Back in May, I was sitting in a bar when suddenly a bunch of people start singing Rodgers & Hart's 1935 classic tune "Blue Moon." This was neither random nor surprising.
I’d gone to the bar on a Sunday morning to watch three simultaneous end-of-season soccer games that would determine who would win the English Premiere League title, and who would get England’s four coveted places in the lucrative international competition known as the Champions League. On that particular Sunday, in a startling and dramatic finale to a crazy season, Manchester City won the championship, just out-finishing their bitter crosstown rivals, Manchester United. In Major League Baseball, this would be the equivalent of the Mets beating the Yankees to win the World Series.
Except this time, there was a bit of the Great American Songbook involved. For many years, “Blue Moon” has been the official theme song of fans of Man City, a team that had been, at least until this spring, only the second-best soccer team in Manchester. And those fans were the ones who burst into song when the final whistle blew.
This past weekend, the new season began, and the City fans were singing again as their team came from behind to win as they began their title defense.
I’m not sure how this has happened, but soccer has become a very musical game -- at least for its devoted fans. American sports fans tend to simply chant: "DEE-fense!" "Let’s Go [insert team name here]!" "Potvin Sucks!"
But soccer fans sing. Let me see if I can give some examples without giving away my own allegiances.
Perhaps the most famous example is the use of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” a Rodgers & Hammerstein tune, by fans of Liverpool. A recording of Liverpool fans may well be in your record collection right now -- those are the voices you hear at the end of Pink Floyd’s "Fearless," from their album Meddle.
Arsenal fans -- known for their uncommon intelligence and surpassing good looks -- have a couple of songs, including "One-Nil To The Arsenal,” sung when their team goes up by the score 1-0. It is sung to the tune of “Go West,” by the Pet Shop Boys, which, in turn is a cover of a Village People song, and which in turn is based on the classical chestnut Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Got all that?
Chelsea fans sing whatever piece of pop crap their billionaire owner has bought rights to for that month. Then, when that doesn’t win him the league title, he chucks it aside and fires his manager.
Manchester United fans bang rocks together and grunt.
And, Man City fans sing “Blue Moon.”
But it’s funny how far some American songs have traveled. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is now sung by fans of several top German teams and one in Tokyo. “When the Saints Go Marching In” is sung in stadiums around the world, but most notably perhaps by fans of Tottenham Hotspur (like Arsenal, a North London club), who simply substitute the word “Spurs” for “Saints.”
Stephen Foster’s 19th-century “Camptown Races” (the “doo-dah” song) takes on new words when the English national team plays Germany; the English fans sing “Two World Wars, One World Cup” as a way of mocking their more successful opponent. And lest you think that soccer fans are stuck in the past, I’ve heard The White Stripes song “Seven Nation Army” ringing out during World Cup and other international matches -- sung by fans of Italy’s national team.
I have to say, being at a soccer match and hearing all that singing really makes the fan experience a more participatory one. American sports fans really ought to give it a try.
What music have you heard at sporting events? What are the staple songs that are sure to get the crowd into it? Let us know!
John Schaefer has hosted Soundcheck since the show’s inception in 2002. He has also hosted and produced WNYC’s radio series New Sounds since 1982 (“The No. 1 radio show for the Global Village” – Billboard) and the New Sounds Live concert series since 1986.