Football: Music for the supporters' ears: Football songs will be back this Saturday. Henry Winter looks at the diversity of terrace ditties

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THE closed-season for open mouths ends on Saturday - Football Songs Are Back, Hello. After a summer of lame shouts like 'Lancashire, la, la, la' and 'In The Hole', the public deserves a decent sing-song. And they are going to get it: from the manic Ayatollah at Cardiff to Aida at Hillsborough, from Delilah in the Potteries to Rovers' Irene. No other country or sport can compete with the history, diversity and intensity of Britain's terrace tunes.

Apart from a few moronic mantras of the 'Here We Go' variety, football's song catalogue is a well-stocked, two-tiered hit parade. The lower level includes music that appears unconnected to the game. Such surprise packages include the 'Do The Ayatollah' song and dance at Ninian Park (origins: 'to worship the club's saviour, Rick Wright'), Stoke's 'Delilah', Bristol Rovers' 'Good Night Irene', and Sheffield Wednesday's 'Triumphal March' by Verdi. No tune is sacrosanct: Grimsby fans serenade stadiums with 'Meet the gang, cos the boys are here; The boys to entertain you' from It Ain't Half Hot, Mum.

Any obscene chants can be faded out by television producers. Many concerned fans fear the fading will happen naturally, as all-seater stadia tame packed congregations. But the decibel level at Old Trafford appears undiminished while Ibrox is widely considered one of the world's most raucous arenas. 'Just listen to Rangers,' Steve Beauchampe, the Football Supporters' Association's international officer, said. 'They are all seated but make an amazing noise.'

The real volume emanates from the most popular type of chant in the directory of ditties: those rooted in football - like Orient's response to a subtle kit change - 'Peter Eustace's Red, White And Black (with a yellow number on the back) Army'. Any event can elicit a response: when an XXL figure started banging them in for Coventry City, Sky Blue fans awarded him his own chant: 'He's fat, he's round, he scores at every ground, Micky Quinn'.

Highfield humour (they also do a neat version of 'Twist and Shout') is matched by the majesty of Manchester United's singing, particularly about Ryan Giggs, whose irrepressible rise has prompted a reworking of that old football staple, 'Robin Hood': 'Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs, running down the wing; Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs, running down the wing; Feared by the Blues, loved by the Reds; Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs'. This is accompanied by a Wayne's World-style 'We Are Not Worthy' genuflecting when the teenager takes a corner.

Giggs has a rival: Newcastle United's Robert Lee. A new Toon tune also carries a Lincoln-green lilt as the Gallowgate lauds two potential England talents, Lee and Andy Cole: 'Robert Lee, Robert Lee, running down the wing; Robert Lee, Robert Lee, beating all the team; Crosses the ball; Cole scores a goal; Robert Lee, Robert Lee, Robert Lee.' Banal in print, but not when the 30,000-strong Toon Army breathes life into it. When Newcastle are really flying St James' reverberates to 'Kevin Keegan's black-and-white hair'. 'It's because Kev's hair's gone Geordie,' Phil Mitchell, a director of Tyneside's Kitchenware Records, said.

Individual adulation can vary. Chelsea's 'Gareth Hall is a Midfield Genius' was awash with irony for their out-of-position full-back.

The Premiership may have the premier players, but not necessarily the leading lyricists. Gary Bellamy, a Worksop-born stopper with Second Division Orient, is blessed with a pre- match personal salute: 'Bellamy, Bellamy, Gary Bellamy; He looks so flash, in his Northern 'tash; Gary Bellamy'. Not all these outpourings are created or rehearsed in advance: some are instinctive, transferring within minutes from the imagination of one wag to a whole terrace. 'It's usually the simple chants that happen this way,' Ian MacPherson, of the Independent Arsenal Supporters' Association, said.

When his side last met West Ham, the Hammers were going down and in dispute with the club's owners. 'Sack The Board' came the Chicken Run demand as West Ham went 2-0 down. 'Sack the team' the visitors suggested immediately.

To this whole new ballad game, Arsenal have contributed a ditty that may briefly haunt Tottenham; the Gooners found a harmony in Spurs' boardroom disharmony with 'A spoonful of Sugar makes the Venables go down'. Elsewhere, Newcastle's taunting of their rivals includes the bizarre 'Wheese Keese Are These' ('to be sung in a ridiculous Sunderland accent while waving your keys at the 'Mackems',' Mitchell explained).

The unseemly side of such rivalries was displayed despicably before Saturday's Charity Shield. An Arsenal fan singing 'Always look on the runway for ice', a sick reference to the Munich air disaster set to the tune of 'Always look on the bright side of life', was saved from a beating by police intervention.

United are no strangers to smear campaigns. Manchester's second team take a predictable pounding from the Reds, such as 'City is our name, City is our name; 16 years, and won f*** all; City is our name'. The Kippax's discomfiture (alleviated only by an uplifting rendition of 'Blue Moon') is exacerbated by their neighbours' success, best summed up by this 1991 Euro offering: 'Drink, drink, wherever you may be; We are the drunk and disorderly; And we don't give a s**t, and we don't give a f**k; Cos we came home with the Cup-Winners' Cup'.

To celebrate May's championship United turned to that rarity in British football, a song with foreign words - 'Campeones, Campeones'.

'It's unusual. The tendency is for Italians to take tunes from Britain and not vice-versa,' Giancarlo Rinaldi, the Dumfries-dwelling editor of the Serie A fanzine, Rigore, said. 'Beatles songs are popular, like 'Yellow Submarine'. Fans just slot in 'Rossoneri' (Milan) or 'Nerrazurri' (Internazionale).'

West Ham, at least, found inspiration in the Anglo-Italian trophy: 'We are mad, we are crazy; We are going to Cremonese'. The catalogue grows.