What is a football chant?
A football chant or terrace chant is a catchy, easy-to-learn song performed at football matches by fans and are particularly popular in the UK. They’re sung – or, let’s be honest, yelled – by the fans of a team, usually with the aim of goading the fans of the opposition. Sometimes, the songs will make reference to an individual player or manager, but are usually a celebration of the team as a whole.
- Shostakovich and football: how the beautiful game shaped the composer’s life and music
- It’s Coming Home: the best interpretations of ‘Three Lions’ played on classical instruments
- Football-mad musicians: 6 of the best
- David James: why the footballer trains to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
- Pieces of music about sport: eight of the best
Classical music – be that operas, orchestral works or hymns – forms the basis of a large number of football chants, which are usually focused on a catchy refrain that can be repeated on a loop. While some may be rather more eyebrow-raising than others in terms of subject matter and language, football chants might be considered one of the last remaining examples of an oral folk song tradition in the UK.
Land of Hope and Glory (‘We Hate Nottingham Forest’)
There have been numerous interpretations of Elgar‘s iconic theme. In London, the Tottenham Hotspurs began the trend of singing, ‘We hate Nottingham Forest, we hate Arsenal too. We hate Manchester United, but Tottenham we love you.’ This theme has been replicated by other clubs, replacing the team names where applicable.
At this point, we’d have liked to have included a YouTube video to show the song in action, but unfortunately there are one or two moments of rather fruity language. Sorry. You can have the original instead, it’s much nicer.
Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! (‘Glory, Glory, Man United’)
Also known as ‘Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory‘, this tune was originally developed as a folk hymn in the southern states of America. The hymn has a fascinating history in abolitionism: although it was first developed in the early 1800s, it wasn’t until the 1850s that the ‘Glory, glory, hallelujah’ chorus became used.
In 1861, it is believed to have been played for the first time as ‘John Brown’s Body’, which depicted a dead man whose soul was marching on beyond the grave. It became known as the ‘Battle Hymn’ during the Civil War. In 1862, abolitionist writer Julia Ward Howe’s lyrics to the song were published, which is the version we know today.
In football, ‘Hallelujah’ is replaced by the name of the football club, as heard here. ‘Glory, Glory, Man United, as the Reds go marching on!’.
Bread of Heaven (‘You’re Not Singing Anymore’)
The lyrics of ‘Bread of Heaven’ are continually adapted by football fans, depending on the context of the game and the teams involved. The refrain of ‘Feed me till I want no more’ is often replaced with the taunt ‘You’re Not Singing Anymore’, when the supporters of the other team have fallen quiet – often because they have conceded a goal or a player has been sent off.
Fun fact: it was also featured in an episode of Father Ted by Mrs Doyle and her friends.
This one’s a bit of a stretch, we grant you. The football chant in question is actually based on ‘Go West’ by Village People, but that’s based on Pachelbel’s Canon. After all, everything comes back to Baroque music, doesn’t it?
There have been many interpretations of this song, usually performed in an ad hoc manner. The most ubiquitous version in the UK is typically creative: ‘You’re s*** and you know you are, you’re s*** and you know you are.’ Charming as ever.
Again, we’re going to include a non-footballing version to protect your ears and, more importantly, our jobs.
‘La donna è mobile’ from Verdi’s Rigoletto
You’ll have heard this tune in just about every lyrical variation under the sun. In fact, Verdi knew he’d created a catchy tune as soon as he wrote it. He asked the singer at the premiere to swear that he wouldn’t sing or whistle a note of it before rehearsals began, so as to save the excitement.
In this round-up of football chants, you’ll hear Verdi‘s canzone (ballad) performed in various guises, each one less creative than the last.
On the opera stages, it’s become a calling card of all top tenors – notably, of course, The Three Tenors.
Lord of the Dance
Written in 1963, ‘Lord of the Dance’ is a relatively new hymn and retells the gospel story of Jesus’s life and mission as a dance. Walsall fans have sung this tune to the lyrics, ‘Fight, fight, wherever you may be. We are the boys from the Black Country…’.
As we’re now learning through our research into terrace and football chants, there are some mildly offensive alternatives that we shan’t dwell on here.
Paul McCartney and Wings’s ‘Mull of Kintyre’
Yes, yes. It’s not strictly classical, but Paul McCartney has dipped his toe into the world of composing a number of times, so we’ll let that one slide.
This is a Nottingham Forest favourite, dedicated to its football stadium City Ground, which sits on the banks of the River Trent. ‘Mull of Kintyre’ was released in late 1977, with Forest taking on the tune in 1978, as they qualified for the European Cup for the very first time. Ever since then, the tune has become the Nottingham Forest chorus and is now always played before kick-off.
‘Oh City Ground. Oh mist rolling in from the Trent. My desire is to be here.’ Pure poetry.