A Celebration of Football's Greatest Copycat Clubs
Originality is overrated. These are some of football's most famous copycat clubs from across the globe.
This article originally appeared on VICE Sports.
There's plenty to consider when founding a new football club, with the choice of name, badge and colors at the very top of the list. Some teams draw inspiration from the local area; others look to mythology; and in a few cases the team is owned by a mega-rich energy drink company and have no choice in the matter, which does at least simplify the whole thing.
Failing all of these, a freshly minted club might simply adopt the identity of an existing one. There are dozens of teams across the globe who took some or all aspects characteristic from another side and made them their own. These are some – but by no means all – of football's biggest copycats.
First, however, it should be noted that some sides which might at first appear to be unlicensed imitators are in fact officially sanctioned products. For example, Manchester City have affiliate teams in New York and Melbourne who play in the Citizens' traditional colors and have direct links with Pep Guardiola's side. Similarly, Ajax Cape Town are affiliated with the storied Dutch club, while Crystal Palace Baltimore are a defunct feeder team for the South Londoners.
But there is no official link between the Liverpool FC who play their football near the river Mersey and the Liverpool FC who play their football near the river Plate. While the originators were formed in 1892, Liverpool Fútbol Club were founded in 1915. According to popular legend, the team was started by students at a school in Montevideo; when one searched a map of the UK for a suitable name, his teacher informed the lad that Liverpool was a thriving port city just like their own. Apparently that was enough to convince him.
It sounds like Premier League-level bullshit, but it's the only version of events we have. What we do know is that ships regularly sailed between Liverpool and Montevideo during this period, placing plenty of football-loving Scousers in the Uruguayan capital and making the choice of name quite natural.
But this was not a full copy-job. When one thinks of Liverpool and football, the color red inevitably comes to mind. Not in Montevideo, however. The Uruguayan club play in black and blue strips that are more reminiscent of Inter Milan than the Merseysiders, though red has been used for their away strip in the past.
Not to be outdone by their cross-city rivals, Everton also have a namesake club in South America. In fact, Everton de Viña del Mar pre-date Liverpool of Montevideo by six years. The club was founded in 1909 by a group of immigrants, led by David Foxley, with the theory going that the choice was inspired by the original Everton's tour of South America that same year.
Though initially known simply as Everton Football Club, they adopted their more regionally appropriate name in 1950. They also eschew the colours of their namesakes, turning out in kits that resemble those worn by Argentine giants Boca Juniors. In 2010 the two Evertons played each other for the first time, with the English version running out 2-0 winners at Goodison Park.
Burnley are plainly named after their home town, but they did not adopt their famous claret and blue strip until 1910. From their formation in 1882 until then, the team played in a variety of colors, including blue and white, claret and amber, and even a fetching pink and white combo. When they finally settled on claret and blue it was because of reigning league champions Aston Villa. Burnley hoped this would inspire them to similar feats and were rewarded 10 years later, when the newly nicknamed Clarets were crowned champions of England.
Burnley weren't the only ones to draw inspiration from the Midlands: when they were founded in 1905, South Londoners Crystal Palace also adopted claret and blue, wearing kits donated by the mighty Villa. Maverick manager Malcolm Allison transformed the club's image in the seventies, however, and the Eagles adopted the Barcelona-inspired blue and red stripes that they retain to this day.
But where did Barça get their inspiration? That is not entirely clear. One theory is that they adopted the color scheme used by Swiss side FC Basel, for whom founder Joan Gamper had previously played. There are various other explanations, with no single origin story agreed upon, making it difficult to call the Blaugrana true copycats.
What we can be sure of is that Barça have inspired several other clubs, most notably Barcelona SC of Ecuador. Based in Guayaquil, the team was founded in May 1925 by Spanish-born Eutimio Pérez, who named the new side after his hometown club. Their badge is also a near replica of Barça's, but the same can't be said for their kits. Though the Ecuadorian version have at times played in their Spanish cousins' traditional home and away colors, they now use a predominantly yellow home shirt that looks decidedly un-Barça.
Real Madrid have their fair share of imitators, too. Bolivian side Real Potosí share a name, colors and badge with Los Blancos, though what claim Potosí have to the Real suffix – which requires approval from the Spanish monarch – we're not sure. Still, it makes more sense than Real Salt Lake, who may or may not appreciate the irony of placing a word meaning "royal" in front of an American name. Leeds United are also said to have taken inspiration from Real when they changed their kit color in 1960, dropping their traditional yellow and blue in favor of the all-white design they still sport today. Sadly, Don Revie did not go so far as to rechristen the club Real Leeds, which would sound wonderful in a West Yorkshire brogue.
It is often said that Italian giants Juventus took inspiration for their iconic black and white striped shirts from Notts County, though the story is not entirely accurate. Founded in 1897, Juve originally played in pink, but after the shirts faded through continuous washing they asked one of their players to source a replacement. The man in question was English expat John Savage, who in 1903 ordered a new set of kits from his native Nottingham. Savage's contact was a Notts County fan, and so naturally the colors chosen were black and white stripes. This was not so much a case of imitation, but rather one County fanatic doing his bit to popularize the Magpies.
What we can say for certain is that Juve's colors have spread far and wide. So too has their name, which was originally derived from Juventas, the Roman goddess of youth and rejuvenation. As Italy's most successful side Juve enjoy a vast fan base, as well as plenty of detractors – a 2015 survey found that they were both the most popular and most hated club in Italy.
Firmly in the former camp are Adelaide City FC, who were founded in 1946 as Juventus and primarily followed by the local Italian population. They became Adelaide Juventus in 1966, before adopting their current name in 1977, though they retain the famous black and white kit and still use Juve as a nickname.
Just a year younger is the side now known as Brunswick Zebras FC, who were founded in 1948 as Brunswick Juventus. Like their Adelaide rivals the Brunswick side were created by Italian immigrants. In 1980 they became Brunswick United Juventus, before eventually going through a succession of name changes that led to their current moniker. They too retain the black and white kits, which are also reflected in their fondness for the noble zebra.
A more recent addition to the unofficial Juventus fan club are Tauro FC of Panama. The team was founded in 1984 by Giancarlo Gronchi, an Italian industrialist whose footballing allegiance lay with the Old Lady. Playing in Juve-inspired black and white stripes, Tauro have won 12 titles since 1989 – more, in fact, than their illustrious Italian cousins.
There are many others, including Venezuelan side Deportivo Táchira, who were founded as Juventus in San Cristóbal; Serie D club S.D.D. Massese; and the defunct Brazilian side Adap Galo Maringá. Some took the name, while all pinched the iconic black and white strip, meaning that Notts County's sartorial legacy stretches far beyond Turin.
Juve are not the only Italian side to inspire imitators. The defunct Canadian team most recently known as St. Catharines Wolves were formed in 1967 as Club Roma Soccer Association, and won a number of domestic titles during the seventies. Though they later switched to St. Catharines to reflect the local area, the badge remained a near carbon copy of AS Roma's and the side played in the same colors as I Giallorossi. In South America, Peruvian side Club Atlético Torino were founded in 1946, when the Turin outfit were perhaps the finest team in Europe. They play in the same maroon kit in homage to I Granata. And then there are the myriad five-a-side teams named in partial homage to Inter Milan – titans such as Inter Yer Nan, and those plucky triers at Inter Yer Sister.
We now switch our attention back to proper football clubs with Santos. As the team where both Pele and Neymar cut their teeth, the Brazilian giants have already given plenty to the world of football. What's more, they have inspired clubs in Costa Rica, Angola, Guyana and even Estonia, all of whom use the name many miles from its original home on the Brazilian coast.
With tangerine-coloured shirts and their dead giveaway of a name, you'd be forgiven for thinking Mighty Blackpool FC were the Lancashire seaside club suffering from extreme delusions of grandeur. Actually MBFC are based in Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone, and while it is on the coast it cannot boast illuminations, regular appearances by Roy 'Chubby' Brown, nor a brief dalliance with Paul Ince that ended via text message.
There is some sense behind the name, however: Mighty Blackpool was adopted in honor of the English club following the 1953 FA Cup Final in which Sir Stanley Matthews led the Tangerines to a 4-3 win over Bolton Wanderers. Six decades and 15 Sierra Leone National Premier League titles later they're still flying the orange flag, despite the chaos that has blighted Bloomfield Road in recent years. You can't help but admire their loyalty.
Notions of loyalty are currently being severely tested at Arsenal. Nevertheless, in the days before myriad #WengerOut and #InArseneWeTrust banners and lonely men shouting into the YouTube void, the Gunners were considered a worthy source of inspiration. Still, even they had to get their colors from somewhere. Shortly before the club turned professional in 1886, a group of former Nottingham Forest players joined the side (which was then known as Dial Square FC). They brought their old Forest shirts with them, and Arsenal decided that it would be economical to adopt the red kit as well. Penny-pinching at Arsenal – whatever next?
Since then the club have become the inspiration for many others. Portuguese side Braga are nicknamed Os Arsenalistas (the Arsenal fans) having changed their kit colors from green and white to red during the forties. There are two theories as to why they did so: it was either the work of their president, José Antunes Guimarães, who had become an Arsenal fan on his business trips to London; or because of their Hungarian coach, Josef Szabó, who so admired the Gunners' style of play that he asked for the kits to be changed.
Their local rivals Chelsea have plenty of admirers, too. Romanian side Unirea Urziceni took the nickname 'Chelsea of Urziceni' while former Blues defender Dan Petrescu was in charge. They even modified their badger to resemble the West London club's, but have since moved away from the fanboy look.
No such decorum at Berekum Chelsea, who shamelessly fly the blue flag in the Ghanaian top flight. Ghana is rich in copycat clubs: you'll also find Bolga Juventus, West Ham United and, perhaps most intriguingly of all, Sporting St. Mirren.
Most copycat clubs take their inspiration from the game's heavyweights. That there are a glut of teams calling themselves Juventus, Barcelona, Arsenal or Chelsea is no surprise given the global fame these sides have achieved. A few Scottish clubs have a made their mark too, hence South African club Bloemfontein Celtic.
But, at the risk of upsetting the fine people of Paisley, we feel compelled to state that St. Mirren are not a club with vast global significance. Yes, they have won the Renfrewshire Cup a record 55 times, but the Buddies do not compare with the giants of the Old Firm.
So where did the Ghanaian copycats come from? The name is apparently down to a Scotsman working in the country who co-founded the club, and naturally christened them after his own side. When the original St. Mirren discovered this they were flattered, and established a link between the two teams. Black and white kits were dispatched to Africa, though these are only used as away colours by the Ghanaian side, who have since tweaked their name to SP Mirren.
It represents one of the more bizarre cases, but taking your identity from another side is always going to seem a little strange. Flattering? Certainly, but the kind of flattery that is best kept at a safe distance. Otherwise, it might just come across as a bit creepy.