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The drive to stop chanting in the stadia (warning, contains a number of naughty phrases)

By Tony Attwood

Chanting is one of the football fans’ last areas of freedom.  Or it was until the clubs got involved and started to outlaw certain chants.

And yes I think the clubs should get involved when the chant is racist or homophobic.  Indeed I think I’ve written a dozen pieces here about the appalling nature of homophobic abuse that can still be found in grounds.

Arsenal has done it quite well, I think, with the main thrust being against the word “Yiddo” – a word I write in full, despite its awful connotations because writing “Y****” doesn’t actually remove any of the awfulness, and because I am still utterly confused over the fact that some Tottenham fans use the word as one of pride.  That’s not a criticism of Tottenham or its fans – I am just completely unqualified to talk about the word.

Anyway Arsenal has more or less got rid of it and quite rightly so, because it does cause offence to many.   And so other chants have been found.  “Fergie’s Rent Boy” has been aimed at certain refs who seem to give decisions to Manchester United and against Arsenal all the way through the season.  (See the site Referees Decisions for more information).

These chants are let pass without intervention – they come and they go and they are just part of football.  If you object, then really you should not be watching the game that has always taken the language of the street into the ground  – no matter what the cost of the ticket.  That’s how it has been since the start of the professional game.

Indeed some chants which involve obscenities that I would never use have become part of the tradition of the club, and cause me much amusement – a fact that might bemuse some of my professional colleagues who have never witnessed me at a football match.

I think particularly of the 1991 championship, when the FA removed two points from Arsenal’s total following a handbags at 50 paces affair at Old Trafford.   Despite this lunatic decision (never repeated as far as I know – they reserve these punishments for Arsenal only), Arsenal won the league.

The situation was amusing.  Liverpool played live on TV in the afternoon, and Arsenal were scheduled to play also on TV in the evening.  Liverpool needed to win in order to keep chasing Arsenal for the title.  They lost, and thus Arsenal were champions before the game.

We poured out of the pubs and into the ground, and for the next three hours sang just one song to the tune of “She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes” only with the words “You can stick your fucking two points up your arse”.  (Sorry if I am boring you, I have mentioned it before, but the event illustrates the point I want to make).

The song went on, and on and on, paused as the teams came out (Man U giving Arsenal a guard of honour) and then returning throughout the game.   I had set the old video at home to record the match, and returning at about midnight, watched it at once..  What sent me into wild laughter and woke up the lady wife and children was when the prissy ITV commentator said, “And you can hear the Arsenal fans singing ‘We are the champions’…”   As if we would.

Anyway all this is apropos the United States where the man in charge of Major League Soccer Don Garber is trying to get one particularly charming Americanism out of the stadia: “You Suck Asshole,” a fine example of Americana I think you might agree.

The shout may have some link to one that we used to hear in the days of the Football League when the opposition keeper would run up to take a goal kick.  As he started his run up the crowd would call “ooooooooooooh…” and then as he kicked it the shout would change to “ahhhhhh, you’re shit”.  At least that’s how I remember it (although I am sure I will be corrected if once again my memory is playing tricks).

Of course it wouldn’t work today with most of the keepers we see at the Emirates because you’d have to keep the “oooooooh” going for about three minutes as the keeper walks to the ball, checks it for pressure, has some water, walks across the other side of the goal, frantically waves to his team mates to move to the right area, has some water, changes the ball’s position, kicks his standing boot against the  goalpost, looks up, has some water, and then decides to kick the ball from the other side of the goal.

So the old chants die out and new one comes in, but showing a particularly persistent anal fixation Mr Garber has fought for years against the American chant.

Indeed rather bizarrely he has called the shout “uncreative” which is a bit like saying “Come on you Reds” is unoriginal.  He also called it “sophomoric”.   I needed to look that word up just to check, but Wiki confirms it means “juvenile, puerile, and base comedy”.  Right.

So it seems that supporters of some clubs are being threatened with sanctions (presumably a removal of the hot dog vendor) if the phrase is still heard after a deadline set for nine days hence.

Some clubs have taken the sort of viewpoint that we remember in England in olden days (the 1970s) by appealing to the fans “sense of class.”   Red Bulls are offering their supporters’ clubs $500 for every game where the shout is not heard for four games in a row.  Which I suppose would encourage the away support to shout it instead.  (Do they have away support in the States?)

As far as I know chants and shouts in America tend to be organised, rather than spontaneous as they are in the Premier League, and so I suppose they might have a chance of making it happen.

Of course the argument quickly becomes disingenuous  with the bit about there being children at matches.  Quite honestly some of the 10 year olds I come across know language infinitely worse than this, so that seems a bit of a silly argument.

The fact is that chanting obscenities is part of football.  As the excellent book “The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal” shows, there were endless problems between the crowd and the authorities in the early days at Arsenal, and for the most part these were due to the language used by the crowd, which the authorities didn’t like.  It is part of the heritage of our club, and I’m glad that it is not being challenged, except in areas which are clearly defined, as with homophobic chants and racist chants – both of which are against the law of the land.

Football matches are not places where we can do whatever we want – but they are places where we can behave differently.  But, there is now another factor – television.

Sky Sports and the rest tend to ignore the chants, or edit them down, rather than acknowledge their existence.  It is a compromise I’ll accept.  But I think in America this is where the problem is originating.  American TV loves to sanitise, and that’s what they are doing now.   And I worry that we might have to beware the day when the broadcaster, who already controls everything else, starts trying to control what we shout and sing at our games.

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14 comments to The drive to stop chanting in the stadia (warning, contains a number of naughty phrases)

  • Oliver

    It’s a fine line.
    I must admit I was quite uncomfortable listening to fans singing “we’re having a party – when Mike Dean dies”. But “The referee is a ****” doesn’t bother me much. hmm

  • Goona Gal

    @ Tony – I heard about the Red Bull chant bribe and I was surprised that they were trying to do this. You raise a good point also about how they will police the away games.

    The North Bank can be a bit, for want of a better word obscene, but I wouldn’t want the club to try and gentrify it. It’s an area, that does to it’s credit self police to an extent.

    What I would hate to see is a controlled uniform crowd who were afraid to express their real emotions or passion at a game for fear of imprisonment.

  • Sharpehunter

    It is becoming increasingly evident that most football grounds in the UK are finding it increasingly difficult to actually sell tickets and to fill their grounds. It may not be difficult for Premier League clubs, especially for local Derby games like the NLD for example, but for many clubs lower down the league or in lower leagues it is rare to see a full to capacity game.

    Sterilisation an sanitation on the grounds of general Health and Safety and to eliminate the elements mentioned such as race hate and homophobia have of course to be tackled, but there is a fine line.

    I for one love the lower Northbank at The Emirates, no one sits down, people have a lot of banter and the singing is almost baiting to the Clockenders and back each trying to outdo each other.

    But to seek a scenario whereby all obscenities are removed from the ground would if anything probably have a significant negative impact on matchday revenues and the atmosphere more importantly.

  • nicky

    Once upon a time, you could take your Mother to any ground in the country…..but no longer, I’m afraid.
    One of the worst Arsenal chants I can recall followed the tragic death of John White of Spurs as a result of a lightning strike while sheltering under a tree on a golf course. “John White’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave” was in the poorest possible taste.

  • ARSENAL 13

    OFF TOPIC: ARSENAL had another good session in JAPAN today. Very +ve. 3-1 to ARSENAL.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Or we compose a few ones right here with contributions from all the regulars .
    My would be called ‘St.Totteringham’s Day forever ‘

    We cheer our heroes every May ,
    having played the Arsene way .

    Once ‘they’ were happy and gay ,
    now those arseholes just bray .

    Chorus :

    @ # $ % ^ & * ()_+

    Take it away you guys !

  • Rufusstan

    I don’t know really what to think of this.

    The racist and Homophobic stuff should have long since gone the way of the Dinosaur, and any nudges to bring that about are good (Though I’ll believe it when a certain chant vanishes from the repertoire of some of our rivals).

    There is a degree of self-censorship going on in any event. I’ve always felt uncomfortable singing the last line of the chant you mention, and always dropped out, long before it got to the racist bit (its bad enough for the –inset Spurs manager here–‘s poor mother to have birthed them, but to insult her for it as well seems a little like overkill). As time as gone on I’ve seen more and more fans doing the same.

    Any more control than that is crazy. I assume it comes from the need to sanitize things as you said; and that means TV. If true, it means that someone is severely missing the point. Chants come from passion, and that drives the atmosphere, and the two feed off each-other. People love the PL for the visceral feel you get, the rivalries and yes, the passion. Get rid of it and you are killing the proverbial goose.

    Trying to ban stuff would be an exercise in futility anyway. New chants evolve, even if its recycling old songs for a new situation (singing for Giroud for example). So ban one, and as a new situation occurs a new chant appears. Tony mentions the one driven by the points deduction. We only started singing the ‘2-0 and you F***ed it up’ at Spurs a few years back when they did just that in the league cup (the fact they keep doing it….)

    The thing about kids is a Red Herring. How often have you seen a parent (or in my case an uncle) giving a child the ‘Fight Club’ spiel before going into the stadium (what happens at football stays..).

    To echo Tony’s point, any parent who thinks their kid not heard every obscenity under the sun by 10-11 has a very sheltered child (or more realistically are very sheltered themselves).

    Lastly, and I think most importantly, chants are educational. It is important that if a referee makes a mistake, 50,000+ fans point it out; how else will they learn? It is a service we give to opposition fans to remind them (and those watching) of their place in the scheme of things: Where Chelsea would be without Abramovich, just how unsuccessful the neighbors are (politely pointing out that Arsenal have celebrated more league wins at WHL than they have), and so on.

  • Rufusstan

    By the way Tony, I always remembered the keeper chant as ‘You’ve shit HA!’, but its been a while.

  • Rufusstan

    @Nicky — The line for me always seems to be: about the club, events on the field pretty much anything goes.

    Negative stuff aimed at a specific player, on the fence depending on the chant, but mostly a No-No. Refs sadly get a bit more leeway on this one because they are aimed at ‘the ref’.

    Anything negative on real life events is just beyond the pale. I’m just too young to have heard the one you mention and it embarrasses me as an Arsenal fan to think that it even exists. In the same way I cannot comprehend how United and Liverpool fans can sing about Hillsborough and Munich respectively.

    (I know there are other horrors buried in our history; I just hope they stay there).

  • Sharpehunter

    I know one thing for an absolute certainty. If the singing, chanting and ‘standing up’ disappears from grounds the banter will disappear and the fans will disappear.

    If that happened the TV companies would have to begin creating audience applause soundtracks and CGI’ing fans to make the game look interesting.

  • weedonald

    I cannot speak about fan ambiance in Football since we don’t get crowds like the UK, over here, but in ice hockey, the crowds (usually between 15,000 and 20,000) tend to be very loud but rarely rude or coarse. there are stewards who can ask someone who is offensive or abusive to leave but that is rare. One can buy and drink beer (and I am sure a few bring flasks as well)and eat at your seat. The national anthem is always sung before the start but singing during the game is almost never done.
    The atmosphere in a British stadium, especially with the singing, is magical. In Germany, I never heard the crowd sing like the English do and their reactions were more muted and disciplined. Watching Liverpool’s fans sign you’ll never walk alone or the fields of Athenrye is a fascinating experience. Racist and Homophobic chants are totally unacceptable anywhere in the world.

  • blacksheep63

    Tony, I remember an Arsenal campaign to stop swearing on the terraces, back in the late 70s early 80s I think. It was in the programme for a Utd game (I think it was Utd)asking the crowd to refrain from bad language. The north bank responded by starting off singing “We’re not swearing any more” before continuing with “You can stick your F’ing swearing up yer arse!”. Then when Utd scored it was “Swearing is back, swearing is back!”. They didn’t bother with the campaign much after that.

  • Ian Jenkinson

    I absolutely love the chanting that goes on at the games. I cherish them, but only if they are semi clean. I do not enjoy the harsh ones as i don’t think there is any need for them. And as Rufusstan says above i don’t understand how Man Utd and Liverpool fans can chant about Hillsborough and Munich. That is just sick. It goes beyond football when that starts.

    I love the funny chants that come on board. I was lucky enough to be at the Newcastle away game at the end of the season and no sooner had the final whistle went when all the Arsenal fans in unison piped up with the “It’s happened again….” chant for our beloved neighbours. It was so spontaneous and i just found it hilarious.

    And the TV stations do block out some chanting. At the same Newcastle game, just after Koscielny scored (we all thought Mertesacker had scored as we were at the opposite end of the stadium) we all started singing “We’ve got a big f***ing German, big f***ing German”. The chant lasted a full minute, over and over we sang it. It was so loud and clear and it covered the whole stadium. I made a mental note to listen out for it when i watched the recorded game at home but there wasn’t a hint of it. It would have been so clear that Sky wouldn’t have had a choice but to cut it out!

    Fun times. I love a good chant me.