Leeds Days and Dundee.

A correspondent sent me a pair of soccer-related language stories:

1) Stuart James in The Athletic (NY Times; archived [scroll down past “Manage privacy preferences” popup]) explains that tens of millions of people in South Korea use the expression “Leeds Days” to describe their heyday:

As crazy as it sounds, those two words — “Leeds Days” — are ingrained in the Korean language, all over Instagram and YouTube, and referenced by people who in the vast majority of cases have no interest in football, let alone any knowledge of a club based in Yorkshire, on the other side of the world, or the blond-haired English striker who is inadvertently responsible for the phrase. […]

Sungmo Lee, a football reporter from South Korea, smiles. “In Korea, ‘Leeds Days’ means in your prime, the best ever time,” he says. “It came from the player from Leeds, Alan Smith. He was very good at Leeds but he was not that good at Manchester United, so from that time people started to use that expression. And now it’s used in other areas as well. Even people who don’t know anything about Leeds, they know this expression.” […]

Park In-wook smiles. “Obviously older generations have no idea what that expression means. But quite a lot of people who don’t even watch football, know.” Presumably, though, they won’t know the origin of it? “No,” Park In-wook replies, laughing. “They would have no idea about ‘Leeds’ – it’s just some foreign word to them.”

The Korean phrase is “Lijeu Sijeol” or rijeu sijeol (리즈 시절). There’s lots more, including images, at the link.

2) Liam Kirkaldy, “The unlikely story of how ‘Dundee United’ became an insult in Nigeria” (archived):

It is an upsetting thing to think about, for a United fan. This is a country of over 200 million people and they have apparently been using Dundee United as a byword for a fool for years. Why would they do this?

It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s true. As Yewande, a Nigerian-Scot based in Glasgow, explains: “When I was little, living in Nigeria, it was quite common. People would say ‘you’re just a Dundee United’, or ‘don’t be a Dundee United’, and it basically means an idiot or a loser.” […]

In fact, while the full phrase is “Dundee United”, it seems time and repeated use has seen it worn down to just “Dundee” on occasion. In other contexts, a “Dundee” can be used to refer to one idiot, while ‘Dundee United’ has become the plural, for a collection of idiots. That means that, even if the Dens Park theory is right, it would seem to have backfired.

Fatima, a Nigerian-Scot based in Aberdeen, explains: “A ‘Dundee’ is quite a common phrase in the north [of Nigeria]. I heard it a few times from relatives. If a wee kid was misbehaving or something, or someone does something really stupid, you’d say “Dundee”, sometimes followed by the word “mumu” which really just means the same thing. But because of the way it is pronounced I hadn’t thought of Dundee, the city in Scotland. I knew the phrase but never made that connection at all.”

For the history, which goes back to “a two-week period, between the end of May and the start of June, 1972, and a disastrous club tour of West Africa,” you’ll have to visit the link.


  1. Amazing that no one notices that “Dundee” sounds rather similar to quite a few synonyms for idiot: “dummy,” “dunce,” “dunderhead.”

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    “Dunce” and “Dundee” may in fact be connected: the first element of “Dundee” is Dùn “fort”, and while I can find no etymology for the name of the village of Duns (whence the name of John Duns Scotus, no dunce he), it’s An Dùn in Gaelic.

    Perhaps more to the point, Newman’s dictionary says that dàndi in Hausa means “roaming about leading a loose carefree life, vagabondage.” (I’m struck by the localisation of this supposed “Dundee” to the north of Nigeria: why would it be specifically northern?)

  3. This led me to learn about The Rough Wooing, which handily wins over The Emergency and The Troubles, as Celtic understatements go.

  4. Korean Wikipedia has an article that suggests an origin in one named Internet faction mocking another.

    The details are beyond Google translate but it seems the Leeds catchphrase replaced an earlier one namechecking Alan Smith . Which calls to mind the case of Italian anarchists adopting the nom de guerre Luther Blissett, after an English player who had one disastrous season in Italy in the 80s.

  5. To summarize the origin story given by the Korean Wikipedia article, some users of an internet forum (or ‘internet café’ as they were known in Korean) called I Love Soccer left some comments in a discussion about Alan Smith’s position change at Manchester United which included the expression 앨런 스미스 리즈 시절 ㅎㄷㄷ Aelleon Seumiseu Rijeu sijeol h.d.d. which translates to ‘Alan Smith’s Leeds era’ followed by the internet shorthand for 후덜덜 hudeoldeol, an ideophone expressing shaking or trembling used for something that gives you chills.

    In the early 2000s, it was difficult for viewers in Korea to watch much of the English Premier League, so such comments playing up Smith’s play while at Leeds United (which was decent but not earth-shattering) were perceived to have been based on looking at statistics rather than watching actual matches. So the shortened expression ‘Leeds era’ was taken up by a rival internet forum (or ‘gallery’) called DC Inside (originally focusing on digital cameras) as a way to mock I Love Soccer members. It took off afterwards to mean ‘heyday’ online, but its origin lay in the mockery of a rival online community.

    I do remember the expression becoming a bit of a meme on Korean internet at the time when Alan Smith was struggling at Manchester United, but I was not active in either forum so I cannot corroborate this origin story.

  6. no one notices that “Dundee” …

    Within the UK, Dundee would be at least famous for its Cake as its Soccer. The Scottish league includes Dunfermline, the Irish Dundalk. And plenty more Dùn “fort”-prefixed towns (including a heartbreaking mass shooting, about which no-one would make light). Dún Laoghaire would be well known to many holidaymakers and migrants for the Holyhead Ferry. So no, I don’t think anybody ‘hears’ an echo of dun-ce.

    Oh, there’s also those wall plaques to give your residence a cutesy name: “Dunroamin'”.

    We’d better not get into Dunning letters nor Dunning-Kruger effect.

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