My 9 year old daughter has become a keen follower of football. She has been to two of the last three Arsenal home games and has become fascinated with the chants sung throughout the game. For anyone who feels that musicals are unrealistic, just visit a top division football match. Actions on the pitch will prompt thousands of people to sing in unison, just like in a musical, only louder and on a bigger scale
Unfortunately many of the songs feature swear-words, but you can’t keep a 9 year old away from such language forever. The first chant she learnt, at a pre-season friendly last July, featured the words “Tottenham” and “shit” interchangeably: “What do you think of Tottenham?” asks one group of fans. “Shit” replies another group. “What do you think of shit?” the first group asks. “Tottenham” replies the second group. She knew it was a rude word but 10,000 people were shouting it so it couldn’t be avoided.
We have taught her a few clean chants and it was satisfying on Saturday when two of them came up: “You’re not singing / you’re not singing / you’re not singing any more” (to the tune of “Bread of Heaven”) and “You don’t know what you’re doing”, which doesn’t really have a tune but the same rhythmic chant goes with the words “The referee’s a wanker”, which I haven’t heard for a while.
She came back from the game excitedly singing a song about Petr Cech, to the tune of “My old man’s a dustman”: “Petr Cech is magic / he wears a magic hat …”
In the interests of balance, having mentioned the Tottenham / shit exchanges being sung at the Emirates, the most sophisticated, inter-connected chant that I can recall came in May 1995, at White Hart Line. For a year or two Arsenal fans had been chanting “One-nil to the Ar-sen-al” to the tune of “Go West”, the Village People song that had been revived in the early 90s by Pet Shop Boys. Arsenal fans had sung it all the way to the Cup Winners Cup Final in 1994, which they won (one-nil, to the Arsenal). A year later they were defeated in the final of the same competition, by Real Zaragoza. The winning goal was scored by Nayim (a former Tottenham player) who lobbed the ball from the half-way line over the Arsenal keeper David Seaman. Within days, at the last league game of the season, the Spurs fans were singing, again to the tune of “Go West”: “Nayim / from the half-way line”. We first heard it outside the ground and it continued for most of the match. [I was there supporting my team, Leeds United. The game finished 1-1: that point guaranteed Leeds a European place the following season. And elsewhere in London West Ham held Manchester United to a draw, which allowed Blackburn Rovers won the Premier League.] I marvelled at the ingenuity and immediacy of the song. I still do.
And that Nayim goal also led to this bit of fun on “Pointless” two years ago, with Richard Osman telling Alexander Armstrong that Nayim had “lobbed Seaman from the half-way line”. It works better when you hear it. I saw the show on replay at the time, with my children, and this sequence made me laugh out loud. Fortunately I didn’t have to explain why.