By Tony Attwood
I do like it when football journalists let slip just how out of touch they are with the real everyday fans – the people who pay out of their own pocket to watch games, often being given grotty seats in stadia where the niceties of life such as actually obeying the Licensing Act, observing public safety regulations and treating visitors as human beings is a matter of complete disdain.
I don’t begrudge these journalists their cosseted little world, because I know what they have lost – which is the ability to enjoy football as a fan among fans. But it is just their view that somehow being paid to go to football matches and having got GCSE English they can tell us how the world is, that gets on my wick occasionally.
Take the assembled might of Tom Bryant, Paul Doyle and Gerard Meagher writing in the Guardian, in one of those childish “10 things we will learn” articles which you know will be followed up on Monday with “5 things we learned” which are in fact not five things we learned at all.
The might of Guardian football journalism have produced a little piece of that before-match ilk which begins, “Chelsea more likely to batten down the hatches than attack”.
That is fair enough as a headline. Patently obvious, grammatically correct, no spelling mistakes. Good work those boys in the third row.
But then they start writing…
There is a mysterious Chelsea chant, in which the Shed End profess their love of the club. “We all follow the Chelsea, over land and sea,” they bellow before, for reasons no one really understands, yelling “And Leicester!”
“No one really understands”. Oh.
So that stuff when London supporters used to go to away games by “football specials” in the 1960s and 70s, and found that no matter where in the wild outer reaches of civilisation we were going (you know the sort of places – Manchester, Liverpool, WBA, Wolverhampton) the train would always stop at Leicester… that’s “no one really understands” is it?
The song, as you will know, is sung to Land of Hope and Glory, by Edward Elgar, a 20th century English composer who was something of a football man himself, supporting Wolverhampton. It is generally thought that their supporters created the football version of his song changing “Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,” into “We will follow the Wanderers over land and sea”.
(Patrick Barclay in his horrifically inaccurate volume “The Life and Times of Herbert Chapman” tries to suggest that this was the first football song, but Mark Andrews found an Arsenal song going back to 1892 – and we are the amateurs at this writing lark!)
But back to Elgar. Over time a variant came in, in which the words “and water” were added. Derby were possibly the first to change the bizarre “and water” (bizarre since we already had “and sea”) and shout “And Leicester” because of their local rivalry with Leicester (particularly strong in the days before Clough moved from Derby to Nottingham Forest).
According to Wiki, Aberystwyth Town supporters sing ‘We all follow the Aber, over land and sea and Bangor!” while Leeds sing ‘Land of hope and glory, Yorkshire shall be free, We all follow United, onto victory’.
So there is a long tradition of playing around with these words. But what especially brought the Leicester connection to London (and this is where we see the journalist’s problem, for although the elite writers of the Guardian tucked away from the real world inside their exquisite writing zone at each ground, complete with “refreshments” and plugs for the laptops, go to the game, they are removed from a lot of what happens there and haven’t quite realised that a lot of London clubs use the song), was the fact that on those away days in the old days, the trains always seemed to stop at Leicester, either to take the drunks off, or bring on the special constables who fancied a bit of a barney. The Chelsea Headhunters, and in the east the Inter City Firm seemed to have a particular thing about Leicester, I recall.
So, as always, the answer is out there, a part of the rich culture of football, now removed from discussion through lazy journalism and sanitised television, and the endless, endless desire never ever to ask “why”.
This desire to remove the culture of the football fan from real life is insidious, and one that should be fought at all turns, because football is our game, and not a little plaything for the media to mess with.
They will try of course, but those of us who go to games, whether at Aberystwyth or Stadium Wenger, have our culture, which ever evolves and mutates ahead of the understanding of those who would never dream of paying to go to a game.
So when they say in the Guardian, “A win against Arsenal on Sunday, would mean that Chelsea could clinch the Premier League title at the King Power Stadium on Wednesday evening which, at the very least, might give a nonsensical chant some meaning at last,” it is just one more attempt to lay us low, to treat us as idiots, to ignore or reject our vibrant culture, and to suggest that the real lives of real people are as nothing when compared to the superior analysis of those who don’t pay to go into the games.
But since I am here, and since I write their little piece, let me conclude with their conclusions. They think José Mourinho will be “just as happy with a draw” on Sunday.
Of course they quote all their pro-Chelsea facts such as
a) Arsène Wenger has not beaten Mourinho in 12 attempts in the league.
b) Chelsea have not lost a league match to Manchester United, City, Arsenal or Liverpool since Mourinho returned to the club in 2013
and indeed both of these are true, although they don’t always tell us much. And they also have their regular snide comment…
it will be interesting to see how Cesc Fàbregas deals with the abuse he will face on his return to Arsenal.
Which I suppose would be a bit like writing, “it has been interesting to see how the media, which totally ignored the existence of the emerging talents of Bellerin and Coquelin while both were staring them in the face, has tried to come to terms with their abject failure to predict yet another Arsenal resurgence this season.”
A bit like that, but of course one doesn’t want to crow too much.
25 April 1895: Royal Ordnance Factories 0 Woolwich Arsenal 0. In 1892/3 Arsenal was embroiled in a battle with its landlord and his supporters inside the club, which resulted ultimately in Woolwich Arsenal joining the League and a new club being formed (ROF FC) and joining the Southern League. They played on grounds opposite each other and this match showed they were at least talking to each other by this date. Further matches followed.