Some clubs have long histories, others’ are much shorter, but each is unique, and often speaks of the history of the area where they are based. Much the same is true of certain popular names or nicknames bestowed on clubs or areas of their stadium. The ‘Spion Kop’ at Anfield and the ‘Holte End’ at Villa Park are examples. With regard to clubs themselves, nicknames often relate to industries within their areas, hence Northampton Town are known as ‘The Cobblers’ due to the shoemaking industry there. Walsall are ‘The Saddlers’ as the leather industry was prominent in the area, Blackpool being ‘The Seasiders’ for obvious reasons. One nickname that always intrigued me however was that of Exeter City being known as ‘The Grecians.’ I’d heard a few theories about how the name may have originated, but thought the definitive way to find out was to ask the club.
Following a bit of research, I managed to get in touch with Richard Dorman, Exeter’s Media Manager. Unfortunately, he told me that he couldn’t speak definitively on the subject, and further that they didn’t have a club historian. He did however point me in the direction of a couple of people who might be able to help. A few emails later, I had a reply from Will Barrett, a PhD student who had been working on some of the club’s history projects and was recommended as having a good line of reference.
Before I heard from Will, the best information I had uncovered was that during a fair on Southernhay back in 1726, for some obscure reason, the siege of Troy was re-enacted. It appears that some bright spark has thought that the residents of the inner city, within the ancient walls should play the Trojans, whilst those from the St Sidwell’s area, outside of the walls would be the Greeks – or Grecians. It seemed to follow a logic of sorts.
Afterwards, the residents of St Sidwell’s apparently took to the name, and would often describe themselves as Grecians in letters to the local newspaper. With all of this in mind, it may not be surprising that when a football ground was opened at the end of Sidwell Street, it was given a ‘Grecian Gate’ and the team that played there – St Sidwell’s Old Boys – took on the nickname, ‘The Grecians.’ When the club changed its name to Exeter City in 1904, it took the nickname across as well. Well, that was the best theory I had.
Fortunately, Will’s information didn’t really distract from this theory, but actually added a lot of colour to it. He told me that historically, the people that lived within Exeter’s walls were often known as the ‘Romans’ not only as they lived largely within the area of the original Roman settlement there, but also were considered to be the wealthy and controlling elite of the area. This may well have been the perception of people living in St Sidwell’s, who would then have seen the epithet of ‘Grecians’ as ideal. Linking themselves with the cunning Greek heroes of Homeric fame who outwitted and overcame the Trojans who thought themselves secure within their walls.
Will also suggested a further reason why the people of St Sidwell’s may have been chosen to play the role of the Greeks during the ‘mock’ siege. With a large Greek Orthodox population, it probably seemed appropriate, and may well explain why the name so easily adhered itself to the area.
As you can see, the information from Will certainly filled out a few gaps and added the colour of some local knowledge. It’s of course difficult to say for certain where the name originated from. Were the people of St Sidwell’s already known as Grecians due to the significant Orthadox community already amongst their number, thus making their part in the reenactment a shoo-in, or was it the proximity of the city’s walls that caused it. Whatever the final analysis, it’s clear that the Grecians nickname for the people of the area around where St James Park is situated was well-established. Whether it was the influence of fans, the cub itself, the press or a combination that eventually led to the Exeter City becoming the Grecians may never be finally solved – and that may well be for the best.
Nicknames of clubs shouldn’t be something clinically decided on and applied with a surgical precision. They should be things that have grown up with the area over time. They’re the people’s names for things they hold dear, and as such carry more in their emotional play than could be the case in any analysis. For my part therefore, I’m more than content to have a bit more knowledge about how the nickname may have come about, but remain comfortable that there’s still a measure mystery about it, and that it resides exactly where it should do, with the people of Exeter.
(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for the ‘offsiderulepodcast’ website).