One of my closest friends at university was from Newcastle and was a big Newcastle fan.
I regularly heard people ask him, ‘why are Newcastle fans called the Toon Army?’
The answer itself is quite straightforward, but there is a bit of history behind it that hints at the city’s unique heritage.
So let’s find out the answer to the question, as well as the story behind some of the Toon Army’s other nicknames.
Why Are Newcastle Fans Called The Toon Army?
The ‘toon’ is how local people refer to the centre of Newcastle, saying they are heading down to the ‘toon’. The football club also happens to be based right in the centre of the city. It is a colloquialization that has stuck to the point it is has become a synonym for the city. The army part simply refers to Newcastle’s large and dedicated following.
Simply put ‘toon’ is the local dialect for the word ‘town’ in Newcastle.
In a similar vein, some Geordies (ie people from Newcastle) also pronounce the word down as ‘doon’.
So if a Geordie says they are “going doon toon”, it means they are going to the city centre.
Note Newcastle is actually a city not a town, but ‘toon’ is simply a reference to the city centre.
Over time this colloquialization lead to the football club being known as ‘The Toon’, and its fans ‘The Toon Army’.
To understand why many Geordies refer to the centre of their city as the ‘toon’ rather than the town, we need to delve into the history of the English language.
For some expert advice on the matter I will refer to Dr. Adam Mearns. He has the dual advantage of being both a lecturer on the History of English Language and doing so at Newcastle University.
He explains that as the English language developed, there was a word ‘tun’, which would have been pronounced ‘toon’, that referred to an enclosure, estate, farm or village.
It was from the word ‘tun’ that the present-day word town evolved.
So why does nearly all of England now say town, but Geordies say ‘toon’?
It is down to a period in history between the 14th and 17th centuries when there was a significant change in the way people pronounced their vowels.
This is referred to as ‘The Great Vowel Shift’ and Dr. Mearns takes up the story:
“One effect of this shift was that many words that had previously been pronounced with an ‘oo’ sound came to be pronounced with the ‘ow’ sound we hear in present-day house, now, cow and town.
“Although the Great Vowel Shift affected most accents of English, some areas remained unaffected. In Scotland, for example, and in the north of England many people would still have been saying ‘hoose’ for house and ‘toon’ for town.”
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Dr. Mearns clarifies that even for people in Newcastle accents have changed, for instance if they were talking about towns in other parts of the country they wouldn’t refer to them as the ‘toon’.
But the tradition of calling its own city centre the ‘toon’ is so strong it has literally become a synonym for the city itself. And slap bang in the middle of the ‘toon’ is the football club.
That is why Newcastle is ‘The Toon’.
As to when the Army prefix was added to refer to its supporters is open to conjecture, but there are some who say it originated in the late 60s through to mid-70s.
During this period the club had a relative amount of success, making one European final, an FA Cup Final and a League Cup Final.
For the two domestic finals, fans descended on mass to Wembley which lead some newspapers to declare that the Toon Army was in town.
Why are Newcastle Fans Called Magpies?
Whilst the Toon is how many people from Newcastle refer to their club, its official nickname is the Magpies.
So occasionally you will hear Newcastle fans referred to as Magpies.
This is all down to the club’s iconic black and white kit, the same colourings as a magpie.
The club has worn the colours for almost the entirety of its history as Newcastle United, which was officially founded in 1892.
The foundations of the club were laid 11 years prior to that when two separate teams competed in the city, Newcastle West End and Newcastle East End.
They were direct rivals in the Northern League, however by 1889 they had contrasting fortunes.
Newcastle East End was a professional team and a limited company, whilst Newcastle West End was struggling both on the pitch and financially.
In 1892 Newcastle West End was dissolved, many of its players and staff joined Newcastle East End and the club was renamed Newcastle United.
From 1892 to 1894 the club wore red shirts, white shorts and red socks.
In 1894 it changed to the black and white stripes it is now famous for and they have remained the club colours ever since.
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What Else Are Newcastle United Supporters Called?
No doubt you have heard people from Newcastle referred to as Geordies, but you might not know where it comes from.
There seem to be two main theories:
#1: It is Because of Their Support For King George II
The first theory is that the people of Newcastle were crucial in winning a battle against the invading Scottish Jacobites in 1745.
The Jacobites wanted King George II ousted from the throne and replaced by Bonnie Prince Charlie.
The people of Newcastle were in support of King George II and fought in his name. This show of support lead to them being dubbed ‘Geordies’, a derivation of the name George.
#2: It Was After George Stephenson
For much of the 18th, 19th and even 20th centuries the area around Newcastle played home to numerous coal mines, making the industry an important part of the city’s history.
One of the leading inventors and engineers in the 19th century was George Stephenson, who was from the North-East and was nicknamed ‘Geordie’.
Stephenson invented a safe lamp for miners to use that replaced the naked flames that previously had been in favour.
The lamp became known as the Geordie Lamp and was used specifically in the North East, instead of Davy Lamps which were used elsewhere in the country.
Stephenson also invented the first locomotive and became known as the ‘Father of Railways’.
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So if you have been wondering why Newcastle fans are called the Toon Army, there you have it!
‘Toon’ is simply a colloquialization that has become commonplace to refer to the centre of the city of Newcastle, where the football club is located.
People will say there are going down to the toon.
The army part is simply a reference to the large following that supported the club through thick and thin.
You might also hear Newcastle fans being called Magpies, which is due to the club’s iconic magpie-styled black and white kit.
Then of course they are also known as Geordies, which is most likely down to age-old support for King George II or after one of the region’s most famous sons, George Stephenson.