Why Are Norwich Called The Canaries? (Explained)

Canary on branch

Do you ever stop and think about how some football clubs got their nicknames?

Whilst some seem fairly obvious, there are some that don’t seem to make any logical sense at all.

Until you learn a bit about the history of the club or the region it is from.

That is definitely the case with Norwich.

Why are Norwich called the Canaries?

Let’s find out…

Why Are Norwich Called The Canaries?

Norwich’s nickname of the Canaries began when a number of families from Belgium and Holland fled to Norwich to seek refuge from religious persecution they were suffering in their own countries in the 16th Century. Canary breeding was popular in Belgium and Holland at this time and they brought with them their pet canaries. This was introduced to Norwich and became more and more popular, to the point that by 1900 the city was the canary breeding centre of the world.

Two men wearing retro football inspired t shirts with text in between them

The Arrival of The Strangers

Although Norwich City Football Club was formed in 1902, to gain an understanding of its nickname you have to go way back to the 16th century.

At that time thousands of Protestants living in the ‘Low Countries’ (Belgium and Holland), were being persecuted by the Spanish for being Protestant.

Eyeing up an opportunity to revive the city’s ailing weaving industry, the Mayor of Norwich initially invited 25 families from the area to resettle in Norwich. They became known as The Strangers.

At that time many people from the Low Countries had canaries as pets. This was a result of sailors arriving back from the Canary Islands with finches in cages. Canary breeding was very popular in that region.

The incoming refugees brought their pet canaries with them to Norwich, setting in action a chain of events that would eventually end in the football club adopting the nickname 400 years later.

Within a few years, the Strangers accounted for around a third of the city’s population, and whilst their population grew, so did canary breeding.

Their love of the bird meant that by the 18th century the city was a hotbed for the pastime.

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So much so that the breed became known as the Norwich Canary, and by 1850 it was the leading exhibition variety in the country.

By the beginning of the 20th Century, when the football club was founded, Norwich canaries were being exported all over the world.

In fact, the Mackly brothers, one of the leading family breeders in the city, were said to be sending 3,000 canaries at a time to New York!

By 1900 it was estimated there were around 40 caged bird societies, encompassing 3,000 breeders, based in pubs around the city.

Birds cost anything between 4 shillings (20p) and 7s/6d (37p) per pair.

The flourishing industry took a severe blow in the Great Flood of 1912 which brought turmoil to 15,000 people in Norwich.

But it never died out completely, and continues in the city to this very day.

From the Cits to the Canaries

Even though Norwich City FC was founded in 1902, at the height of the city’s passion for canary breeding, they weren’t immediately known as the Canaries.

Initially the club was known as the Citizens or the Cits, with the first link between the football club and the popular pastime in the city, being made by the club’s first-ever manager John Bowman.

“Well I knew of the City’s existence… I have… heard of the canaries”, he said in an interview with the Eastern Daily Press just after his appointment in April 1905.

For the first five years of their history, Norwich played in blue and white shirts. By 1907 however, the nickname of the Canaries was being used more and more frequently.

An FA Cup match against West Bromwich Albion in February 1907 was billed as the battle of the birds, the Throstles (West Brom’s initial nickname) against the Canaries.

At the start of the 1907/08 season, in recognition of the increasing popularity of the nickname Norwich played for the first time in their now-famous yellow shirts, with green collars and cuffs.

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That led to one local paper proclaiming:  ‘The Cits are dead but the Canaries are very much alive’.

Yellow and green has remained the club’s first choice colours ever since, with the exception of a brief spell from 1923 to 1927 when they wore white.

The club’s new yellow and green kit for the 1907/08 season also had a canary embroidered onto the left breast. It was unusual for a team to sport any kind of crest at this time.

It appeared and disappeared a few times over the years, before taking pride of place in the club’s first-ever official badge adopted in 1922.

This came just after the club had joined the Football League’s newly formed Third Division in August 1920.

Since then, the club has had many ups and downs, but the one thing that has endured is its famous link with the tiny bird.

It is a legacy that could never have been foreseen by the Flemish migrants when they settled in the city back in the 16th century!

Final Thoughts

Why Are Norwich Called the Canaries infographic
Click infographic to enlarge.

Hopefully, this gives you a bit of an insight into why Norwich are called the Canaries.

It all started with settlers from Belgium and Holland arriving with their pet canaries back in the 16th century.

Very soon the city became the canary breeding centre of the world, and the bird was inextricably linked with Norwich.

Within a few years of its formation, the football club had adopted it as its nickname, its badge and its kit colours.

And now if you ever pay a visit to Norwich you will see canary references everywhere, from pubs to barbers to kebab shops!

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