Dollop 65 – Game Of Chants

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[Well, here we go again folks, today sees Sheffield embroiled in yet another age-old vehement rivalry. In January I wrote about my harrowing experience of being caught up in warfare between Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United supporters. Today there is an even greater tribal rivalry than that showing its face, as Sheffield Wednesday are playing Rotherham, who are a distance of ten miles from each other, three times closer than Leeds, meaning their hatred for one another is naturally even greater than that of Leeds.

There are therefore quite a lot of police patrolling the streets of Sheffield. I’ve decided to stay in the house out of trouble, partly because of my encounter with the rioters in January in which I could arguably be seen as one of the key inciters, but mainly because I am acutely aware that if I accidentally get caught up in the fighting then the police will most likely target me as one of the main culprits. After all, I am probably already on their radar after my criminal behaviour on the tram.

I can hear the chanting from my window, with both tribes coming out with the usual jibes to taunt each other, leading to the inevitable violence after the match. It started out with Sheffield goading the proud men of Rotherham with a chant of: “our life expectancy is rising faster than yours! Our life expectancy is rising faster than yours.” A chant that has been a staple in the Sheffielder’s repertoire since 2008, when the most recent set of public health statistics came out, citing dramatic improvements in quality of life in Sheffield. This report struck right at the heart of the proud men of Rotherham, a heart that is statistically more likely to suffer disease and impairment compared to a Sheffielder’s.

The Sheffielders then move onto a chant about the severe Rotherham floods of 2007. The proud tribesmen of Rotherham respond with a chant of their own: “Centenary Washlands! Centenary Washlands!” they sing, referring to Rotherham’s recently installed wetland and flood storage and defence facilities.

But then the Sheffielders launch into an uproarious chant all about the Rotherham child abuse scandal, and then start waving flags baring the 2012 Times newspaper article which first brought the incident to the public’s attention. There is little that the proud men of Rotherham can offer as means of adequate retaliation. A few Rotherham tribesmen continue shouting “Centenary Washlands, Centenary Washlands,” but they soon realise that it sounds utterly pathetic and feeble against the sea of Sheffielders’ flags and child abuse chants.

I wonder how football chants become adopted. Does one man have the idea for a chant and then just starts singing it, in the hope that everyone else will join in? The reason chants work is because they are a collective experience, and it would be a bit embarrassing to start off a chant you’ve made up, only to realise that no one else seems to be interested in joining in, resulting in you awkwardly just petering out, feeling a bit humiliated. On the other hand, it must be a wonderful feeling to come up with an idea for a chant, launch into it and gradually hear more and more voices joining in and taking up the song, until eventually there are thousands of voices singing it.

I can understand how some chants easily catch on, like just chanting the name of the football team to a two-note tune, but I’m amazed at the complexity of some of the chants, and how they ever become adopted.

When I used to go to Hartlepool matches as a child – by which I mean I was a child, I didn’t go to the matches in fancydress, pretending to be a child – the crowd would all sing, “I’m pooly til I die, I’m pooly til I die.” Baring in mind that people from Teesside pronounce the word poorly as pooly, this chant just sounded like we were making an observation about the low life expectancy and overall weak health of our town.

The other odd chant was “there’s only one Hartlepool,” which as far as boasts go isn’t really up to much. We’re essentially just saying that there is only one town that has the name Hartlepool. There are only one of most towns in the country, and I’m doubtful wether the exceptions to the rule would really be too put out by the fact that they have to share their name with somewhere else. It’s not as if a load of Newcastle United supporters are going to hear us chanting “there’s only one Hartlepool,” and think, “shit, they’ve got a point, where as we have to share our name with sodding Newcastle-Under-Lyme. Man, I feel depressed now, and the fact that we’re in the premiership offers nothing in the way of comfort. Bloody Hartlepool, they have all the luck.”

Back tomorrow with my penultimate blog before I head to Australia. If you’re a new reader to these Dollops then I’m off to Australia with my folk band The Young’uns; I’m not being transported because of my tram ticket dodging crimes.

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