Back in late 1968, as a boy of fourteen, I always stood in the Fulwell End among the lads who chanted and we had a great time clapping, shouting and having a laugh even if the game was crap, which it often was. Some of the best chants didn’t even have words and consisted of some funky clapping and plenty of, “Ooyi’s.” There was rarely any rough stuff at that time, except when we ‘entertained’ Newcastle and then all hell would break loose, and the security was extremely lax compared to what it became shortly afterwards. One day we were chanting a bit of a naughty line or two when a chubby young policeman with a very red face suddenly burst into our midst and shouted, “ALL YEAS THAT’S SHOUTIN’ SHITE CAN JUST PACK IT IN NOW C0Z THAT’S ALL YAS ARE YERSELS –SHITE!” Everyone was stunned by this and when he’d backed off our amazement gave way to much snickering.
I think it was at the beginning of the 1965/1966 season that I first heard chanting at a football game. I was in the Paddock and I kept hearing some people singing, “Just like a tree that’s standing by the water’s side, we shall not be moved.” I couldn’t figure out what was going on and looked around me to try and find the source of this strange phenomenon till I finally located it in the top right hand corner of the Fulwell End. My cousin was a member of the supporters club and I later heard that they’d all been given song sheets. New chants quickly arose back then and God knows where they came from but every few weeks there’d be another, often a parody of a popular song e.g. (to the tune ‘Valerie! Valerah!’), “I went along to Roker Park to see the boys in red. I had a talk with Alan Brown and this is what he said. Ooooooooooooooooo-ooooh! I-an I-an Porter-field! I-an Porter-field!” and (to the tune of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ no less) “We hate Nottingham Forest. We hate Liverpool too (and Leicester!). We hate Man Uniiiiiited but Sund’land we love you!” This was all a bit too tasteful to last of course and soon enough we had, “We’re all shoutin’ for Kinnell!”, “We all shit in a black and white pot!” and “There won’t be many goin’ home!”
West Ham have ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ and Liverpool ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, though everyone’s nicked that one off them, but the most enjoyable chant I ever joined in with was ‘Blaydon Races’ as we stood on our seats at the end of the 1973 Final. For some reason I attended a Wimbledon v Darlington game in 1979, which I think was Wimbledon’s first season in the Football League, and two things struck me. The first was that I’d seen better kickabouts in Backhouse Park and the other was the pathetic chanting of the Wimbledon ‘boot-boys’. They must all have been about eleven or twelve and every now and again there’d be a hilarious high-pitched chant of “Womble aggro! Womble aggro!” We used to chant “A-G! A-G-R! A-G-R-O! AGRO!” “My garden shed is bigger than this,” does bring a smile to my lips but in my experience it’s the prelude to us being knocked out of a cup competition at an early stage by a lower-league side.
In the autumn of 1978, I often stood in the Roker End and there was a group of a dozen or so guys in their thirties who had their own chants that amused themselves and quite a few others too. Putting on a bit of a Spanish accent they’d chant “ARHENTINA! ARHENTINA!” and another one of theirs sounded like it was in Klingon and during it they’d all hold one hand in the air bent at a ninety-degree angle. That reminds me of a while back when I was sitting in a local pub – a group of people came in and greeted their friends opposite me in the manner of veloceraptors. A few more of them came in later and did the same thing. Of course, I was hoping that they would notice me and greet me in the same manner… but they didn’t.
Having attended the bulk of our home games in the late Sixties and the first couple of years of the Seventies I saw a lot of crummy performances and half the fun of going to matches was to enjoy the banter and the gallows humour. I’m sure late 1969 really was in black and white and it’s not just the photographic evidence that indicates so. There were rumours going around that the Stones were planning to do some stadium gigs and that Roker Park was a possible venue. We were playing West Ham at home one Saturday and were struggling as usual when at 0-0 they broke down the right wing towards the Roker End and a perfect cross came over for Geoff Hurst to biff it into the net with his head for their winner. I was standing in the Paddock and there was complete silence all around me till a lone male voice announced, “Bring on the Rolling Stones.”
In January 1975 I went down from London to Fratton Park to see us take on Portsmouth, who’d been flattened in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup the previous Saturday. We were riding high near the top of Division Two at that time and were hoping to win fairly easily but we ended up getting flattened ourselves, 4-1. Their fans were whooping it up and a forlorn young man who was actually sitting on the terraces close to me with his head drooping ever lower turned to them and shouted, to the theme tune of a song-request radio show of the time, “Sing something simple…” and then suddenly finding inspiration, finished off with “…you simple twats” which cracked loads of us up.
Of course many comments at matches contain a great deal of ‘filthy’ language and I don’t want to overload it too much on that score but the match is a place where people can get things off their chest and mild mannered suburbanites can let fly with torrents of abuse with general impunity. Not long ago I was explaining this to a female friend of mine who’s a non-drinking, non-smoking Jehovah’s Witness and I could see that it appealed to her. I was at Brighton once on some freezing December afternoon in 1981 and the police were keeping our lot in for fifteen minutes or so till they’d got the local lads shepherded to a safe distance. I was standing at the top of the terrace looking down towards those hanging around on the steps below me when a young gentleman to my right suddenly bellowed “FRRRRANNKEEEEYYYAA-AAHHH!” as he spotted his mate heading towards the lav near the outer wall. Frankie nonchalantly glanced up at his mate and shouted, “Swalla me knob!” before continuing on his way. I’d never heard that expression before and it made me smile but I noticed that the cop beside me was smirking his head off too.
I don’t know if Frankie had ever met Nat the Rat but I came across him at Stoke City v Sunderland, which I think was our first game of the ‘76-‘77 season; a season of two halves if ever there was one. I was standing at the Sunderland end and there were a good few thousand of us down there when a couple of guys next to me started shouting and laughing, “It’s Nat the Rat! It’s Nat the Rat!” Naturally I was intrigued to know who Nat was and as I turned and gazed upon terraces containing a thousand or so possibilities, there was only one person that they could’ve been referring to. Poor Nat obviously had some serious issues in the alcohol or mental health departments and was a wrecked-looking individual staggering in our general direction. Clearly he was something of a verbal punch-bag/mascot of these lads and they indulged in some banter with him, telling him Bob Stokoe was looking at them. Nat turned and shouted reverently, “BO-O-O-O-O-B!”
Speaking of Bob, I was at Hull just before we won the Cup and a group of Hull fans kept chanting, “We hate Stokko!” You’d think they could have bothered to get his name right first. I was about to enter a local pub before that game when a scrum of rival fans came battling out the door and as the dust settled one of the Hull lads mumbled, “I hate those Sunderland…ers.”
Barry Siddall was a great goalie but when we signed him in 1976, he had to fill the shoes of the mighty Monty. He could never take Monty’s place in our hearts, but he did a great job for us. One sunny afternoon I was standing in the Roker End when someone shouted that Barry was going to keep a clean sheet again and a wag in front of me piped up, “That’s more than his landlady can say for him!” I’m no fan of Noel Edmonds but around this time he had a slot on his radio show where he invited listeners to send in imaginary newspaper stories with daft headlines. Someone wrote in and said that Barry Siddall had bought a violin but when he got it home, he discovered that there was something wrong with the middle part of it. Next morning the headline read SIDDALL FIDDLE MIDDLE DIDDLE RIDDLE PROBE.
A common phenomenon among football crowds is what I’d call a ‘voice of the people’ who has appointed himself to publicly announce the concerns of the tribe; usually complaints in the direction of the manager, the chairman and the board. I was at a Q.P.R. match in 1972 when I first came to London and there was a sourpuss who every minute or so would solemnly announce some comment such as “Did you see that, Jago?” (Gordon Jago was then their manager and not a bad one either). A good mate of mine was at Q.P.R. the season before that and often mentions that someone shouted, “Fack off back to the shipyards!” “Fack off back to Nissan!” just doesn’t have the same cultural resonance somehow.
The police have always come in for a fair bit of stick at matches and at one game - Palace away, around 1981 – a line of cops started to walk in a line in front of our end and very quickly everyone was whistling Laurel and Hardy’s theme tune ‘The Cuckoo Song’, which cracked all of us up. It seems hard to imagine now but back in the Seventies there used to be a police brass band at Highbury and there was even one member who sang solo, after which he received a fair smattering of polite applause from the crowd. At the Crystal Palace away game in December 2006 loads of us had piled down to the bar at half-time to try to ease the hyperthermia and it was soon noticed that one of the barmen had a more then passing resemblance to Julio Arca. As scores of blokes repeatedly chanted “HOO-LEE-O!” and “Hoolio, Hoolio, givuz a pint!” he managed to keep a sickly smile on his face and kept his head down as he plied us with bottle after bottle of overpriced beer.
Apart from the police and, of course, referees the physical attributes of the opposing team’s players are an ever popular target of abuse for soccer supporters and one example that comes to mind was in a derby match at Roker Park against Newcastle in 1980 when Terry Hibbert came over to retrieve the ball from the crowd. As we know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder but let’s just say that several of the home crowd around me didn’t exactly consider Terry to be in the Adonis league and, amidst much animalistic growling, one guy surged forward and shouted, “Whaddaya think ya doin’ comin’ outside, frightenin’ kids?!” On New Year’s Day that year I’d attended the away game at St James’s Park and my mate and I had tickets amid a throng of Newcastle fans. They’d been calling Claudio Marangoni ‘Macaroni’ but he shut them up by scoring for us after ten minutes or so. My pal casually turned and tipped me a wink while hundreds of others seethed in silence all around us. When they went on to score twice our own gloom wasn’t noticed as we were barged around in the general euphoria.
Mercifully, racist comments are largely a thing of the past at football games but sexist comments were very much alive and well when the Dagenham Girl Pipers turned up at Roker Park to perform before a match in the Seventies sometime. As the uniformed troupe paraded smartly up and down the pitch piping away, hundreds of males in the crowd maintained a steady chant of “Get them off! Get them off!”
Lastly, I must mention two cries that were an integral part of my football experience in the Sixties, though one wasn’t actually heard within a ground. Anyone who was at Roker Park at that time and afterwards will recall a guy who walked around the cinder track shouting, “Peanu-uts, tanner a bag!” over and over again, though he’d sometimes add a bit of variation by saying, “Peanuts as big as cocynuts!” (for younger readers, a tanner is the equivalent of two and a half pence). He was a dab hand at catching sixpences from within the crowd and then lobbing the packets of nuts up to their purchasers. I used to live near the Royal Infirmary and early on a Saturday evening a Football Echo salesman would walk the streets delivering papers and selling them to passers by. We called him Ned and you could always hear him coming because he had the lilting cry of, FOOTBALLEKKHHHEUUU RRRGGGGG AAAAAAHHHHH!” Now, that’s a very Sunderland sound.