Arsenal v Chelsea: How to misunderstand football and its fans.

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.


The books

36 Replies to “Arsenal v Chelsea: How to misunderstand football and its fans.”

  1. Journos, don’t you just love em.
    As for Cesc, Wengers comments this week confirm what many of us have suspected, Cesc left on bad terms, and on being bagged out of Barca, chose Chelsea, not us, wenger clearly knew this , perhaps why he stayed silent.
    Best advice on Cesc tomorrow, just ignore him. He was once great for us, we were even greater for him, he may even love the club, but he is now clearly divorced from the club……and manager.
    To hell with Cesc, but please follow the link and show some love for Ozil

  2. OT

    Wishing the best for all Gooners dealing with the earthquake near KATHMANDU, Nepal.

  3. Actually wishing all near earthquake well.

    Spuds tie another one. The highest point total they can get to is now 70, and we have 66. They play ManCity at home and Everton away yet.

  4. I don’t understand why you are so sneeringly sarcastic about the “we will follow song…” I certainly was confused about the Leicester reference when I read it in the Guardian ( as I’ve never heard it before), but thanks for the explanation anyway.
    The Guardian journos were just having a laugh. Can’t you see that?

  5. When I was a kid our song used to be “Anchors aweigh my boys,Anchors aweigh”. That’s back in the 1940s/50’s. How things have changed!

  6. TailGunner… I feel that the journalists in that article are laughing at the fans for singing an incomprehensible song.

    My own view for what it is worth is that if one is paid for writing about football in a national paper one ought to do your research and get it right.

    I’m doing a piece on the whole point of newspaper football journalism, and hopefully when that is published my view will become a little clearer.

  7. There is a new spin in the media about how Jose Mourinho has had better on Arsene Wenger in 12 occasions.

    First of all, he has won seven games out of twelve. That’s not 12.

    Second of all, one of those draws meant Manchester United won the league ahead of Chelsea.

    Third of all, Mourinho has always entered the clash against us in a better position, with much bigger squad consisted of expensive players (remember of Thierry Henry’s complaint regarding our squad depth comparing to the Chavs’ one?) as a result of the unlimited budget. Not to mention that we have been hard done by the refs in at least three occasions:

    -our first clash against Mourinho – ended 2:2, we had two youngsters in the middle because of Vieira’s injury and there was a penalty for us denied in the last minutes of the game,

    -our only defeat at the Highbury against Mourinho – ended 0:2, Van Persie’s perfectly good goal chalked off due to non-existing offside at 0:0,

    -Mike Dean’s heroic attempt to prevent Chelsea from losing the game in December 2013 – Walcott was fouled by Willian in the box but Dean didn’t see that as a penalty while their Mikel brutally fouled our Mikel (Arteta) but didn’t got a direct red card.

    Hardly a level-field. The media should’ve analyzed Jose Mourinho’s record against Jürgen Klopp and Josep Guardiola by now. Or against Diego Simeone.

  8. Brilliant, well said Tony. Your point is poignant for all supporters of football teams.

    Tailgunner must be one of those journos, hence the offended tone…lol
    Actually, maybe he/she/it/they are our resident sewer rat reincarnated…

  9. Tony
    Yeah, I guess so. Guardian’s Barney Ronay was scathing about Henry’s punditry yesterday

    If that’s the song that starts off: “send Arsenal down the pitch”, then I think it’s still our official club song. Tony’s more up on club history than me, so could probably verify this if correct.

  10. Good points Josif.
    But objectivity and rational analysis is a step too far for English football media. They are but simple hacks. Bloggers run the show for football analysis in the English language as far as I can tell.

  11. Meanwhile…

    Villa doing the thing that happens to all sorts of clubs through the years – getting into the cup final, and then forgetting to focus on the league.

    Hopeless mess by the keeper in the opening minutes and they are 1-0 down. Not out of the relegation mix either.

  12. Surprised, Tony, you made no mention that many hacks are clearly directed, from on high, to write profuse praise about one team and forget all the others, (particularly Arsenal FC). 😉

  13. Thanks Tony, I appreciate your work in many ways. I think your points on journalists and football coverage are useful because people take daily inspiration from their favored teams and players. And dare I say, one’s politic may be influenced by one’s club. As in, which side are you on? When people of a certain ilk (careerists) are kept in jobs to build word-clouds – write dazzling stuff with little basis – one must ask oneself, who is in charge that is paying for this sh+8? And why does s/he not mind paying the worker to write ignorant stuff? Are they not actively encouraging ignorance by this? And how can s/he afford to pay for such? Anyone who has gone to an interview can build a picture when they say ‘company culture’. But that is a much deeper issue.
    In short, these journalists do not ask why to keep the reader from asking why. It’s all conditioning of the masses, what these hacks produce.

  14. Tell me a Story!

    A reporter goes way up into the hills of West Virginia to write an article about the area. He meets an old man in a small town and asks him about any memorable events in his life.
    The old man says, “Well, one time my favorite sheep got lost, so me and my neighbors got some moonshine and went looking for it. We looked and looked and finally found the sheep. Then we drank the moonshine and one by one, started shagging the sheep. It was a lot of fun!”
    The reporter figured he can’t write an article about that, so he asked the old man to tell him another story.
    The old man said, “Well, one time my neighbor’s wife got lost, so me and all the village men got some moonshine and went out looking for her. We looked and looked and finally we found her. Then we drank the moonshine and one by one, started shagging the neighbor’s wife. Now, THAT was a lot of fun!”
    The reporter, feeling frustrated, finally told the old man that he couldn’t write articles about those stories and asked him if he had any dramatic or sad memories that he could talk about.
    The old man paused a little and with a sad expression on his face said – “Well, one time I was lost…”

  15. Sounds about right .

    A newsboy was standing on the corner with a stack of papers, yelling, “Read all about it. Fifty people swindled! Fifty people swindled!”
    Curious, a man walked over, bought a paper, and checked the front page. Finding nothing, the man said, “There’s nothing in here about fifty people being swindled.”
    The newsboy ignored him and went on, calling out, “Read all about it. Fifty-one people swindled!”

  16. And you thought you were being clever ?

    A car was involved in an accident in a street. As expected a large crowd gathered. A newspaper reporter, anxious to get his story could not get near the car. Being a clever sort, he started shouting loudly, “Let me through! Let me through! I am the son of the victim.”
    The crowd made way for him. Lying in front of the car was a donkey.

  17. Well i think if the fans want to boo Cesc they should, but they should not forget watching the ref closely and making it felt if he does any foolishness, and above all cheer the team and give them support like never before.

  18. Tony,

    I think this is up there with BTsport presenters indignantly complaining about how convoluted and confusing the Emirates cup rules were in 2013. When you think of the resources expended by their employers to do the job one must wondering how they continue to have a job when they fail so miserably at mundane tasks on the job.

    If it is your job to comment on a tournament which your organisation is broadcasting, you have a duty to not only learn the rules, no matter how convoluted, but you have a responsibility to enlighten the public about it as simply as possible.

    It is beyond idiotic to write about football fans and then put in phrases expressing your ignorance of what their chants mean. Why bother? What’s the point of your writing on the topic? If you are too snobbish to understand or too lazy to find out what’s behind the popular chants of football fans, you need to find another job and stop pretending to be a football journalist.

    I fucking hate the football press in this country. I have no love for the media generally but boy, I hate the footie journos.

  19. Next to the donkey, was his farmer owner. He was stroking the animal’s neck, saying “I’m sorry Morgan, this wouldn’ have happened if I could have afforded a real Morgan horse”.

    Someone in the crowd recognized this newspaper reporter from the next town, and yelled out, “Piers, you better get back to yonder Whoville”.

    And now you know, the rest of the story.

  20. Beautiful. Alesis’ namesake equalised for villa. 2-2.
    Hope it stays so.
    Want City to go ahead of Manu.

  21. Tony
    There are no journalists anymore. Everyone in all media are presenting a point of view; their own or directed by another hand. Criticise them as commenters or just writers. To call them journalists would imply some standards and ethics which are no longer on display.

  22. My recollection is that the ‘and leicester’ was added to the chant when we played our our FA Cup replay saga with Sheffield Wednesday in the late 1970’s when we drew at home and away and then played I think 3 games on neutral ground all at Filbert Street. After that the ‘and Leicester’ was added and like many good chants started at the Arsenal it has taken off everywhere. I can remember singing ‘Over land and sea’ on the North Bank without the addition and it was around that time we started singing with the addition of ‘and Leicester’.

  23. It’s disappointing nobody got my addition to Brickfield’s Donkey joke. 🙁

    It is nice that the TV people have a reasonable time for our game, I probably will see none of Everton (hopefully) beating ManU. That is too early.

    Good night people.


  24. I always thought the “and Leicester” was a reference to the signpost on the M1 when it says “the Midlands and Leicester”

  25. The and Leicester bit started when the Arsenal v Leicester 5 th round tie in February 1975 went to three games, with BOTH replays being staged at Filbert Street,hence repeated trips to Leicester for Arsenal supporters.

  26. @ Gord – April 26, 2015 at 3:36 am – Everybody got the joke, only thing is that any Piers Morgan reference is immediately followed by an onset acid reflux ,and retching , and barfing , and puking , and …well you get the idea !
    The treatment is to calm down , take it easy and tell yourself that he too will pass !
    And don’t forget to breathe ….

  27. @ Gord- A few glasses of wine keeps all negativity away and brings balance to the farce !

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