“A symbol that binds us to our home, our childhood, each other”
Matty blogs about sport’s relationship with music, and imagines a TUFC with a better grasp of its own identity
Matty Hayward – @mattyhayward96
At the start of this month, the curtain was drawn on the English football season with an unmemorable FA Cup final. Fortunately, due to the welcome return of club cricket on Saturdays, I managed to avoid watching the dystopian spectacle of the most prestigious domestic cup competition in world football being concluded inside a cavernous, echoey stadium between two teams I am, at best, apathetic towards. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to escape the customary “the FA Cup was better in the my day,” “all day build up,” “reporters on the team bus,” “only football match you’d ever see as a kid, wasn’t it!” ramblings from my elder teammates in the slips. Naturally, I volunteered to be the first to move into the covers.
Catching up on Twitter after my limited contribution to Chelston and Kingskerswell second XI’s comfortable victory over Ipplepen 3rds, I noticed that nobody was really talking about the FA Cup Final. In fact, the first reference to the day’s events at Wembley I saw was about the pre-match ritual. It appeared that Emeli Sande had sung Abide With Me on the roof.
Obviously this was utterly insane. Why, when there’s no crowd to join in or be moved by the anthem, are they even bothering at all? The answer is that it’s one of the final traditions of “FA Cupism”, something fans can cling onto that links that balmy game on the first of August with the crazy Liverpool West Ham final of 2006, with Coventry 3 Spurs 2 in 1987, with Bob Stokoe’s Sunderland lifting the trophy in 1973, with Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal losing to Cardiff in 1927. It’s one of the few stalwarts in the competition’s, in football’s, history.
Music – or, more specifically, certain songs – then, have an important place in sport, and in the hearts of sports fans. Nothing demonstrates this more than the fact that two of the top ten funeral songs in the UK are the theme tunes to sports programmes (Soul Limbo and the Match Of The Day theme). A good proportion of people, myself included, will have seen their loved ones carried in or out of a crematorium to the sound of Barry Stoller’s familiar fanfare. That’s how much music means to sport fans.
Even more noteworthy on that list, is the fact that You’ll Never Walk Alone ranks fifth. To Liverpool (and Celtic) fans, that song has become a true anthem of their lives. And their deaths.
An ever-present symbol with which they can identify, that binds them to their home, their team, their childhood, their families, each other. The song they bellow, with tens of thousands of people like them from streets and schools and backgrounds like theirs, before every game and after every triumph. A song, so fittingly, about community and strength in adversity and stoicism. It makes perfect sense that it be played at a funeral.
Of course, having an anthem is not specific to Liverpool fans. Sheffield United have Greasy Chip Butty, Man City have Blue Moon, Leeds have Marching on Together, West Ham have Bubbles. Songs that supporters sing in congregation, the hymns at their church, that bind them and remind them of their shared pride. There’s something extraordinarily moving about the sight of thousands of (predominantly) men, of all ages, many of whom will seldom find healthy outlets to express their emotions, with arms linked or scarves aloft belting out lyrics that were tattooed into their memory from birth.
The best example of this, and I’d sincerely urge you to watch at least the first couple of minutes of the video below, is Hibs fans singing The Proclaimers’ Sunshine On Leith. It helps that it’s a beautiful song, but the spectacle of all those fans singing in unison – a community literally united by a symbol of their home and their club – is wonderfully joyous.
Which brings me neatly to the proposal part of this article. Football fans, pundits, journalists and talking heads are obsessed with the idea that the globalisation of the game is ruining it. That clubs’ identities are being hollowed out in the ever-accelerating pursuit of marketing dominance, brands, instant noodle partners and TV deals with companies you’ve never heard of. Obviously, there’s some truth in that, which only serves to underline the importance of upholding, clinging onto, even reinforcing clubs’ traditions and identities.
I’m incredibly jealous of the ritual of clubs like Liverpool singing their own (almost) unique song before every game. I’m jealous of the togetherness it brings, the strength and endurance of the symbol, the almost tangible grasp on their club’s identity that it allows. In short, I want a bit of that.
About once or twice a season, often at (or on the train home from) succesful away games, between two and twenty Torquay fans – myself included – give a rendition of Goodbye Horse. The song, if you don’t know, goes like this:
Goodbye Horse, Goodbye Horse,
Saying goodbye to my horse
and as I was saying goodbye to my horse
I was saying goodbye to my horse
[Repeat until vocal chords sore or fellow passengers get agitated]
To be clear, there isn’t a typo there. It’s a nonsense song. A quite in-depth google suggests that Charlton fans also sing a version of it. Some forum members attribute it to a day at Upton Park where a policeman lost control of his steed, others tell a similar story of a Brighton match, while others believe it relates to a time where travellers used to let their horses graze at The Valley but had to be removed before the start of every season. To be even clearer, this doesn’t matter.
It’d be nice if we had an anthem sung by a Torquay-based artist (like Hibs and Liverpool) or perhaps referenced the club or the town, but as far as I can see we don’t. In lieu of that, I propose we adopt Goodbye Horse. The great advantage of singing a song that has no obvious meaning is that we can attribute meaning to it. You may say these things can’t just be borne out of nowhere, but You’ll Never Walk Alone only started being sung by Liverpool fans because a few of them started singing it on the terraces after it was realeased by Gerry and the Pacemakers and it caught on. In my dream world in a decade’s time (and I’m a socialist, so I spend a lot of time there), we all sing Goodbye Horse as the players walk out at Plainmoor. It becomes meaningful, not lyrically but sentimentally, to Torquay fans.
We stand, scarves aloft, come rain or shine, whether the current crop of players are mediocre or bad, and belt out those lyrics. It becomes Ours. Something we can identify with. Teenagers go to Magaluf and get it tattooed on their bottoms for a bet. Pensioners could make up tales about how it originated, confabulating stories around the remaining pillars of memory they cling onto, none of them quite hitting upon the truth, not that that matters. All of us could turn up at Plainmoor and sing it, every game.
I know I don’t have that sort of power, and it’s very much a pipe dream. It’d be nice though.
COYY – Matty