No Diplomacy On The Terraces

Sky Diplomatic Editor explores the history of football chants



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Sky News Diplomatic Editor, Tim Marshall, is a leading authority on foreign affairs- but many people don't realise that he is also a lifelong football fan and now an expert on football chants.

A longtime resident of Chiswick, next week he publishes a book on the subject - “Dirty Northern B*st*rds!” and other Tales from the Terraces: The Story of Britain’s Football Chants. The book will be available from August 1st in the local branch of Waterstone's and can also be purchased online.

Football chants are often regarded as one of the last remaining sources of an oral folk song tradition in the UK, and are also part of that essential ritual of an English weekend spent on the terraces.

A football chant can be as simple as a single word repeated over and over again (Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea), amended from a popular song (Liverpool's You'll Never Walk Alone) or a few lines designed to either encourage the home team, or poke fun at the opposition.

According to Tim, (a lifelong Leeds supporter) some of the rivalry between teams North and South (which gives the book its title ) stem from the Industrial Revolution. Chants are often rooted in stereotypes ( Northerners are 'hard', Southerner's 'soft', Cockneys are 'diamond geezers'). The chant from the book's title is taken from the chant whose first lines include: "He goes out. Drinks ten pints. Gets completely plastered...."

There's a considerable amount of humour associated with chants- Grimsby fans amended the words from Swing Low Sweet Chariot to Swing Low, Sweet Halibut, for their local football club, The Mariners.

Inspiration for chants can be taken from politics, religion, the behaviour of players off the pitch or even the physical appearance of players or managers.

How do football chants arise? Tim believes it can be as simple as a fan trying out an idea in the pub and watching it spontaneously be repeated on the terraces.

At their best, football chants are funny and bind fans together, at their worst they can be racist or homophobic. The book looks at the issue from a broad perspective and Tim says it can almost be regarded as something of a a sociological study.

"Why do so many of us attend football grounds, rain or shine, week in week out, to bellow at our fellow countrymen? Because we love it. Football chants are the grassroots of the game, from the Premier League all the way down to the Conference and beyond. They're funny. And they're sharp. And in the UK they run very deep."

He believes his career as Sky News Diplomatic Editor was good training when it came to covering the subject of conflict and tribalism. He has reported from 30 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and North America, covered three US Presidential elections as well as wars in Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Israel. In 2011 he reported from Tunisia , Egypt and Libya during the uprisings in the Arab world.

Described as "a popular history that lets the humour of the terraces shine through", and "a must-read for football fans this summer", Tim hopes it will appeal to a wider readership outside the diehard football fan.

"It is written out of my lifelong passion for football,, but it is also a book about Britain, where we stand on issues from religion to politics," says Tim, who has taken a sabbatical to write his next book.

Dirty Northern B*st*rds!” and other Tales from the Terraces: The Story of Britain’s Football Chants will be published as a paperback 1st August priced £8.99


July 25, 2014

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