Grecian mythology or fact? The mystery of Exeter’s nickname

By All Blue Daze.

Whether clubs have long or short histories, each is unique and often speaks of the history of the area where they are based. This is also true of certain popular nicknames or areas of stadiums, for example, the ‘Spion Kop’ at Anfield and the ‘Holte End’ at Villa Park. 

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Monikers often relate to industries within their areas, therefore, 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, and Blackpool are ‘The Seasiders’ for obvious reasons. One nickname that always intrigued me, however, is Exeter City being known as ‘The Grecians’.

I’d heard a few theories about how the name may have originated. But 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 area, outside of the walls would be the Greeks – or Grecians.

Afterwards, the residents of St Sidwell apparently took to the name, and would often describe themselves as Grecians in letters to the local newspaper. It may not be surprising then 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, they kept the moniker. Well, that was the best theory I had, but I thought the definitive way to find out was to ask the club.

Exeter’s media manager Richard Dorman pointed me in the direction of a couple of people who might be able to help. Will Barrett, a PhD student, who had been working on some of the club’s history projects, added a lot of colour to the theory behind the nickname. 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, 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.

He also suggested a further reason why the people of St Sidwell 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.

It is, of course, difficult to say for certain where the name originated from. Were the people of St Sidwell already known as Grecians due to the significant Orthodox community, or was it the proximity of the city’s walls that caused it? 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, and carry emotional attachment. 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 the truth resides exactly where it should do – with the people of Exeter.

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