From Sporting Cormorants to Fish and Rabbits: Brittany also has its share of weird and wonderful club nicknames

This photo was taken by Jonathan Ervine before a French Cup match back in September 2013 between US Arradon and Ploërmel FC. 

Article by Jonathan Ervine

Today a Grassroots North Wales article focused on Llangoed’s use of the nickname ‘The Puffins’ and other local teams with aliases such as the Lope (Antelope) and the Sandmen (Pentraeth).

As it happens, similarly intriguing nicknames can be found when one looks at Wales’ Celtic cousins over in Brittany.

There have long been cultural links between Wales and Brittany, not least due to Welsh and Breton being from the same branch of Celtic languages. Towns in North Wales such as Caernarfon, Llanfairfechan, Holywell, St Asaph (city) and Ruthin are twinned with ones in Brittany.

And it seems that Brittany is also a place that shares with North Wales the fact that it is home to an array of football clubs with colourful names and nicknames.

Brittany is well-known for its coastline and as a land that has been home to a great many seafarers over the years.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, quite a few of its football team nicknames have a connection with fish or the sea.

One of the most well-known examples is Ligue 1 side Lorient, who are nicknamed ‘les Merlus’. A merlu is the French equivalent of a hake, and this fish features on the club crest along with a Breton flag.

Just over 50km from Lorient is the town of Concarneau, whose team – US Concarneau – are known as ‘les thoniers’ (the tuna fishers).

Whilst recently doing some research on Breton football, I discovered an image of a Concarneau training top that appeared to be from the 1950’s and featured the slogan ‘mangez du poisson’ (eat fish) in large letters on the back.

French football legend Eric Cantona – who is from near Marseille rather than Brittany – once famously said “when the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think that sardines will be thrown into the sea”.

It appears that Brittany may lack a team known as the sardines but it is nevertheless home to les Goélands de Plouézec (the Plouézec Seagulls).

However, the Breton team that deserves a feather in its cap for the most original or unusual bird-related name is probably not actually les Goélands de Plouézec but another amateur side from almost 200km away. In the west of Brittany, one finds the flamboyantly named Cormorans Sportifs de Penmarc’h (Sporting Cormorants of Penmarc’h).

When searching for more information about the exquisitely named team from Penmarc’h, I ended up going down something of a rabbit hole.

Appropriately enough, I soon discovered that Breton teams named after animals include les Lapins de Guengat (the Rabbits of Guengat).

Rabbits in football may not be entirely new as I once heard a tale about a bald player here in North Wales who become known for drawing bunnies on his head in the hope they would be mistaken for hares.

Just as drivers to Anglesey may well notice signs mentioning ‘red squirrel woodlands’, squirrels are also to be found in Breton football and indeed in several different languages.

Brittany is home to both Les Écureuils de Plogonnec and Rah-Koëd Plaudren. Whilst ‘écureuil’ is the French term for squirrel, ‘rah-koëd’ a Breton equivalent that literally means ‘cat of the woods’ or ‘beasts that leap in the woods’, depending on who one chooses to believe.

What’s even more nuts is that there are at least two other clubs in Brittany with a word for squirrel in their team name.

So why are there all these teams with names connected to wildlife?

Breton sporting historian Georges Cadiou has said that “there isn’t a very rational explanation, although it probably comes from Breton and the Breton language is full of imagery”. (Reference for quote: https://www.letelegramme.fr/football/droles-de-noms-pour-des-clubs-de-foot-ca-vient-surement-du-breton-qui-est-tres-image-30-05-2021-12759008.php)

To return to the starting point of the recent article about nicknames of North Walian football teams, puffins can also be found on Breton football fields.

A French news website last year reported on a cup derby between Breton sides US Perros-Louannec and Lannion which was livened up by the presence of two puffin mascots due to the bird being an emblem of the hosts’ town and featuring on their club badge.

However, one of the puffins became a canary at a match later the same month as the emblem of US Perros-Louannec depicts both a puffin and a canary. (link to article about the puffins and the canary: https://actu.fr/bretagne/perros-guirec_22168/football-perros-louannec-on-a-retrouve-les-deux-macareux-dyves-le-jannou_46768126.html)

Whilst the Sporting Cormorants of Penmarc’h may never make it to Penmaenmawr, it certainly seems that there are some intriguing parallels between names and nicknames of football clubs in North Wales and Brittany.

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