xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: Singing a song for Soccer

Friday, 26 July 2013

Singing a song for Soccer

A couple of nights ago 95 000 soccer fans packed out the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch the famous English Premier League team, Liverpool Football Club, play a game against local side, Melbourne Victory. It was a memorable occasion, made even more so by the spine tingling pre game singing of Liverpool’s theme song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, by most of the 95 000 red scarf waving Liverpool fans. As is often the case with soccer, the build up was far more exciting than the game, which was almost a 90 minute, two goals to nil, anti climax.
From the outset, may I say I am not a keen follower of soccer; the round ball version of football which the Football Federation of Australia adamantly insists should never be referred to as “soccer”. Well, I am sorry FFA, but soccer is the name that was derived from the word “association” in the English Football Association by the English people themselves. The AFF insists that its brand of football is not called soccer in the UK and it should not be called soccer in Australia. Well I have been to the UK and I have heard men, women and children there talking about soccer. What is more, I have been to North America and it is also referred to as soccer in Canada, the USA, and the West Indies and in many other parts of the world.
Even stranger is the fact than the non soccer recognising FFA has a national team which is known as, wait for it, The Socceroos. Obviously, the Football Federation of Australia is playing word games, attempting to put the boots into the Australian Football League, or the AFL, as it is widely referred to. The AFL is the supreme governing body for “Australian Rules Football” which now almost invariably is referred to as AFL football.
In a way it is strange, and perhaps indicative of Australians being known as a “Weird Mob”, that the Australian game is called Australian Rules, because the game is actually governed by Laws, not Rules. A booklet entitled “The Laws of Australian Football.” was drawn up in Melbourne in 1858 by three cricketers who were looking for some form of sport to occupy their winter months. The laws have been changed quite a bit over the years but they still are collectively known as the Laws of Football. Ironically, the AFL has a Rules Committee which is charged with amending these Laws from time to time. Too frequently, in the opinion of many.
Soccer is obviously a very skilful game but, for me at least, I have found it too slow to maintain my interest for long periods. Scoring is very difficult and often when a team does score it reverts to very defensive tactics which makes the game unattractive to spectators. My solution to this problem would be to do, as field hockey did about twenty years ago, and get rid of the Offside rule. With no restrictions on players approaching the goal, more goals would be scored and teams would be more attacking for longer periods.
However, my lack of enthusiasm for soccer has not diminished its world wide appeal. It is the most popular football game in the entire world. Indeed, it is smugly referred to as “The World Game”. To combat soccer’s universal popularity, Rugby fans insist that “Rugby is the game that is played in heaven”. That may, or may not be true, but obviously, Australian Rules is the game that God watches, because AFL also stands for the Almighty’s Football League.
One thing that can be said for soccer is that it has produced the most musical fans in sport. Faced with long periods of no scoring and interminable back passing, British soccer fans devised songs and chants to while away the extremely long periods of silence that would normally separate the rare moments of ecstatic jubilation when a goal is finally scored. For years I used to watch the televised coverage of the FA Cup just so that I could enjoy the huge crowd singing “Abide with Me” before the kick off. Sadly, in recent years I have missed this wonderful occasion. Either, I have tuned in too late, or in our increasingly godless society, the organisers fear that not enough people will know all the words. I hope that this is not so.
For many years soccer was marred by hooligans who used to engage in vicious brawls and violent acts of vandalism to fill in the boring moments between goals being scored. Football authorities were forced to erect barriers to separate rival team supporters. Deprived of physical activity, supporters soon developed chants and songs to help pass the time during the game. So enjoyable have these communal choral events become that I suspect that some fans would turn up even if there was no game on at all, just to enjoy the social collegiality of drinking, singing and chanting with their mates.
Soccer behaviour was even worse in Europe and South America, where crowd violence often involved fireworks, incendiary devices and fire arms. I recall reading about a soccer game in Quito, Ecuador, when after a goal was scored from a controversial penalty; one enraged barracker jumped the fence and ran onto the field brandishing a gun above his head. Terrified players, the referee and linesmen all ducked for cover as the desperate fan raised his pistol, took deliberate aim...and shot the ball!
Australian football is fast paced, usually with frequent scoring, so barrackers do not get a lot of time for singing and chanting. We know that there are Laws, not Rules governing Australian Rules football. Of course many people seeing Australian Rules Football for the first time would need absolutely no convincing that there are no rules in Australian football whatsoever. In some games, whatever rules there are seem to change, or become nonexistent, according to umpire interpretations, as the game progresses. With three umpires on the ground this can lead to new interpretations of new interpretations every quarter. Instead of singing and chanting, Aussie football barrackers are usually in a constant frenzy of abuse, yelling out, “Push in the back, “Holdin’ the ball”, “Holdin’ the man”, “Droppin’ the ball”, “Throwin’; the ball” and “Fair go, Umpire”. As far as I am aware, no one has ever attempted to put any of this to music.
However, in recent years AFL teams have developed a team song which is sung at the conclusion of each winning game. Television channels know that they will incur the wrath of their viewers if they do not televise battle weary players, in their circle of solidarity, belting out their victorious team song.
Unfortunately, “belting out” is the appropriate phrase, for unlike their song loving soccer counterparts, Australian footballers seem unable to sing their song with any reference to the melody. They choose to tunelessly yell and shout them out, while throwing red cordial over selected team mates and occasionally sticking their fingers in the eyes and ear holes of their neighbours. It is a demonstration of something, but of what exactly, I am not entirely sure.
To a music lover like me, this is especially sad, because some of these team songs are among some of the greatest melodies ever composed. Carlton’s “Lilly of Laguna”, Collingwood’s “Goodbye, Dolly Gray”, Brisbane’s “Les Marseilles”, Sydney’s “Old Notre Dame” and Melbourne’s “Grand Old Flag” are songs that could either raise an emotional tear, or send you happily into battle, if sung with the passion and tunefulness of a Liverpuddlian footballing chorus.
Some of the other AFL team songs are not quite so grand. As a West Coast Eagle supporter, I have to admit that “We’re the Eagles” has the tuneful mediocrity of a television motor car commercial. The Fremantle Dockers, of course sing the classic “Song of the Volga Boatman” which includes the unsporting and incriminating lines to ‘Hit ‘em real hard, hit ‘em down below”. Just singing those lines should incur a two week ban from the Match Review Panel.
I doubt that Australian footballers will ever belt out their team songs with the melodic beauty of the Vienna Boys’ Choir, but I do admire the rich tunefulness of those English soccer, er, excuse me,  football crowds. I don’t know if any more famous English football teams are scheduled to visit Australia in the near future. If I want to hear uplifting singing at the football I may need to hang on till next year’s FA Cup telecast.
Abide with me!

No comments:

Post a Comment

I would love to hear your opinion! If for some technical reason it won't let you leave a comment, please email me at bourke@iinet.net.au