corinthians, also mentioned on the Guardian page), add the Italian side Atalanta, and the Russian FC Spartak Moscow apparently named for Spartacus. There is also an Ajax Cape Town in South Africa, linked to the great Dutch club. In England, and despite a spate of redesigns of club insignia, some top division clubs retain Latin mottoes: “superbia in proelio” (Manchester City), “nil satis nisi optimum” (Everton), “audere est facere” (Tottenham Hotspur). Finally, one of the greatest Italian clubs is Juventus (of Turin), apparently named from the Latin.

  2. More classical names in football: there is a club in the Dutch league called Heracles, and I presume Greece’s Apollon (like that of Cyprus) is as it appears. Names like Olympiakos and Panathinaikos in Greece, the many variations on “Olympic” in many places, and the Italian AS Roma and Lazio (=”Latium”), owe more to the persistence of names than directly to the classics, but there is also a club named Spartak (from Spartacus) in the Bulgarian league, a second apart from the Moscow one in Russia and another in Slovakia, and a Ulysses in Armenia, while tiny San Marino (which I am not sure has any professional players) has Juvenes, Virtus, Cosmos and Libertas. South Africa has Jomo Cosmos, but that’s due to Jomo Sono, who had played for the New York Cosmos in a former incarnation of American professional football.

    Switching codes, in rugby union the Barbarians Rugby Club is the name under which play combined teams drawn from a variety of nationalities or sides (though traditionally with one player who has never played for his country), brought together for showpiece international matches. Given the public school origins of rugby union, and the place of the classics in that educational tradition, I imagine the name was perfectly intentional.

    Back to REAL football (so there!), way down in the minor English tiers, Folkestone Invicta play in the Ryman Leagues as do the staunchly amateur Corinthian Casuals, mentioned in the Guardian piece and with a site at:


    though their own history page does cast doubt on the explanation of the name given by the Guardian:


    while the British Gas Business Football League Division 1 Midlands has Romulus FC:


  3. “actually named after a battleship”
    Sorry to be a pedant… but that HMS Ajax was actually a light cruiser.

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