A useful rule of thumb is to avoid anybody who uses culture as an excuse for doing something stupid. From wearing neckties to picking brides out of a line-up of bouncy little breasts, from showing respect for your elders to hunting a whale, it’s all a bunch of bullshit. Yes, I’m sure your culture is vitally important, and we have the right to practice whatever nonsense we want, but really. The only reason it’s sacrosanct is because you say so.
For English football-terrace folk culture, forget rule of thumb — you need an upraised index finger. I was reminded of this by the furore over the chant aimed at Emmanuel Adebayor in the recent English Premier League match between Spurs and Arsenal. Displaying that uniquely dry sense of English humour we’ve heard so much about on BBC marketing campaigns, away supporters mocked Adebayor about 2010’s deadly attack on the Togo team bus. Adebayor was one of the survivors of the attack, which left three dead. Funny! I almost platzed!
Ah, the rough and ready wisdom of the common folk. We must cherish it, as we must cherish the homespun wisdom of our own elders. Kill the witch, you say? I’m on it.
Hatred of the other appears to be the beat that drives the terrace chant. The classic English chant (well, from the perspective of someone who isn’t English) is the one sung at matches with Germany. “My Grandad killed your Grandad too-raa too-raa!/ My Grandad killed your Grandad too-raa too-raa too-raa too-raa!/ Two world wars and one World Cup!”
Note the quiet respect shown for the achievements of their elders, and the earthy appeal to a simpler time, when men were men and we knew where things stood. And the cute too-raa, always so essential to folk songs.
But culture moves on. Sort of. There are loads of new enemies nowadays. I particularly like some of the chants about Manchester United’s South Korean midfielder Park Ji-Sung. As far as I can understand, these songs are actually sung by his own fans. Go figure. “He shoots, he scores, he’ll eat your labradors, Park Ji Sung, Park Ji Sung!” Nice. And then there’s one that manages to combine homophobia with cultural stereotyping. “Park, Park, you’re an ugly fuck, you’ve got a face like a crispy duck; could be worse, you could be gay, getting bummed by John O’Shea.”
Now I don’t know how often these get sung, or whether they’re even popular with more than a minority of supporters. But given the number of blogs dedicated to extolling football chants as social commentary, acerbic wit and a celebration of the earthy common sense of the average football fan, I suspect that it’s endemic. Mind you, there’s a certain school of thought that suggests that if there is one thing worse than bigotry in the world, it would be endless renditions of “Ole, ole, ole” and that damn Shosholoza song.
Chris Roper is the editor of the Mail & Guardian Online. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisRoperZA