“In the seventies, it was extremely rare that someone would start a song about a specific event or occasion,” says Tim Marshall, author of Dirty Northern B*st*rds, a history of British football chants. “But now, if anyone anywhere does anything notable – Gerrard slipping on his arse or whatever – there’ll be a song about it pretty much instantly.”
The idea of the football chant as one of the last true instances of popular folk song – a song originating among the people of a country or area, passed orally from generation to generation (or ground to ground), with myriad different versions and subtle alterations, marked by simple, instantly gettable melodies – is a strong one and luckily has nothing to do with Mumford & Sons. Even when a song has its base in a pop song – such as the recent, ever-popular chants set to Billy-Ray Cyrus’ saccharine ditty ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ – they are constantly in a state of mutation, warped by misheard lyrics, inebriated lead vocal, and immediate circumstance. There can also be an added element of ‘capture the flag’ for fans who find their rival team with a catchy new song: take what’s theirs and make it ours.
This is good, and rightly champions the terraces as a source of wit and invention. I’m surprised there’s no mention of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn”: a chant about a politician(?!) to the tune of The White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’, first sung at football stadiums around the country in celebration of footballers both famous and middling.
I’m particularly fond of a chant currently sung by Watford fans in honour of French midfielder Abdoulaye Doucouré, to the tune of Earth, Wind and Fire’s 1978 hit ‘October’. Altogether now: “… he never gives the ball away…”