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Which racehorses are named after footballers – and what’s the best XI? | Football

“There was a horse called Zlatan running at Ascot. Is it possible to make a starting XI from racehorses named after footballers? And what would be the best team?” asks George Jones.

Jonathan Bartley has covered a furlong or two with an extensive answer, highlighting that in the UK and Ireland alone each year there are roughly 20,000 foals born into the racing industry, meaning there’s ample potential for this. However, his research also raises some pertinent additional questions …

“1) Does the horse have to have shown any talent? A horse called Schmeichel ran 10 times in Ireland between 1992 and 1994, but could only be considered a racehorse in a very loose sense. If you allow yourself to include all horses who have ever raced it naturally gets much easier.

2) Is the horse definitely named after the footballer? I would expect that a horse called Zidane (winner of the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood in 2007 was named after Zinedine Zidane, but is a horse called Smith likely to be named after Alan Smith?

3) Do we allow nicknames or events? Tom George’s The Romford Pele is clearly named after Ray Parlour, but do you allow Gerrard’s Slip?” We’d say yes.

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He then provides two teams. Firstly, “horses who share a name with a footballer and have shown some actual talent (defined as placing or better in a Group 1 race):

Talented Horses XI (4-1-3-2)

[David] Marshall (Third G1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud)

Lauren[s] (Six-times G1 winner in UK/France/Ireland)
[Miguel Ángel] Nadal (Won G1 Arkansas Derby)
[Rio] Ferdinand (Won G1 Kentucky Derby and G1 Breeders Cup Classic)
[Dennis] Irwin (Second in G1 Gran Premio Estrellas Juvenile at Palermo)

[Roy] Keane (Won G1 Gran Premio Dardo Rocha at La Plata)

Johan Cruyff (Second in G1 Hong Kong Gold Cup at Sha Tin)
[Zvonimir] Boban (Multiple G1 winner in Australia)
[Lionel] Messi (Third in G1 Northern Dancer Turf Stakes at Woodbine)

[Mario] Kempes (Won Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown)
[Ruud] Van Nistelrooy (Second in G1 National Stakes)

Coach: Roy H[odgson] (Twice won G1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint)

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Secondly, horses “unambiguously named after footballers who have not necessarily competed at the highest level (criteria here is that they have to have won a race of some description):

Kempes, ridden by David Casey, on the way to Irish Gold Cup glory at Leopardstown in 2011.
Kempes, ridden by David Casey, on the way to Irish Gold Cup glory at Leopardstown in 2011. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Definitive Names XI (4-2-2-2, with a couple of makeshift full-backs)

Fox Kasper [Schmeichel] (Won a maiden at Ripon in 2002)

[Virgil] Van Dijk (Three-times winner for Antony Brittain in 2021)
Sir Billy Wright (Multiple winner for David Evans)
John Terry (Three-times winner for Amanda Perrett)
Kool [Vincent] Kompany (Won G2 Railway Stakes at The Curragh in 2014)

Yorkshire Pirlo [Kalvin Philips] (Won a maiden at Southwell in 2020)
[Steven] Gerrard’s Slip (Won a maiden at Southwell in 2015)

[Roberto] Baggio (Won six races in Ireland)
[Zinedine] Zidane (Won the Stewards Cup in 2007)
Ooh Ah [Eric] Cantona (Five-times race winner in the 1990s)

[Salvatore] Schillaci (Multiple G1 winner in Australia)

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Coach: [Marcelo] Bielsa (Three-times winner for Kevin Ryan in 2019).”

Managers injuring players in training

“Have any other managers ‘done a Rooney’ and injured players in training?” enquires John Blythe.

Colm McAuliffe immediately had the words “Graeme Souness” spring to mind, recalling an incident in which the Scotsman severely injured Dwight Yorke while in charge at Blackburn. He takes up the story: “Andy Cole later recalled: ‘Souness did Dwight in a tackle in training, causing a gash so deep in his shin that you could see the white of his bone. He could have broken his leg. Dwight was still spitting bullets when I heard the commotion as he slaughtered Souness in the canteen – right in front of Blackburn’s chief executive’ … which rather sums up that rancorous period in Blackburn’s recent history.”

Meanwhile, Diarmuid Daly offers up a tale from October 2004:C“News emerged that Sunderland midfielder and Republic of Ireland international Colin Healy had re-broken his leg in training; this was as Healy was on his way back from a previous double leg break suffered 10 months earlier. Rumours soon surfaced that manager Mick McCarthy was responsible for the tackle that did the damage, rumours that the former Ireland manager denied. However more recently former Sunderland striker Chris Brown, who was playing in the training game in question, confirms that McCarthy was indeed the culprit.”

Good with a ball and on a bike

Professional cyclist Remco Evenepoel was a Belgium youth footballer and played at PSV Eindhoven and Anderlecht but never signed a professional contract,” notes Graham Stockwell. “Has any professional cyclist also played professional football?”

All eyes on Belgium for this, reckons Joran: “Greg Van Avermaet kept goal in Sint Truidense VV’s youth team – at the same time as Simon Mignolet – before going on to win gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics.”

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Greg Van Avermaet during stage 15 of this year’s Tour de France.
Greg Van Avermaet during stage 15 of this year’s Tour de France. Photograph: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Meanwhile, JP Hunting suggests “walking ego” Roger De Vlaeminck, who played for his local team Eeklo as a teenager. “I remember reading an interview where he was very confident he would have had an amazing career in football if he’d wanted to,” JP adds. “His cycling rivalry with fellow Belgian Eddy Merckx also extended to who was the best footballer as they used to regularly used to participate in kickabouts back in the 70s.

Knowledge archive

Ian Pugh got in touch in October 2004 after QPR went on a record run: “A list was published of their run back in Division Three South in the early 1930s. One of the teams they beat was ‘Thames’. I’ve never heard of this team. Where did they play? Did they change their name? Or did they merely fold?”

Thames started life in 1928 and finished it very shortly after. The club was founded by the owners of West Ham stadium, home not to West Ham United but to speedway and greyhounds, who were looking for ways to make some extra cash.

The club started life in the Southern League, finishing third in their second season and pipping Aldershot to a spot in the Third Division when Merthyr weren’t re-elected. Over the next two seasons Thames played 84 games, won 20, drew 17, and lost 47 – conceding 202 goals. They finished bottom with just 23 points in 1931-32, and promptly resigned from the league. Bad news for Leyton Orient, fellow strugglers hankering after a merger (and cheap rent); good news for Aldershot, who replaced them.

Thames did set one record in their brief existence however, and it’s one they still hold: the lowest league attendance for a single game. Despite playing home games in a 50,000 capacity stadium, the glut of local sides meant Thames never really cut it on the east London scene. The atmosphere must have been electric on December 6 1930, when Thames beat Luton Town 1-0 in front of a whopping 469 fans.

Can you help?

“By the end of the second matchday, no team in the Polish Ekstraklasa has a 100% record (each time has at least drawn),” toots Paul Vickers. “Has this ever happened sooner, ie each team drawing in the first week anywhere? And what is the soonest it has happened in the English top flight?”

“Which team has played the highest number of current Football League teams in competitive matches?” wonders John Sullivan.

Email your questions and answers to or tweet @TheKnowledge_GU.

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