What’s in a name? It’s a question more and more relevant in today’s world, in which image is everything and the packaging is as important as the product.
When I was a child I used to thrill to the all-action westerns starring Hollywood tough guy John Wayne. But would I have taken him quite so seriously if he’d stuck with his original moniker of Marion Morrison? And what of the incomparable Audrey Hepburn? Might her shimmering elfin beauty have seemed quite so translucent if we’d known we were staring up at Edda Kathleen van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston?
Even in my own corner of the acting game here in the UK, I’ve often wondered if my career might have been more successful had I struck out more boldly. Michael Simkins? Hardly an appellation likely to set the pulse racing. A work colleague even suggested I change my stage name to Tarquin Blood: but alas, I persevered with my lot, with the result that I invariably get typecast as simpering clerks and ineffectual solicitors (“Take a letter please, Simkins!”)
But it’s not just the acting game that seems preoccupied with image nowadays. Everyone, it seems, is prepared to tinker with their birth certificate if it means getting ahead. Even football clubs.
In case you haven’t heard of the fishing port of Hull, it’s a city in the north-east of England. Bluff and dependable, Hull typifies that region of the country at its most unruffled and undemonstrative. The same may be said for its local football club, Hull City AFC. Founded in 1904, it’s as stolid and unpretentious as the folk it represents.
The trouble is, Hull City AFC has been getting a bit above itself. Where once its weekly opponents were similarly unpretentious towns such as Tranmere and Walsall, it now finds itself competing in the giddy heights of the English Premier League against the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea. And as any movie star will tell you, when you’ve got your name in lights you’d better make sure you get noticed. Stardom doesn’t come cheap.
Which is presumably why the club’s Egyptian-born owner Assem Allam has announced his intention to change the name of the club from Hull City to Hull Tigers. With football teams needing to attract global audiences to maximise revenue stream, the suffix “Tiger” (or so argues Mr Allam) will prove far more attractive and eye-catching to potential audiences in India and the far east than dull old “City”.
In any case, the side has been known colloquially as ‘the Tigers’ for many years, due to its distinctive yellow and black playing strip. What could be less controversial than to synchronise the club’s nickname with its overall marketing strategy?
But in football, traditions are sacrosanct, which is why many loyal fans on the terraces regard Mr Allam’s initiative as betrayal. They’ve spent too many years shivering through bad times and worse to suddenly junk their precious lineage overboard merely on the whim of an entrepreneur. “City till I die” is the chant most loudly sung by the Hull faithful on Saturday afternoons just now, and worryingly for Mr Allam, it’s also the title of the supporters magazine.
So whose view will prevail? “He who pays the piper calls the tune” runs the old saying. Having allegedly invested nearly £70 million (Dh422 million) in the club since taking it over, Mr Allam is no mood to be thwarted. “No one on Earth is allowed to question my business decisions,” he railed recently in an interview with Sky Sports, before adding darkly “but if the community say go away, I promise to go away within 24 hours.” The inference was obvious: in taking his ball and his millions away with him, his departure could well send Hull City spiralling down towards footballing oblivion once more.
But Mr Allam must tread carefully. The revenue generated by loyal supporters coming through the turnstiles each week may only be a fraction of the club’s overall finances, but theirs is the beating heart of any sporting enterprise. If, as threatened, they wreak their revenge by boycotting matches, holding protests and refusing to buy club products, the damage done to the club’s morale could far outweigh any financial benefit accrued by a snazzy new title.
In the meantime, I’m taking the hint and changing my stage name to Tarquin Blood just as soon as I can complete the paperwork. It may not get me any more acting gigs, but at least it’ll ensure my reservation isn’t mislaid when I next book a restaurant table.
Michael Simkins is an actor and writer based in London