Football chants: you only sing when you’re winning

often lacking rhyme and reason, tom looks at the evolution of football chants. just in time for euro 2012 too.

Here it is again – that time of year when our sceptred isle places its hopes and dreams on 11 men, a piece of leather, and a coach who wouldn’t look out of place on the touchline of a pub league match…circa 1972. Lets be frank, for the average England fan, Euro 2012 promises to be a veritable orgy of, well… disappointment, shame, and failure. However, we thought it was the perfect time to take a closer look at the relationship music shares with the (not so) beautiful game, if only to take your mind off the horrors transpiring in eastern Europe this summer.

UEFA’s somewhat bizarre Carribean take on the European Championships.

The organisers of this year’s championships have chosen this upbeat and summery number by german singer Oceana as the soundtrack to a tournament jointly hosted by Poland and Ukraine – both countries of course renowned for their tropical climates and pristine beaches. We’re predicting with some confidence that “Endless Summer” won’t become a terrace favourite.

World in Motion is everything and more one could ask of a football song. Piano house riffs, Bernard Sumner in shades, and THAT rap by John Barnes.

However, why does music have such a strong influence on crowd culture and what is it that makes a great football song? When I go to a football match, I go to experience the atmosphere in the stadium: shouting abuse at rubbish players, consuming some kind of pie-like matter at half time, and invariably (and often to the embarrassment of my buddies) singing until my throat is as raw as the aforementioned pie filling.

The best songs at these matches are the ones everyone knows the words to, learned on rainy afternoons away to Woking with the father. But I’ve always wondered exactly why and when these songs enter the collective crowd consciousness, and what effect it has on the culture of a football club. Take “You’ll Never Walk Alone” for instance. Whether or not you think Liverpool fans are (disclaimer: in general) a pack of dewy-eyed clods trading on past glories, there can be no doubt that their rendition of the Gerry and the Pacemakers hit creates a sense of awe unseen anywhere else in the sporting world.

“Shanks was in awe of what he heard. Football writers from the local newspapers were travelling with our party and, thirsty for a story of any kind between games, filed copy back to their editors to the effect that we had adopted Gerry Marsden’s forthcoming single as the club song.” – former Liverpool battleaxe, Tommy Smith on “You’ll Never Walk Alone”

Obviously, that song became part of the club’s identity, with its lyrics adorning the shankly gates and badge. However, it’s also sung by fans the world over (Celtic, St.Pauli and Feyenoord to name a few) which does suggest that there might be a standard, or even an archetype for the football chant.
On closer inspection, these songs do appear to hark from a markedly bygone age, with tunes like “Que Sera, Sera” (1956)  and “I Shall Not Be Moved” (the slave era) providing supporters with melodic templates from which they might adapt their own unique lyrics. However, there are some anomalies:  “Gigg’s will tear you apart”, plainly borrowed from the Joy Division number, and the increasing popularity of “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes (I’d like to know why this seems to be exclusive to the continent as a post goal song!). Perhaps it is that modern pop music doesn’t provide us with the same means to heckle and jeer from the safety of row Z as older numbers do.

One thing can be said, though: Music, and specifically, chanting at football matches creates an autonomous identity for fans to gather around in order to root for their team and to make the match day event truly their own. Perhaps singing at matches simply provides a chance to expel frustration after the 9-5 slog. However, there’s definitely something incredibly inspiring about listening to thousands of people singing in unison for a single cause, and is testament to our ability to self organise apart from the mainstream, even if it is only at rainy weekends away at Stoke. No matter what you’re singing on the terraces, supporters can all agree that you dont just sing when you’re winning.

Here are our top 5 football songs of all time:

5) Ossie’s Dream – Tottingham Hotspur with Chas & Dave

This makes the list purely because of the few seconds of pure joy at 1:56.

4) All of You are Gays – Olympiakos Fans

Wonderful stuff.

3) Badiel, Skinner and the Lightning Seeds – Three Lions 

Seaman’s kit, Gascoigne’s celebration, that goal by Poborsky, trying to recreate Davor Suker’s chip in the plaground, and this was the soundtrack. We wish it was still 1996.

2) Kevin Keegan – Head Over Heels In Love

We’re head over heels in love with those flares. Keegan – always a babe.

1) Paul Gascoigne – Geordie Boys. 

Surely this 1991 hit by Paul Gascoigne cannot be topped. We are of the opinion that football music has been on an irreversable downward trend since this number about a geordie and his boys.

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