Anthemic origins: where the terraces got their songs

by , July 5, 2012

Inspired by the BBC’s recent look at how ‘Seven Nation Army’ became a Euro 2012 anthem (which reached the astounding conclusion that it was because it’s a catchy and simple tune – take a bow for that one, lads) and yesterday’s discussions about goal music at the City Ground, I’ve been trawling YouTube in search of the tunes that inspired some of modern football’s best known chants.

The BBC article mentioned ‘Guantanamera’, a song which I’d never heard of, but turns out to be one of the most ubiquitous of football songs. Here it is performed by The Sandpipers in 1996:

The song was written by Cuban singer Joseíto Fernández and the title literally refers to a “girl from Guantánamo”. This seems an unlikely source for football fans to start mangling footballers’ names into, but according to Wikipedia it was Fernández himself who started the trend by adapting the lyrics to current events whenever he performed it. Still, that’s a far cry from “There’s only one Chris-y Cohen”.

Another tune of Caribbean origin that has recently been heartily abused by football fans, the melody stretched to include all kinds of boasts and taunts (under Billy Davies we sang “We’re Nottingham Forest, unbeaten away”, and Steve Cotterill was reminded “We’re Nottingham Forest, we play on the floor”) is ‘Sloop John B’. The football version of this well-known folk song sounds exactly like the Beach Boys version… if you play your vinyl copy of Pet Sounds at the wrong speed and the record gets stuck at the “I wanna go home” bit:

Now, you probably know this next one, and if you don’t your knowledge of Irish folk music is shamefully inadequate, but the “And it’s Nottingham Forest… Nottingham Forest F-C!” chant is based on the “And it’s no, nay, never…” chorus from ‘The Wild Rover’, probably best known as recorded by The Dubliners but performed by just about any Irish group you can mention. Even U2 have been known to bash a version out! Unsurprisingly it was Celtic fans who started singing it on the terraces, but now almost every English club sings it, even the ones who can’t quite make it scan, such as “Burn-ner-ley” and “Brighton-and-Hove-Albion”. Pompey fans sang “And it’s Portsmouth City…” when they visited the City Ground recently, which is nicer on the ear than “Ports-ser-moth” I suppose, but does refer to a club that doesn’t exist.

Anyway, here’s ‘The Wild Rover’ (not the U2 version, you’ll be glad to know):

Next up (I’m starting to feel like a late-night radio DJ here) is Ella Fitzgerald’s version of ‘Blue Moon’, a particularly beautiful rendition, just to emphasise the contrast between the original and a couple of thousand yobs shouting “F**k all, you’re gonna win f**k all!”

Another pleasant tune ruined by us vulgar football fans is the South African standard ‘Tom Hark’, best known in this country for the version charted in 1980 by The Piranhas, who added their own lyrics. Since then numerous football clubs have introduced it into their repertoires and indeed added their own lyrics too. The Forest version involves a Derby fan getting his head kicked in, but other teams have their own equally offensive versions:

A few more:

  • The Manchester United classic “Glory, glory, Man United” (nicely summing up what first attracted most of their fans to the club) is based on ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ composed by William Steffe and with the famous “glory, glory” chorus added by Julia Ward Howe in 1861.
  • When football fans make the suggestion “Let’s all have a disco” they should really be suggesting a different kind of dance altogether – the conga, as demonstrated in this 1930s record.
  • “Stand up, if you’re f**king hard!” Or any similar variation on that theme, based on an original tune by those notorious tough men, The Village People.
  • “We are going up, said we are going up” … to the tune of floor-slapping, Wedding Disco classic ‘Oops Upside Your Head’ by the Gap Band.
  • “Da da da da, Nathan Tyson” is based on ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag’ by Pigbag. This much isn’t surprising. More surprising is the fact that the group were English and Wikipedia describes them as being ‘punk’.
  • “You’re not very good, you’re not very good, you’re not very, you’re not very, you’re not very good!” Probably the friendliest chant you can’t taunt the opposition with and no wonder when it’s based on lovable Cockney favourite ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’.
  • Notts County’s ‘Wheelbarrow Song’ came about when Shrewsbury Town supporters were treating them to a rendition of ‘On Top of Old Smokey’ but the Pies couldn’t understand their Shropshire accents. This alone shows their ignorance of country standards, but what the fact that they began singing about a certain piece of poorly made gardening equipment says about them I don’t know…

One song I couldn’t figure out, and would really appreciate if anyone could point me in the right direction (now I’ve started this I get the sense that it’s going to become an obsession), is the one that goes “We’ll keep the red flag, flying high, for ever and ever” and so on. Loads of clubs have their own variations, but none of the sites I’ve been on can suggest an origin. There is one famous song about red flags, which Manchester United do sing, but that’s got nothing to do with this one. It’s probably very obvious, but I’ll lose my mind if I hum it any longer.

Before I sign off, pop-pickers, here’s one last sing-along classic to play us out: