If you ever have had the luxury of visiting the Johann Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam to watch Ajax play, one of the most spine-tingling experiences you will encounter – apart from the football – is the fans’ rendition of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” The hairs will lift on your arms, and it’s impossible not to get swept away in the moment – even if you are part of the away fans contingent.
Football and music have a long intertwined history. And part of football’s heritage is linked to music, and vice versa. Take, for example, Old Trafford, home of perhaps the world’s most famous football club, Manchester United. As you mount the (many) stairs towards your seat from the back of the stadium minutes before the game kicks off, you’ll hear The Stone Roses’ anthem “This Is The One.” The song gets louder and louder until you reach the entrance to the stands proper, then the lights of the stadium, voices of 70,000 fans and the Roses’ music hit you full on the face. It’s a special experience.
Some clubs use old-style ballads
United’s use of The Stone Roses’ song is not by chance, of course. The band was Manchester born and bred, and frontman Ian Brown is a Manchester United season-ticket holder. On the other side of Manchester, you’ll find a different type of experience. Manchester City’s players walk out to a more traditional ballad, “Blue Moon.” It’s a completely different feeling to “This Is This One,” but it seems to be working out for City as the team are reigning Premier League champions, and they find themselves favourites in the football betting for the Champions League this season.
Every team will have a “walkout song” in football. Sometimes, like Liverpool (“You’ll Never Walk Alone”) and City, it’s an old-school ballad, and other times, as with United and Burnley (“Wake Up” by Arcade Fire), it’s a brilliant indie track. Some clubs don’t use chart songs. Tottenham Hotspur walk out to “Duel of the Fates” (music from Star Wars). All cities have their music, so it’s usually the case that the walkout song will reflect that.
But perhaps the real magic happens in the stands and does not need the stadium’s PA system to interrupt. We mentioned Ajax fans and “Three Little Birds” earlier. That happened by chance, as the hardcore Ajax fans were looking for a song to become their own. As ever with the multi-billion-dollar global football industry, the club monetized this, making shirts with signature Marley imagery for the 2021/22 season.
Creative chant use popular indie songs
While it’s not as spine-tingling as the anthems, the creative way that fans mold songs to their liking is, at times, hilarious. Back when Aaron Wan-Bissaka was playing at Crystal Palace, the fans used the lyrics of The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” – “Sharif don’t like it, Rockin’ the Casbah, Rock the Casbah” and changed it to “your wingers don’t like him, Wan Bissaka, Wan Bissaka”.
Often the songs are self-deprecating: (to the tune of Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore”), “When your sitting in Row Z, and the ball hits your head, that’s Zamora” was sung by West Ham fans (lovingly) about their misfiring striker, Bobby Zamora. Another self-deprecating one was a big hit at Arsenal, (to the tune of Jackson Five “Blame it on the Boogie”) “Don’t blame it on Henry, don’t blame it on injuries, don’t blame it on the referees, blame it on Eboué”. The midfielder, Emmanuel Eboué, had a tough time as an Arsenal player.
Of course, football fans aren’t always PC, and some have got into trouble before for appropriating songs and turning them into something offensive. The most famous case was Manchester United fans’ use of the Manic Street Preachers’ “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next.” The fans substitute “This” for “Wenger”, a reference to the then-Arsenal manager. The inference of the chant was that Wenger was a paedophile, which, of course, he isn’t. This was seen as grossly offensive, and it caused Sir Alex Ferguson to plead with the fans to stop.
The Wenger example is a rare case where fans have gone a bit too far, however. And the majority of chants taken from popular songs are in good taste, and require a high dose of creativity. It adds to the overall experience of a match, regardless if your team is winning or losing. If you can’t get to the stadium, check out some of the footage on YouTube. You might be surprised to see how many catchy reimaginings of cracking tunes you will find.