You'll never sing alone...
Thursday 08 January 1998
Go to a pub within half a mile of a football ground this Saturday and the chances are you will meet one ... a Tim Rice of the terraces is what he aspires to but you and I would probably regard him as a loud, untuneful and intrusive nuisance.
Impromptu outpourings of terrace wit are rare. Normally they are the ramblings dragged from behind a curtain laced with alcohol. Someone will re-arrange the lyrics of a well-known tune, belt it out in public, and it strikes a chord if not the chord. Next thing the ditty has been picked up and carried to the match.
It surely required several stiff ones for someone at Brighton to convert "No Limits" by 2 Unlimited into "No, No, No, No, No No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, Nogan" in praise of Kurt Nogan, while Jack Straw probably ought to be sending his finest to investigate what the author was on when Notts County's "I had a wheelbarrow, the wheel fell off" (repeated ad nauseam to the tune of "On Top of Old Smokey") was composed.
Why do some catch on and others swiftly fade away? Some supporters stay faithful to an original song, Stoke City's supporters and Tom Jones' "Delilah", for example, but most are concoctions that do not necessarily rhyme but somehow find the target.
The current vogue, "Meat Pies, Sausage Rolls", which is being promulgated as the England answer to "Nessun Dorma" for the World Cup finals this summer, began life as an off-the-cuff improvisation on Manchester's independent radio station Key 103. You don't know it? You will, believe me, you will.
A comedian, Smug Roberts, dragged an ancient Oldham Athletic anthem, "Who's ate all our pies?" from disregarded memory banks. He broke into, "Meat pies, sausage rolls, come on Oldham give us a goal" and a phenomenon was born. It was sold out at the club shop last week and supporters sang it at Cardiff on Saturday.
Next stop the charts and unless someone has the business acumen to quickly record "Stand Up If You Hate Man U", the chances it are it will hit the top.
If all this suggests football chants have the enduring quality of a politician's promise, well, for the most part it is true. But there are some terrace hymns with a rich heritage, worthy relics of social history and one semi- academic study by the wonderfully named Adrian Thrills will be published in the near future.
"You'll Never Walk Alone" is as much a part of Merseyside as the Liver Building while "Good Old Sussex By The Sea", which Brighton supporters sing, was first sung at the departed Goldstone Ground by soldiers of the Royal Sussex regiment going to almost certain death on the Western Front.
Nearly 30 years after Matt Busby stopped being manager, Manchester United supporters still break into their version of "Blaydon Races" which includes the words "To see Matt Busby's aces" and refers to walking down Warwick Road - long re-christened Sir Matt Busby Way.
Busby, manager at Old Trafford from 1945 to 1969, was present when chanting moved from being a rarity to the raucous norm. There were exceptions, including Norwich's "On The Ball City" which was adopted as the club song at the turn of the century and is regarded as the oldest football chant still in current use, but in the main crowds came to stand and cheer rather than sing until the 1960s.
Then came The Beatles and songs that were simple and tuneful enough for the terraces, particularly at Liverpool and Everton who rightly regarded the Fab Four as their own. For a while rival fans would happily sing "She Loves You" together but once the possibilities of thousands singing in one voice were realised, the descent into tribal obscenities came quickly.
The brilliant originality of the Kop, whose wit was never better exhibited than when they broke into "Careless Hands" after Leeds United's Gary Sprake threw into his own net, became empty and violent banalities usually involving heads being kicked in.
Euro '96 and "Three Lions" was the most obvious and thankful departure from the nihilistic Seventies and Eighties although an undercurrent of threat still exists and clubs have countered it, at least pre-match and half-time, by choreographing chants with ear-piercingly loud PA systems. Most are naff but the worst is probably Manchester United's, whose segue of terrace tunes put to a disco beat is enough to make any music lover feel violent.
Even supporters have sold out to commercialism and most big clubs have collections of songs on CD composed by their followers. There are still chants to make you smile but they are rarer. United's fans sing "Ooh, Aah, Brian McClair" in a ironic throwback to the Cantona years to an ageing player who hardly ever starts a match. Sheffield Wednesday's hordes began humming the theme tune to The Great Escape as they were being annihilated 6-1 at Old Trafford two months ago.
Such spontaneity is a dying art. Perhaps we ought to be more tolerant of the apparent drunken village idiot belting out new words to a loved tune. At least he is trying to be inventive and in a week or so you could be joining in at your next home game.
Chants would be a fine thing. A random top ten
You'll Never walk alone: Liverpool (From the Gerry and the Pacemakers number one hit of 1963).
Blue Moon: ( You saw me standing alone/Without a dream in my heart) Manchester City. From The Marcels hit of 1963. Matches the shirt, suits the mood.
I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles: West Ham United (Originally a hit in the 1920s, first sung 1926)
Greasy Chip Butty: Sheffield United (John Denver, Annie's Song, 1974).
Marching On Together: Leeds United (FA Cup Single B-Side 1972). Fans seem to forget the A-Side.
Delilah: Stoke City (Tom Jones hit of 1966. But why?).
It's up to you Dwight Yorke Dwight Yorke: Aston Villa (Frank Sinatra: "New York, New York"). Completely irrelevant apart from the title.
Cheer up Peter Reid; Sunderland (Monkees, "Daydream Believer", 1967). Adopted to ease the manager's stress levels in the build-up to promotion.
Phillipe, Phillipe Albert: Newcastle (Rupert the Bear theme). In honour of moustachioed Belgian defender.
We're going to burn your books and bicycles: by teams playing away at Oxford United ("I've Got a Brand New Combine Harvester", a big hit for The Wurzels in 1973.)
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