Offside, 4 December
The 'football chant laureate' competition is deaf to the creativity of the terraces.
‘Football chanting is a modern-day art form’, says a spokesman for Barclaycard, which has launched a competition to find a ‘football chant laureate’. Andrew Motion, the poet laureate, will head the quest to find a terrace poet who can ‘create witty, insightful, rousing, and original chants that reflect the pride and passion of the game’.
Like local authority community murals or school rapping contests, it’s a racing certainty that officially sanctioned terrace chants are going to be pretty dismal. Indeed a competition spokesperson has already confirmed that contestants ‘are not allowed to use obscenities’. Yet a terrace chant without obscenity is pretty much an oxymoron. The whole point of football chants is to offend, upset, ridicule, and goad the opposition.
One of the most common terrace themes is sex or, to be more precise, the making of unfounded and usually slanderous accusations about the sexual predilections of one’s opponents. It is, for example, customary to greet visitors from Wales or rural towns with a chorus of ‘sheep, sheep, sheep shaggers’. Chelsea fans have developed the theme by altering the words to Men of Harlech: ‘Ian Rush fucks his mother, Ian Rush fucks his brother, All the Welshmen fuck each other, Fuck off back to Wales.’ Crude but effective.
Vulgarities about a footballer’s wife or girlfriend are also common. When David Beckham started dating Posh Spice opposing fans chanted: ‘Does she take it up the arse?’ There are numerous Posh and Becks adaptations of that old Cockney knees-up My Old Man’s a Dustman. Spurs fan, for example, sing: ‘Posh Spice is a slapper, She wears a Wonderbra, And when she’s shagging Beckham, She thinks of Gin-o-la.’ Supporters of other clubs replace Ginola’s name with, for example, Harry Kewell (Leeds – now Liverpool) and, more implausibly, Brett Ormerod (Southampton).
The north-south divide has also inspired numerous football songs. During the 1980s southern fans used to wave bank notes at visiting northerners chanting ‘Loadsa, loadsa money’. Liverpool fans have long been taunted with a charming adaptation of the folksong In My Liverpool Home: ‘In your Liverpool slums, in your Liverpool slums, Your mum’s on the game and your dad’s in the nick, You can’t get a job ‘cos you’re too fucking thick, In your Liverpool slums.’ During the heyday of Live Aid in the mid-1980s, Liverpool fans were serenaded with choruses of ‘Feed the Scousers, Do they know it’s Christmas Time?’. Football fans are commonly portrayed as yobs, but these songs reveal their sensitivity to the problems of social deprivation.
Even fans of AFC Wimbledon of the lowly Combined Counties League see fit to brag about their relative affluence. ‘We drink champagne, We snort cocaine, We’ve got ladies over here, You’ve got shit jobs, You shag your dogs, And your wife is on the game’, they chant at small-town opponents from the Surrey commuter belt.
Football fans can generally take their insults well, but some chants touch a raw nerve, particularly those celebrating other people’s tragedies. Fulham supporters bait their west London rivals Chelsea with a song about former benefactor Matthew Harding who died in a helicopter crash: ‘Blue is the colour, football is the game, Poor old Matthew Harding, Should have caught the train.’
Manchester United fans take particular umbrage at songs about the Munich air crash. One of the most popular is sung to the tune of Ally’s Army: ‘Who’s that dying on the runway? Who’s that dying in the snow? It’s Matt Busby and his boys, Making all the fucking noise, ‘Cause they can’t get the aeroplane to go.’ United supporters are themselves capable of dishing out the tasteless taunts. For example, they like to remind Leeds supporters that two of their fans were stabbed to death in Istanbul by singing: ‘Always look out for Turks wielding knives’ (to the tune of Always look on the bright side of life).
No subject is taboo for a terrace sing-along. When the recent allegations about a gang rape involving several Premiership footballers surfaced, the team at the centre of the rumours was subjected to chants of ‘You couldn’t score in a gang rape’. When Stockport County visited Selhurst Park a couple of years ago Palace supporters chanted ‘Did the doctor kill your mum?’ – a reference to serial killer Dr Harold Shipman. This season Manchester United signed American goalkeeper Tim Howard, who suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome. United fans, with admirable disregard for PC etiquette, have taken to saluting their new shot stopper by singing: ‘We’ve got Timmy Tourette’s in our nets, Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off.’
The 1970s spawned numerous songs celebrating terrace violence. These are now rarely sung as hooliganism has largely disappeared. Most of these chants were just plain nasty, but there is one particular ditty, an adaptation of Chuck Berry’s My Ding-a-Ling, that still makes me chuckle: ‘When I was just a little boy, My father bought me my favourite toy, A [insert rival team] fan on a piece of string, and told me to kick his fucking head in, Fucking head in, fucking head in, He told me to kick his fucking head in.’
I’m pretty sure that none of the chants I’ve mentioned will be acceptable to Andrew Motion. ‘I take my young sons to Arsenal sometimes and there have been times when we have been a bit taken aback by the chanting’, he said. (I’m surprised he heard any chanting at Highbury the Library, apart from the occasional chorus of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot). A football chant laureate who is not allowed to be vulgar nor offensive? What’s that all about? Maybe someone should kick his fucking head in.
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