How and when did fans start singing team songs and chants at football matches? Why don’t other sports have the same phenomenon?
Jerry Beech, Bristol
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This sort of question allows people to show some wit. My poor offering is that Earwig M bred with Earwig N to get Earwig O. MrCassandra
I remember chants starting in the early 60s. I follow Plymouth Argyle and no one else. Argyle have always had a rather noisy and intimidating crowd and whenever I went to a first division game the crowds were always quite quiet compared to our Plymouth fans. Arsenal was like a library. Chelsea not very noisy … and so on.
I remember early chants about players and local stuff like chants about pasties. I also remember a LOT of teams fans singing You’ll Never Walk Alone, which on reflection was weird. Many top drawer clubs fans sang YNWA with scarves raised and fans swaying.
The terrace chants really came to be a big thing in about 1969, which was the skinhead era, and thousands could be heard chanting, abusing other teams’ players and generally being loud and up for a fight. Plymouth Argyle fans were always quite amusing and would chase and chant at away fans. The chanting and chasing almost always continued into the city centre.
I would say 1967 was the start of the chant being big and then 1969 saw some very creative and threatening songs coming from the terraces. I was there and there are many stories of chanting and chasing with pitched battles on the terraces … David
I have dedicated my adult life so far to understanding and then writing the story of football chanting. The very first chant was written by famed composer, and Wolverhampton Wanderers fan Edward Elgar for Wolves’ inside-right Billy Malpass, titled He Banged the Leather for the Goal. While it was printed in the Times, it never fully caught the imagination of the terraces.
As such, the honour for the first football chant still being sung at grounds today falls to Norwich City’s On the Ball City, which was written in the late 1890s, pre-dating the club whose fans now sing it. Written by Albert T Smith, it was originally composed for a dinner celebrating the achievement of Norwich’s many football clubs. Then in 1902, when those clubs merged to form Norwich City, Smith came on board as a director, bringing his song with him. The fans began singing the song on the terraces and a new tradition was born. This in turn led to the rise of lots of provincial and parochial songs celebrating the places they came from; Blaydon Races and Play Up Pompey being two famous examples.
The switch to the pop-song inspired chants of today was led by Cilla Black and the Beatles, but that’s a whole other chapter. Andrew Lawn
At the risk and in the hopes of maddening other responders, may I suggest it might be American … and have started with real football (what some of you insist on calling American football)? Dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, American colleges had official “fight songs” that students and alumni would sing during games. From Bow Down to Washington (1922) to Anchors Aweigh (1906), these were played by bands and enthusiastically sung at football games as well as some other sports. Band rivalries even spun off their own competition, immortalised in the classic Oscar-nominated film Drumline. Thomas1178
All they can think of in the States is “USA! USA! USA!” Whereas some of the UK ones are quite funny and some are very moving. Mudhutter
Doesn’t chanting exist wherever you get a crowd of people enthusiastically supporting a sport? Bet the Romans had some great ones at the chariot races. What else did they do for us? TazTarr
I always enjoy hearing those chants and songs that don’t make it. Where one lad starts something with a famous tune, maybe his mates join in to keep it going, then … nothing. A few chuckles from the surrounding fans before it is lost for ever and everyone moves on. So many works of genius lost this way. GobbyCabbage
This is an easy question. The answer is 1966, and you know what happened at Wembley that year. Chelsea’s “Shed” was born (well, sort of) and I, a teenager supporter, learned the new songs, but failed to participate, being much too middle class. Not even with the rhythmic clapping, also the progeny of Bobby Moore and co. And I’m still a Chelsea season ticket holder who never sings. Amfortas1948
According to local lore, my ancient Viking ancestors used to sing – to the tune later to be culturally appropriated as Michael, Row the Boat – the following: “What’s it like to have no heads, Anglo-Saxons” bl0ss0m
I was very taken with the fans of Dynamo Dresden, on their way to a match with Bayern Muenchen, singing “Wir ziehen den Bayern die Lederhosen aus, die Lederhosen aus, die Lederhosen aus …” (“We’ll pull down the Bavarians’ lederhosen”) to the tune of Yellow Submarine. SpoilheapSurfer
My favourite is the response of the (pre-wealth) Manchester City fans to Sheffield United fans singing “We hate Wednesday” – “We hate Saturday”. PF77
City fans were very witty back in the day – late 80s game at Highbury in response to the tedious stuff about unemployment: “You’ll never pay your mortgage”. kenowl
I remember them once being 5-0 down and hearing them chant “6-5! We’re going to win 6-5”, which the Kop warmly applauded. It’s become fairly standard now, but this was late 80s/early 90s, I think. AlwoodleyUtd
Different sets of fans adopted famous music-hall songs during Edwardian times, eg Birmingham City with Keep Right on to the End of the Road, and West Ham with Bubbles. The rhythmic clapping came from the Brazil fans in 1966. Salvecandeia
Birmingham City adopted Harry Lauder’s song, written in memory of his son killed on the Somme, during the 1956 FA Cup run, after player Alex Govern sang it on the team bus on the way to the games. Coeus
It’s noticeable how the melodies for many football chants are early-70s glam rock era songs. So I’m saying that may not be when it started but it’s definitely when it took off. Off the top of my head: Son of my Father – Chicory Tip; Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep – Middle of the Road; Hello – Gary Glitter. In recent years, the Beach Boys’ Sloop John B has enjoyed a resurgence for some reason and inspired all sorts of dreary chants. MrChevette
Why don’t other sports have the same phenomenon? Some do. The teams in the Swedish (ice) Hockey League have supporters clubs who publish quite long lists of songs, which may be sung randomly or at specific moments – most obviously immediately after a goal is scored. The effect, in a packed arena during a play-off game, is up there with the English football terraces. WenlockonEdge
It isn’t just football that has a chant or two. As a lifelong fan of rugby league (Leeds Rhinos), I can share that my sport has always had its share of singing and chanting. The history of singing goes back at least to the 1920s where there are witness accounts of singing at the RL Challenge Cup finals. John Devine
The Graun’s wonderful Knowledge footy trivia column covered this topic many years ago, including a piece about classical composers who were fans. Go to the knowledge archive section here. LancsAmbassador