Attend a football match and you’ll hear singing and chanting from all around you. You won’t be joining in because carrying on the chant into a new verse or repetition of the chorus when everyone else instinctively knows to stop – thereby isolating your rather weedy-by-comparison vocal strength, inability to hold a note, and apparent misunderstanding of what exactly those lyrics were anyway, and ensuring a swift turning of heads for rows in either direction followed by mocking laughter – is something you only ever do once; the fear controls your actions thence onwards.
Have you ever wondered just why certain teams’ fans seem to like to sing certain songs at football matches? Are you wondering it now that I’ve put the thought into your head? What about now? If the answer is "yes" or "oh, just get on with it" then you’re in luck because you’ve arrived at the right page on the internet.
Liverpool – You’ll Never Walk Alone
Get yourself along to Liverpool’s Anfield football stadium, or watch Liverpool on the television and you could be forgiven for thinking that Liverpool fans sit politely in silence for entire games. In fact, this is only nearly true. Pay special attention and you will find that if Liverpool are actually winning (it happens sometimes) and the game is within the third minute or more of extra time then a tiny core of Liverpool fans who decided to remain will almost certainly strike up a chorus of this maudlin showtune from the musical Carousel.
The adoption of the song by Liverpool F.C.’s fans is purely coincidental. The first purpose-built cinema was not opened in Liverpool until February 1957. Prior to that date a mobile screening of the popular movies of the day took place in a number of venues around the city, including one in the Kop stand of Anfield. The very last movie to be shown in the football stadium was Carousel (although it was scheduled to be The King And I which could have changed footballing history considerably) and in an unusual show of emotion the Liverpudlians who liked both films and football decided to honour the former at so-called spectacles of the latter by performing the entire score during the eighty-five minutes of lull in the game. It was only in the nineteen seventies, with the earlier arrival of entertaining Emlyn "Crazy Horse" Hughes and his hilarious, in-game grass-eating antics that the number of songs was reduced to a more manageable one: the dirge "You’ll Never Walk Alone".
Portsmouth – The Pompey Chimes
It’s a simple chant – Play Up Pompey, Pompey Play Up – and its simple, staccato tune can be heard in doorbells and church or guildhall clocks all around the world but it’s not widely known that the tune itself originated on the terraces of Fratton Park and spread thence to arrival and timing devices thanks to an edict by none other than Winston Churchill.
Wartime is not a good time, especially where sport is concerned, and the period from 1939 to 1944 saw no top flight football played in England on account of Barnes-Wallace’s appropriation of all national sporting equipment in order to develop offensive and defensive measures to use against the Nazis; polo mallet stick grenades, pole vaulter pole torpedoes, minefield-clearing tennis racquets, and anti-tank cricket boxes all preceded the more famous and formidable bouncing bombs.
Churchill realised that the people’s spirit is important in war and if they couldn’t play the sport that would lift them up then they could at least re-live past glories. In July of 1939 Portsmouth had won a surprise victory over Wolves in the F.A. Cup at Wembley; round-the-clock repeats of the game including sound of the Pompey fans singing their then little-known "chimes" very nearly single-handedly won the war for Britain and it was deemed only right and proper to immortalise the tune. With all the rebuilding work and the necessity for doorbells at an all-time high the tune quickly spread.
West Ham – I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles
The east end of London is famous for and proud of many things – jellied eels, villains, slags, burning pubs, Dick van Dyke, apples, pears – but it also harbours a localised fascination with farting in the bathtub, much to the embarrassment of the nation these days.
In the late 1920s this fascination reached fever pitch when all of London’s football clubs who rightly or wrongly regarded themselves as Cockneys (a geographical class of people with a tendency towards dysphasia) embraced a song of their choice declaring their love of the rather rude pastime. From Charlton Athletic’s The Water’s Still Warm Love (But I Wouldn’t Come In If I Were You) to A.F.C Hornchurch’s Strike A Light And Set The Bathroom On Fire, from Arsenal’s Put Me To Sea And I’ll Power The Bath To France to Dagenham’s Rub-A-Dub-Dub, There’s A Floater In The Tub: all these songs eventually fell out of favour with a British public who were becoming increasingly aware of the larger world and its complex array of social acceptances. Only West Ham United remained resolute in its continued championing of the Broadway hit adopted for local football singing and the team and its fans remain a national disgrace for it.
Southampton – I’m Every Woman
The south coast footballing’s shame of a team Southampton’s foray into the world of terrace songs has been an unmitigating series of disaster after disaster after disaster as they have sought to earn a reputation for good fans with good singing voices and good taste in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
In the late 1950s Southampton’s first widespread in-game song from the terraces was To Know Him Is To Love Him, a hit popularised by the Teddy Bears, and a song sung to mourn Alf Ramsay who had left the club nearly a decade earlier. This choice of song by the fans was replaced over the years by: My Boyfriend’s Back (by The Angels), Tighter, Tighter (by Alive ‘n’ Kicking), Little Willy (by The Sweet), Doing Alright With The Boys (by Gary Glitter), and finally I’m Every Woman (by Chaka Khan).
In 1981 Southampton city council forbade its football team’s fans from choosing any more songs to sing in order to limit the run of jokes in the national press and on television. This ban stands to this day; forfeiture of season tickets (if owned) and an evening with Matt Le Tissier is the punishment for infringers.
Other Football Terrace Songs
- Manchester United – Red Dress – It has "red" in the title and was a popular hit.
- Birmingham City – Let’s Do It – The Victoria Wood song was chosen because the comedienne attended university in the city and everyone just assumes she’s a brummie.
- Celtic – It’s A Mystery – The popularity of this Toyah song really is a mystery.
- Manchester City – Blue Moon – Sung in honour of the football club’s patron Sun Myung Moon, founder and leader of the Unification Church.
- Arsenal – Joe Le Taxi – French songs soothe Arsene Wenger’s terrifying temper.