A number of years ago, I came across a book by the name of One Ginger Pele. The book was a miss-mash of funny footballing songs and chants. One of the chants in particular was aimed at Bristol Rovers who are nicknamed the Pirates, although locally they are known as the Gas but that is another story.
Anyway the chant went along the lines of “Why are you called the Pirates, because you argh”. A hilarious play on words I know but it got me thinking, why are some clubs given the nicknames that they have. How did some clubs end up with names that seem to make little or no sense? Now there are not enough hours in a day for me to trawl through every Italian club looking at why they have adopted numerous monikers so I’m going to narrow it down to one.
From a purely selfish point of view, I’m going to make that club the one that I follow, Parma. However, Parma also provide a good case study, having earned nearly as many nicknames as Palermo have had managers. So we start off with their nicknames, from the easiest to interpret to the most obscure.
It is the simplest and perhaps least used of all the nicknames that the club holds. As is probably obvious, Parma are known as the Parmigiani because they are from Parma. In other words, it is there equivalent of Milanese or Roman.
Again one that does not require a great deal of thought. Parma are from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and to be more specific, they hail from the Emilia part, hence they are known as the Emiliani. It would be similar to an Irish person saying they were from Munster or an English person saying they were from Somerset.
In English the word Gialloblu translates to yellow and blue. For those who watched Calcio in the 1990s, this makes perfect sense as the legendary Parma sides of that era won countless trophies wearing yellow and blue hooped jerseys.
However yellow and blue are not the clubs traditional colours, with Parma’s original strip being a black cross on a white background. A colour scheme and design which remains the clubs official colours to this day, so from where did the yellow and blue originate?
Theories go that the yellow and blue were chosen as a way to differentiate themselves from Juventus, who of course sport black and white and are also the club with whom Parma developed a bitter rivalry during the halcyon days of the 1990s. Another possibility is that the club took on the colours because it was the colour scheme of the club’s parent company at the time, Parmalat.
While these are nice theories and may have degrees of truth, the most obvious answer is that Parma are known as the Gialloblu because they are the city’s colours and take pride of place on the city crest.
Incidentally, the city crest itself is often seen in the shape of a shield, which may have something to do with the fact that the city was founded by the Etruscans. A group of people who were starting to make a name for themselves in Italy in and around the time that the Roman empire was only a fledgling city state.
It is believed that Parma or something similar was the Etruscan for shield, this could be why the yellow and blue colours are so often seen on a shield. It may also have some role to play in why the clubs crest closely resembles a shield, likewise the crest of the club’s Ultra Group, Boys 1977.
First and foremost, what is a Duchy? A Duchy is a country or territory that is ruled over by either a Duke or a Duchess.
The Duchy of Parma was created in 1545 when Pope Paul III gave the city and its surrounding territory to his illegitimate son Pier Luigi Farnese as a fief. Less than two years after taking over his role as Duke, Pier Luigi was assassinated, supposedly by his new subjects.
During the reign of the second Duke, they also earned dominion of the nearby city of Piacenza, giving the Duchy its full title of Ducato di Parma e Piacenza. As for the Farnese family, they would continue to rule the Duchy of Parma right up until 1731 when the last Duke, Antonio Farnese died heirless.
With the extinction of the Male Farnese line the Duchy passed to Don Charles, a son of the King of Spain at the time. Charles mother was Elizabeth Farnese, a female heiress to the Duchy. From that point on, the Duchy was run by what was known as the House of Bourbon.
Come 1796, the Duchy was occupied by French forces under the control of the legendary Napoleon. However, it would soon return to the Bourbons, who controlled the territory for many more years. Gradually, as years past, the Duchy began to unite with other provinces in Italy before being eventually swallowed up by the new Italian state all together.
As for the House of Bourbon, they still exist to this day and still lay claim to the title of Duke of Parma. The Current head of the family is 46-year-old Prince Carlos of Bourbon-Parma; he is a member of the Dutch Royal family. Thus, Parma Calcio adopted the symbolic nickname, Ducali, as a nod towards the city’s distinguished history.
Some say that the nickname Crociati is a reference to the Black cross that dons the Parma jersey, but instead the real answer lies with the Crusades.
While the rest of the nicknames have had clear links to the city and are easily understood, how Parma became associated with the nickname Crociati has been much, much harder to place. The peculiar feature here is that, along with Parma Calcio, there are a number of other clubs in the surrounding area who carry this moniker. But why?
Firstly, it would not take too much of a leap of faith to suggest that many men from the city would have went on the various Crusades to the Holy land, but then so did so many others from cities all over Europe. Why then does Parma seem to be so closely linked with these Crusades.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that as mentioned above, the Duchy of Parma was created by Pope Paul III and thus the royalty of the region felt they owed a debt to the Papacy. The flaw in this theory is that the Duchy was created long after the most famous Crusades.
Perhaps more plausible is the link with Frederick the II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and the fifth and sixth Crusades. During Frederick’s reign (1220-1250), the city of Parma would have been a part of the Holy Roman Empire. Upon taking control of his Empire, Frederick is said to have promised to launch a Crusade.
The first opportunity for such an endeavour arose around 1213, when Pope Innocent III called what would become known as the fifth Crusade. Deciding against travelling with the crusaders, Frederick sent the troops in his stead. Given that Parma was under his rule, it is likely that some of these troops hailed from the city.
A number of years later, in a half-hearted attempt to fulfil his vow of going on crusade, Frederick gathered forces together and intended to set ship for Jerusalem. However, an epidemic broke out amongst his troops and he postponed the voyage.
Not long after this, Pope Gregory IX excommunicated Frederick for failing to fulfil his vow. In 1228 with his army recovered, Frederick ignored his excommunication and set sail nonetheless for the Holy Land.
The pope was infuriated by Frederick’s act of defiance, however the Crusade was a success for the intransigent Emperor, as he captured Jerusalem and made himself King.
His blatant disregard for the Papacy however set him on a crash course with the Pope, one that he managed initially and even got his excommunication overturned. It did not last though and soon they were at logger heads once more.
As part of Frederick’s empire, the city of Parma initially sided with the emperor. But the elections of Pope Innocent IV would turn the tables. Pope Innocent had strong links to Parma and by 1247, Frederick’s imperial dignitaries in the city were expelled. In February 1248, Frederick’s army was defeated at the Battle of Parma.
It may be that the Parma Calcio inherited the nickname, Crociati, because of Frederick II and his roles in the fifth and sixth Crusades and the resulting feud with the Papacy.
Other potential links are Knight Bernard Rossi of Parma, a relative of Pope Innocent III, or alternatively Salimbene of Parma, a son of a Crusader and a noted historian of the Italian 13th century.
Where the truth lies, Parma and the Crusades seem to go hand in hand, a link that has been reified by the club’s holy nickname.
Parma have many nicknames, some more obscure than others, but all interesting in their own right. As for other famous Italian clubs, their nicknames undoubtedly carry peculiar and fascinating stories which are all waiting to be told.