I probably give too much away on here. Whilst re-reading “Fever Pitch” for approximately the 12,000th time earlier today, I was reminded of a peculiar little tic of mine that manifests itself at football matches. It goes something like this: I have to be in the ground a good five minutes before kick-off. Not particularly to sample the pre-match atmosphere, or even to pick up a quick Bovril before it all kicks off. No. What intrigues me is the song that is played as the teams run out onto the pitch. At some grounds, as we’ll see, it’s positively inspired, whilst at others… less so. We all know of the ubiquity of “Simply The Best”, which was replaced, of course, by “Let Me Entertain You”. We also know of the dark humour to be had at some dismal Third Division ground, when a team in the middle of a twenty match run without a goal trot out with the look of lambs to the slaughter to the crackly strains of “We Are The Champions”. The songs that teams run out to range from the self-parodic (the last time I went to see Barnet, they emerged from the tunnel to “Tubthumping” – “I get knocked down but I get back up again” – by Chumbawumba), to the downright bizarre (see below). This is something of a top ten, though I note that the internet appears to be sadly bereft of a definitive list, so it has been compiled largely from memory, so I may be wrong on a few details. I’ll be happy put it together, when I get the time.
10. Manchester United – “United Calypso”: This is probably the only complimentary thing you’ll ever hear about Manchester United on here. It’s nice to know that, in the age of rampant, shiny, commercialism that is the Glazer-Premiership era, that this almost “Black & White Minstrels”-esque song, with its eulogy to the Busby Babes, survives from a somehow more innocent era. Hmmm. I feel violated now.
9. Everton/Watford – “The Theme To Z Cars”: The story goes that in the early 1960s, the cast of “Z Cars” were invited to Goodison Park and this theme tune was played in their honour, and it then stuck, but it’s also worth pointing out that, as “Johnny Todd”, it’s a well-known Liverpool folk song in its own right. Quite how it made the trip south to Hertfordshire I’m not entirely sure, but given that the alternative would probably be “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”, it’s probably a good thing.
8. St Albans City – “CC Rider”: Down the years, my home-town team have been as guilty as anyone else of belting out “Simply The Best” et al. However, for a brief period in the mid-1990s, it all went a bit odd. Under the tutelage of former player Allan Cockram, they played ludicrous all-out attacking football (96 goals scored and 81 conceded), and the surreality started before kick-off, as the theme music from “2001: A Space Odyssey” segued into Elvis’ “CC Rider”. Personally, I’d prefer it if they went back to the Louis Armstrong ragtime version of “When The Saints Go Marching In” that they played there for years, but this is the song that I remember.
7. Stoke City – “Delilah”: I’m not entirely certain whether they still play this as they come out onto the pitch, but I went to see Stoke a few times while I was University (long story), and they did then. It was a wall of noise, as 10,000 hairy-arsed Midlanders belted it out at a deafening level. Marvellous.
6. Millwall – “Let ‘Em Come”: Perhaps not in keeping with their (often self-imposed) reputation as the Hard Men of English Football, this knockabout cockney knees-up (complete with reference to “Jellied Eels”) is still hugely popular in East London. For the record, London seems to do this nonsense better than anywhere almost else in the country.
5. Brighton & Hove Albion – “Sussex By The Sea”: Reportedly the second oldest football song still sung (written in 1907, only “On The Ball, City”, from Norwich City, beats for age – and that is only by year), a quick visit to any BHA forum quickly demonstrates how popular it still is. Many of these forums make reference to 30,000 people singing it at The Millenium Stadium during the 2004 play-off final as being a “lump in the throat” moment”. Should you be interested, the words are here.
4. Crystal Palace – “Glad All Over”: With all due apologies to my fellow Brightonians, but this is great. Considering the genre’s inherent catchiness, there’s very little 60s pop sung at football grounds (“Twist & Shout” at Coventry City and, of course, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” are the only others that spiring readily to mind). Palace, however, cling to this foot-stomper like a security blanket.
3. Wolverhampton Wanderers – “The Liquidator”: Without a shadow of doubt the coolest song in this list, Harry J Allstars’ ska classic has been played at Molineux since the 1970s. Wolves retired it in the 1990s due to the extent of abuse hurled at West Brom by fans while it was being played, but the strength of protest was such that it has been restored, although it’s now played 15 minutes before kick-off, with “Hi-Ho Silver Lining” and “Fanfare For The Common Man” both having taken it’s place at various times.
2. Leyton Orient – “Tijuana Taxi”: Okay. What are Leyton Orient famous for? They got to the FA Cup semi-final in the 1970s some time, they’re owned by Barry Hearn, and above all else, their club song is Herb Alpert’s magnificently ridiculous “Tijuana Taxi”. It’s a beautiful thing. No visit to Brisbane Road can possibly be complete without parping along to this at some point, as it were.
1. West Ham United – “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”: Well, is there any other song that quite so concisely sums it up to support a football team? “Fortune’s always hiding, I’ve looked everywhere”. Even at the ripe old age of 33, it brought a lump to my throat to hear 30-odd thousand of them singing it at the end of this year’s FA Cup Final, after they’d been cruelly denied a famous win by Liverpool. “You’ll Never Walk Alone”? Nah. This is what it’s all about.