Even those strange people who don’t live and breathe football know that Liverpudlians never walk alone and West Ham are forever blowing bubbles. They may even be aware that Baggies boing while Everton run out to the Z-Cars theme tune. Just having a vague knowledge of these peculiar and unique traits reveal that each have transcended the sport into mainstream consciousness.
Yet it doesn’t begin and end with these four anthems, of course. Pretty much every club has a chant or musical accompaniment that is solely theirs and often beautifully and brilliantly bizarre. Try explaining to someone from a distant shore why a bunch of hardened East End geezers sing wistfully about bubbles fading and dying like their dreams, or the Chelsea fans’ ritual of throwing sticks of celery onto the pitch.
Some claim renowned Blues supporter Mickey Greenaway started the curious tradition in the Shed End, corrupting an old knees-up number called ‘Ask Old Brown’. Others insist the eccentric and wonderfully crude chant – ‘Celery! Celery! If she don’t cum, I’ll tickle her bum, with a lump of celery’ – derives from a pre-season friendly at Gillingham where the vegetable had sprung up over the pitch during the summer.
All we really know is that throwing stalks from the stands was so prevalent it was banned from Stamford Bridge in 2008. Five years later the government issued a warning ahead of Chelsea’s trip to Sparta Prague: there would be no drinks, poles, flares, weapons or celery allowed inside the stadium. Thankfully the song itself persists, with a second verse involving the tickler’s mum offering sage advice on the aphrodisiac qualities of salad sticks. That’s a sentence you don’t get to write every day.
Sometimes there is a straightforward explanation for even the strangest terrace behaviour. As well as jumping up and down to sardonically to celebrate their club’s yo-yoing between the divisions, West Brom supporters also fill The Hawthorns with the religious strains of The Lord’s My Shepherd.
This started in the seventies when the Baggies played Everton in a FA Cup tie on a Sunday. With Sunday fixtures being a rare phenomenon back then some wags in the Thimblemill pub in Smethwick suggested a hymn should be sung that afternoon, and barring a lengthy dip during the hooligan years it’s been belted out ever since.
There is a long tradition of ecclesiastical ditties being appropriated for the terraces – variations on Bread Of Heaven must now total in the hundreds – but so too have chart hits proven to be a rich source of inspiration through the decades.
Lola, Seven Nation Army, Sloop John B, and Just Can’t Get Enough by Depeche Mode are just four examples of songs regularly mutated to eulogise an iconic player or denigrate a rival’s home town. These urban hymns can be heard on any given weekend from Carlisle to Crawley, but what really delight are the rare occasions when a slice of popular culture resonates with only one set of supporters. It is theirs and theirs alone.
Quite why Leicester City fans adopted Louis Armstrong’s ‘When You’re Smiling’ is, frankly, anyone’s guess, but anecdotal evidence suggests Anfield’s Kop loudly requested a rendition of it back in the Seventies and the feel-good number has been a staple in the Foxes’ songbook for generations.
Then there’s Tottenham’s long-standing and utterly incongruous association with Barry Manilow’s ‘Can’t Smile Without You’ that supposedly began when a car-full of fans listened to a compilation tape on their way to the Lane. The camp classic was the last song on the cassette, and thus it ear-wormed its way onto the Shelf.
Going further back The Dave Clark Five hit ‘Glad All Over’ became a Selhurst Park anthem almost from the moment it dislodged The Beatles from the top of the charts in 1964. So swiftly did the strong affiliation grow between the song and Crystal Palace that the band played a gig at the ground four years later despite being staunch Chelsea fans.
The catchy tune may have been ‘borrowed’ many times since by other clubs – most recently when Manchester City supporters realised the chorus scanned perfectly with ‘Guardiola’ – but make no mistake about it: the song was born, raised, and continues to flourish in south London.
If embracing a pop hit is viewed as endearingly eccentric, then we’re merely at the entrance to the rabbit-hole of weirdness. Because nothing sets one group of fans apart from their peers than a self-penned ode that celebrates not only their idiosyncratic side, but the whimsical nature of fandom in general.
Take Stoke’s thumping chant about the sale of bread: “Bread! Bread! Who will buy my bread? Long ones, short ones, some as big as my head”. As it increased in prominence during the Eighties theories began to arise regarding its genesis, with many claiming redundant miners sang it as they sold their home-baked wares around Stoke-On-Trent to make ends meet.
In actual fact the befuddled Monsieur LeClerc used to regularly sing it outside Rene’s café in the popular BBC sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo!. But if there was previous confusion concerning its inception, there is no doubting the intention to completely perplex those in the away end at the bet365 Stadium.
You may be similarly bemused by Swansea City’s occasional habit of whirling their arms through the air and singing ‘swim away’ on repeat. This isn’t due to a sudden outbreak of itching powder, but rather mocking their hated neighbours Cardiff following a supporter clash in 1988 that led to Cardiff’s firm being trapped on a beach and attempting to flee into the sea. It’s even been known for some Jacks to turn up to derbies adorned in armbands and snorkels, while former midfielder Jonjo Shelvey was warned by the FA after making a ‘swim away’ gesture to Cardiff fans in 2013.
If that one is more a hooligan taunt than whimsical quirk, we return to the daft end of the spectrum with Manchester City supporters’ insistence that they’re just like fans of the Invisible Man and not really here.
Although there are conflicting accounts as to the song’s origin that now rings out several times a game at the Etihad, the most feasible is an away game at Luton in the Eighties that Blues were banned from attending. A sizeable number still travelled down and when City scored pocketed celebrations broke out around the ground followed by the comically unconvincing claim that, “We are not, we’re not really here. Just like the fans of the Invisible man, we’re not really here”.
The song took on a deeper meaning at the turn of the century as City suffered the indignities of visiting lower league outposts and has become even more relevant today signifying what for most supporters are surreal experiences of playing in the Champions League and enjoying trips to the Nou Camp and Santiago Bernabeu. Additional self-deprecation – including a nod to their proud tradition of snatching farce from the jaws of glory – can also be found in the chant that City are ‘going down with a billion in the bank’.
Whether it’s Manchester United’s contingent looking forward to a monumental piss-up with Bestie in the afterlife or Liverpool’s magnificent magnum opus to Poor Scouser Tommy, every fanbase has a calling card. Some tingle the spine while others are just plain silly. Some, it has to be said, are even informative. Perhaps not if they involve celery.