‘You just know’

We spoke to staunch Kopite and legendary chant-creator John Mackin to help us unravel the sweet science of the football sing-along

Whether they’re cutting, topical or just plain funny, there’s nothing better than a well-timed football chant spreading across the terrace to make a supporter’s spine tingle.

It’s one of the purest joys of the beautiful game. But where do these melodic sing-alongs stem from, what makes a good one and what does it feel like to hear the whole end chiming a ditty you created?

Arsenal fans in full voice ahead of a game against Chelsea

The ingredients of a top-drawer football chant are like the ingredients of a brilliant pop song,” says Liverpool supporter John Mackin. “And by that I mean no-one really knows. If there was a recipe they’d be everywhere. This is why you hear the same tired half-dozen chants bellowed by fans at most matches. I mean, is “Is this a library?” or “Shall we sing a song for you?” the epitome of terrace wit these days?”

John has sat on The Kop for over 40 years, runs LFC forum The Rattle and is something of an authority on the subject. “A top-drawer chant or song is like ‘Penny Lane’”, he continues. “Yes it’s got a verse-chorus-verse, catchy melody etc. but then so many pop songs aspire to this and come nowhere close. The moment you hear it you know it’s perfect. They are moments of creative zeitgeist when the only time that chant could ever have appeared in that form was just then, when it did. And everyone who witnessed it knew it.”

Liverpool fans hold banners, scarves and flags on the Kop prior to a clash with neighbours Everton

Liverpool fans hold banners, scarves and flags on the Kop prior to a clash with neighbours Everton

What most football people really want to know is where chants come from, who starts them and how do they know they’re gonna fly.

When I first started going the game you had no idea where these outbursts came from,” agrees John. “The ether? Some terrace muse, maybe? But most likely they were concocted in the pubs around the ground, perhaps inspired by a new song seen on Top of the Pops a few days earlier. Quite often, though, songs miraculously and spontaneously appeared in response to an event on the pitch: unusual but magical moments of wit and creativity that can often cause 50,000 to burst out laughing in unison.”

So how do you know when you’re onto a winner? “You just know,” reckons John. “There’s no blueprint or recipe. When it happens, you just know you’ve got a good one. You can’t wait to try it out on people knowing full well they’ll like it. The best way is to hone it, making it lean and unforgettable. Try it on a coach journey at an away game. The approval of your peers strengthens your belief in the idea. It is now ready to be unleashed. The temptation these days is to immediately post it on social media where it’ll be appropriated and twisted out of shape and reposted within minutes. You’ll have lost the essence of the original and end up disowning it, hoping no-one takes it up at the match.”

Liverpool fans in full voice

Liverpool fans in full voice

So are you ready to try out one of your efforts on the next away day or in the local boozer? When you strike gold and a whole terrace is singing your chant, John Mackin says there’s nothing quite like it.

It’s a heart-warming moment of intense pride,” he says. “I concocted one simple name chant for Liverpool’s Israeli international Ronnie Rosenthal whilst standing on the old Clock End at Highbury during a midweek League Cup game. I was wracking my brain to recall a tune—anything that might be appropriate. I wanted something suitable for Ronny, but didn’t want to repeat a tired old ‘There’s only one …” version.

“Eventually I dredged up the only Jewish tune I knew, Hava Naglia which I knew from the soundtrack to Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Ronnie’s name fitted perfectly – a marriage of tune and name and identity that worked like a dream. It soon became a staple on The Kop and having the entire terrace singing it loud whilst dancing a mock 20,000 strong Bar Mitzvah after Ronnie scored a late winner against Everton was unbelievable.”

 

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