Why Are Watford Called ‘The Hornets’? The Nickname Explained

Watford teammates celebration

Nicknames: every football club has one (or sometimes more than one) and some appear to bear little connection to the club in question, at least on first inspection. Some nicknames related to professions that were prevalent in the area in question, such as the Hatters (Luton), the Millers (Rotherham) or the Mariners (Grimsby Town). While other nicknames are perhaps less imaginative, such as the Blues (Birmingham), the Reds (Liverpool) or the Sky Blues (Coventry City).

What’s more, nicknames often change over time, as has indeed been the case with the team we now know as the Hornets. One example of this is Leicester, who were previously known as the Fossils, the Knuts and the Filberts, before finally (or will it be final?) settling on the Foxes. But how about Watford? Well, their nickname is the Hornets – for now at least – although it might not be immediately obvious why that is the case.

Fear not though, as we intend to enlighten you about the reason Watford are known as the Hornets. And, we’ll also take a look at some of the other football clubs named after (or in honour of) animals, such as the Foxes.

When & Why Did Watford Become the Hornets?

Watford Rovers, as they were then known, were founded way back in 1881 and their first competitive match came in the 1886 FA Cup against Swindon Town (Watford Rovers lost 1-0). The club then merged with Watford St Mary’s (who were attracting booming crowds of up to 500 supporters!) and they became officially known as Watford Football Club in 1898, as it has remained so to this day. But, what about their nickname?

In their early years, Watford weren’t known as the Hornets. Instead, they were referred to as the Brewers, in honour of local brewery, Benskin’s, who became a club benefactor after the First World War. Apparently, some fans weren’t happy with being associated with a brewer and so when the club introduced a new kit with blue shirts and white shorts in 1927, they became known by that rather unimaginative of nicknames: the Blues.

It was all-change on the kit front in 1959, however, when the club unveiled a new gold and black kit, which made their nickname somewhat illogical. Despite delving into various archives, we can’t find evidence of who came up with the idea of changing the nickname to the Hornets, but it was clearly based on the resemblance of the new kit to the largest eusocial wasps. Perhaps the club or fans also wanted away teams (and supporters) to view a game at Vicarage Road as being akin to entering a hornets’ nest. And, whilst a variety of wasp isn’t quite as powerful as the Three Lions of England, it is still an animal that portrays a certain degree of strength, possibly putting a little fear into the opposition.

Note that as well as being referred to as the Hornets, Watford are also sometimes known as the Golden Boys, Yellow Army or the ‘Orns. In recent years, however, these monikers have been used less frequently, with most knowing the club as the Hornets.

Why Do Watford Have a Deer on their Badge?

Harry the Hornet
Harry the Hornet (Credit: Watford FC)

As well as various kit changes over the decades, Watford’s badge and crest has also changed many times. It began life in 1927 as a rather minimalist shield that included the letters W, F and C.

But then in the 1950s, a new badge was introduced that included the aforementioned letters, a picture of a football and an image of a male deer, also known as a hart. The reason? The hart is the symbol of the county of Hertfordshire in which Watford is located. The hart was featured on some of Watford’s badges in the years that followed, though not all, but that changed again in 1968 when an image of a hornet was included on their shirts instead.

A rather angry-looking cartoon hornet was introduced to the club’s kit in 1974, depicting the team’s mascot, Harry the Hornet (who remains to this day). But at a similar time, an official club crest was developed that brought back the hart. Rather confusing we would say! This eventually usurped Harry the Hornet on the kit, and has remained in place since (albeit with occasional design tweaks).

However, despite that seeming move away from an association with the hornet, the nickname has very much come to stick. And, to simply answer the question in the title of this piece, the nickname is all down to Watford’s slightly hornet-esque black and gold (or yellow!) colours.

Other Teams with Animal-Derived Nicknames

There are no other professional football teams in England known as the Hornets, but there are a couple of other teams with insect-related nicknames, for example The Bees (Brentford). But let’s take a look at some more examples of nicknames inspired by the animal kingdom.

Team Nickname
Swansea City The Swans
Sunderland The Black Cats
Sheffield Wednesday The Owls
Leicester City The Foxes
Norwich City The Canaries
Hull City The Tigers
Huddersfield Town The Terriers
Derby County The Rams
Mansfield Town The Stags
Morecambe The Shrimps
Crystal Palace The Eagles
Newcastle United The Magpies
Brighton and Hove Albion The Seagulls
Wolverhampton Wanderers Wolves

On balance we would say that the Tigers or perhaps Wolves would quite possibly win a fight of the nicknames. They would certainly triumph over a fox, terrier, or stag. But would they be able to lay a paw on a mighty Hornet?! We think not, so in our entirely impartial view, we’ll name The Hornets as the kings of the jungle… if not, for now at least, the football pyramid!