Offside, 13 May
The chant laureate is shit, and he knows he is.
A few months ago I wrote about the risible competition to find a football chant laureate (1). This week a 37-year-old ‘self-employed solicitor’ called Jonny Hurst was crowned chant laureate.
There were 1500 entries to the competition – according to poet laureate Andrew Motion who chaired the judging panel, these ranged ‘from the brisk and simple, through the comic and curious, to the elaborate and heartfelt’. Liverpool fans, renowned for their sharp wit and penchant for car crime, submitted more applications than fans of any other club. But despite 415 Scouse entries the competition was won by a Brummie. Nevertheless, it’s good to see that all those adult literacy classes are starting to bear fruit on Merseyside.
‘What we felt we were tapping into was a huge reservoir of folk poetry’, said Andrew Motion. Folk poetry my arse! The very concept of folk poetry should be filed alongside ‘graffiti art’ and ‘working-class ballet’ as yet another worthy but patronising attempt to project spurious artistic merit on to working-class self-expression. A football chant is no more poetry than me singing in the bath is opera. It’s the context rather than the inherent lyricism that makes a well-chosen terrace chant so deliciously funny. For example, when England ignominiously lost 1-0 to Germany in the last ever match at the old Wembley stadium, the German supporters taunted their opponents in English with a chorus of ‘You’re shit and you know you are’. Goethe it wasn’t but it was pungently amusing. Who says Germans don’t have a sense of humour?
The new chant laureate will be paid a £10,000 annual bursary to tour the nation’s football grounds and compose new chants. But hold on a minute, aren’t terrace songs supposed to be spontaneous? The idea that a professional chant writer should script the songs we sing on the terraces is, like loud piped music and cheesy pre-match entertainment, another contrived attempt to manufacture atmosphere at football grounds.
And who are these saddoes who sit in their bedrooms writing football chants anyway? The same sort of no-marks who collect stamps or match programmes I suspect. I once came across a motley group of Palace fans sitting in a pub clutching lyric sheets and practising new chants they’d recently composed. Suffice to say that at the match itself none of their songs were adopted by the rest of the home support. Still I suppose it kept them amused – much more fun than going to the day centre I’d imagine.
When Barclaycard launched the chant laureate competition in 2003 a spokesperson confirmed that entrants were ‘not allowed to use obscenities’. No surprise then that the winning entry was nauseatingly clean and good-natured. Yet some of the best football chants are vulgar, offensive, spiteful and ungracious. That’s what makes the banter between opposing fans such fun. We taunt our opponents about their footballing ineptitude (‘Can we play you every week?’), we pick on their overweight players (‘Who ate all the pies?’), we laugh at their tragedies (‘Who’s that dying on the runway?’), we ridicule their regional accents (‘We speak English over here’), and we poke fun at their local customs (‘What’s it like to shag a sheep?’).
There’s a time and place for The Wasteland but sometimes you just prefer something crude and blunt. Before they became a sanitised troupe of fancy-dressed clowns, the Tartan Army used to sing ‘We hate Jimmy Hill, he’s a poof, he’s a poof’ to the tune from that old British Airways advert. It didn’t win any literary prizes but it always raised a chuckle.
And what of Jonny Hurst’s winning entry itself? The song, an adaptation of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana, is a cringe-inducing paean to Aston Villa striker Juan Pablo Angel: ‘His name is Angel, And he’s a show boy, An Alice band keeps up his hair, Juan Pablo from Col-om-bi-air’. Oh please. If that was the best chant you wonder how bad the others were.
But the most bizarre thing is that Jonny Hurst is a Birmingham City supporter. How can that be right? What kind of football fan writes songs for his club’s bitterest rivals? And what do his fellow bluenoses make of that? While they’re singing ‘Shit on the Villa’ he’s dreaming up tributes to Juan Pablo Angel. It’s downright perverted if you ask me. He should be stripped of his season ticket and barred from St Andrews for life. Now that would be poetic justice.
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