Book of the week: ‘Dirty Northern B*st*rds!’: Britain’s Football Chants by Tim Marshall

Famous choruses on the terraces are well-known, but where have they come from?

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The Independent Online

You might think twice before brandishing the cover on, say, a Manchester tram. However, if challenged, you could swiftly display the back cover, which in the spirit of even-handedness reads “Soft Southern B*st*rds!”

In fact, in this light-hearted but well-researched history of the chants and ditties espoused by football crowds Tim Marshall exposes the North/South divide as a tribal myth when it comes to the hard men of the game. Nobody regarded Chelsea’s Ron “Chopper” Harris as a softie, while “dirty” was a word rarely used to describe the sparkling skills of Merseyside heroes such as Peter Beardsley or John Barnes.

Acknowledging that choruses of “You’re s*** and you know you are” or “The referee’s a w*****” are hardly Wildean shafts of wit, Marshall prefers to highlight the more amusing variations. When the Turkish side Galatasaray visited Stamford Bridge they were greeted with “You’re shish and you know you are”, while as Mark Clattenburg was being treated on the pitch for an injury he was regaled with “You’re not fit to be a referee” from Arsenal fans.

Foreigners have always been regarded as fair game. The buck-toothed Brazilian Ronaldinho might have been puzzled when told by the Anfield faithful that “Cilla wants her teeth back”, but the increasingly rotund Dane Jan Molby probably understood only too well the injunction to “Get your tits out for the lads” as he warmed up on the touchline.

For the historically minded, Marshall has tracked down the often obscure reasons behind the adoption of songs as anthems, including “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” and “Ten Men Went To Mow” at Anfield, Upton Park and Stamford Bridge respectively. In an age of change, most fans stick stubbornly to their traditions. And that’s worth singing about.

Published in paperback by  Elliott & Thompson, £8.99