The Match – the socio-spatial arrangement of a grass pitch (the stage), the terraces (seats for the audience in the round), an arrangement for the players to battle it out. The audience throw the name of the striker, defender, keeper and manager from their lips with spit and admiration. His name may be interchangeable over the decades but these individuals can make or break the team.
From those spurring on gladiators sparring to the death in the arena to the bawdy groundlings of Shakespearian theatre, chants allow fans – the audience – to participate, to cheer or jear in rhythmic rough melody, and, sometimes, in harmony at the players. The ninety minutes or so of action is pushed on through the songs of the fans, many of these are constructed through a sort of communal composition and displayed at the top of the lungs (Clark, 2006; Schoonderwoerd, 2011; Ashmore, 2014). Some of the chants are more rhythmic than melodious, some have a long history, some are dreamt up on the spot.
In 2011, scholar Pieter Schoonderwoerd suggested that “the songs come under three categories: in support of one’s team, in support of one’s players, and in opposition to other teams/team’s players(whether being played against at that moment or not)” (124). These three categories can be heard in some of Rochdale Athletic Football Club’s (Rochdale A.F.C.) chants. ‘Daaaale’ repeats the word “dale” over the length of the chant with the “a” elongated at the beginning shortening to “Dale” towards the end and consists of two tones – the dominant to the mediant. It is the sound of an army approaching, a two tone warning to supporters of other teams where this group’s allegiances lie. ‘Oh we’re the Dale’, sung to the tune of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, is a raucous repetition of “oh we’re the Dale’ where the tempo increases and is accompanied by hand claps. Keith Hill is Rochdale A.F.C.’s manager and ‘Keith Hill’s Barmy Army’ is similarly accompanied by handclaps with a rhythmic repetition of of the term “Barmy Army”. The “Barmy Army” term is also used by other football clubs and gives a sense of joviality albeit with a militaristic undertone with Keith Hill as the chosen general. Another example of team loyalty is in ‘When I was Just a Little Boy’, sung to the tune of ‘Que Sera Sera’ and is sung in opposition to Bury Football Club:
“When I was just a little boy,
I asked my mother what would I be,
Should I be Bury should I be Dale,
Here’s what she said to me.
Clean your mouth out son,
Fetch your father’s gun,
Shoot the Bury scum,
Shoot the Bury scum,
We hate Bury,
We hate Bury…”
There’s a sense of absurdity in the lyrics of this chant: this is an act against Bury that will never be realised, it is merely a threat of cartoon violence – unless a negative atmosphere spills over away from the pitch. Paul Ashworth (2014) argues that football stadia are spaces of emotional expression and emotions of elation, despair, and anger are not just related to, and through, chanting. However, studying the lyrics of chants is interesting: the lyrics alone can seem somewhat simple yet by applying a tune and rhythm this elevates the lyrics and when sung in unison creates a shared emotional atmosphere and shared place (Clark, 2006). Some football chants remain problematic as they feature violence, borderline homophobia (see ‘That boy Kamara’ which possibly refers to Chris Kamara, a football player during the 1970s and 80s) and sexism (‘Always Look in the Fields for your Wife’). Chants create community, and are created communally, however, they can also shut out others from the tribe. That said, football chants are important as they sing other aspects of Rochdale into being – that of identity, solidarity, and belonging.
There are more chants that you can listen to, and download, from the Fan Chants website.
More on football chants, atmosphere, and belonging from the following sources:
- Ashmore, P. (2014)’Of other atmospheres: football spectatorship beyond the terrace chant.’ Soccer & Society. [Online] http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14660970.2014.980743
- Clark, T. (2006) ‘‘I’m Scunthorpe ’til I die’ Constructing and(Re)negotiating Identity through the Terrace Chant’.Soccer & Society. 7:4, 494-507.
- Schoonderwoerd, P. (2011) ‘‘Shall we sing a song for you?’: mediation, migration and identity in football chants and fandom.’ Soccer & Society. 12:1, 120 – 141.