Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What Is "Over the Line" in Fan Chants?

Warning: This post contains filthy language. In this case, I'm not just using it for the heck of it. I'm using it to quote others, to make a point.
February 6, 1958: The Munich Air Disaster. While not the worst disaster that any sports team has ever faced -- there had been, and have since been, in-stadium incidents with greater loss of life -- and later plane crashes have wiped out entire American teams (the 1961 U.S. figure skating team, the 1970 Marshall University and Wichita State University football teams, the 1977 University of Evansville basketball team), it remains the worst loss any professional team has ever faced: 23 dead, including 8 Manchester United soccer players.

Among the 21 who survived were a badly hurt team manager Matt Busby, and 2 other players who survived but were so badly injured that they never played again.
U.S. newsreel about the crash. However,
it remains a story that most Americans,
even most American sports fans, don't know.

Two years later, on January 18, 1960, came the closest any North American professional team has come to this happening: The Minneapolis Lakers, nearly mirroring another recent and nearby plane crash (the one that killed Buddy Holly and 3 others on February 3, 1959), were flying from an away game in St. Louis back to Minneapolis, when a snowstorm forced them down into an Iowa cornfield.

(Naturally, team owner Bob Short's reaction was to move the team to Los Angeles in the following offseason, meaning they had to do a lot more flying.)

There are 3 United players who survived the crash and are still alive, 55 years later, following the death last year of Kenny Morgans: Harry Gregg, Bill Foulkes, and Bobby Charlton, who went on to be the centerpiece of the rebuilt United team that won several trophies in the 1960s, and was the leading scorer of the England team that the 1966 World Cup.


Last night, the New Jersey Devils played the New York Rangers. We beat The Scum, 3-1.

I've been calling the Rangers, the Yankees' arch-rivals the Boston Red Sox, and East Brunswick High School's arch-rivals Old Bridge "The Scum" since I got interested in English soccer, as that term is usually used for an arch-rival team.  Fans of said rivals are often called "Scummers."

Most North American fan behavior usually doesn't get more imaginative than, "Hey, (person's name): You suck!" The English, European and South American soccer chants are much more inventive.

Example: In 1992, Rome-based club Lazio bought Paul Gascoigne from Arsenal's arch-rivals, Tottenham Hotspur. "Gazza" was immensely talented, but he was mentally ill, and an alcoholic. The extent of his psychological impairment would not be known for many years, but his drunken reputation was already known.

And when Lazio played their arch-rivals Roma at the Olympic Stadium (which the two clubs share despite their fans despising each other), the Roma fans had this chant:


Literally translated, it's "Drunkard with an earring! Paul Gascoigne, give us a little kiss!" But in Italian slang, "Bocchino" can also mean "blowjob."

Did Gascoigne, with his heavy "Geordie" accent (he was from the Newcastle area), mind this? Nope: As the Welshman Ian Rush said when going from Liverpool to Turin's Juventus, the language barrier wouldn't be much of a problem because, "I have enough trouble with English."

But the Lazio fans are known for outrageous behavior. Their hardcore fans, their "ultra," occupy the Stadio Olimpico's Curva Nord -- the north end of the oval stadium. Roma's ultras occupy the south end, the Curva Sud.

And with their fascist background -- Lazio were said to be the favorite team of 1922-43 dictator Benito Mussolini -- they have frequently held up a banner suggesting that Roma have Jewish fans and rely on black players:
(Squad of blacks, stand of Hebrews -- though, in this case, "Negri" is the Italian equivalent to what we in America now call "the N-word.")


When is sports fan behavior "over the line"? When do fans go too far?

Fans of United's in-city rivals, Manchester City, have had to spend the last 20 years hearing about how Alex Ferguson's teams have won trophy after trophy, largely due to on-field cheating and the intimidating of officials. They are sick of not just the cheating, but the failure of the Football Association (English soccer's governing body, the FA) to punish them for it, because a successful United makes a shitload of money.

This is true in North American sports: The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry generates money, and so U.S. sports media outlets have an interest in both teams being good, even if, for the moment, the Red Sox can't keep up their end of the bargain.

Larry Bird and his Boston Celtics in the 1980s, Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers the last 13 years, and now LeBron James and his Miami Heat, can play rough and travel and do all kinds of things that the rules, or at least ethics, say shouldn't be done, and the NBA doesn't care. Sidney Crosby can dive all over the place and whine like a little bitch, and the NHL will love it.

And, just as CBS' NFL broadcasts once got it labeled the Cowboys Broadcasting Service, so to has NBC been nicknamed the Notredame Broadcasting Company. When certain teams -- usually teams that are in, or, as with Notre Dame, otherwise fit the pattern of, a "big market" -- do well, they are allowed to do better than they deserve.

Meanwhile, from 1976 (the League Cup) until 2011 (the FA Cup), 35 years, Man City didn't win a single trophy of any significance. In 2012, a Sergio Aguero goal in the last minute of the last game of the season meant that City won the League; had it not been scored, United would have won it, as the tiebreakers would have worked in their favor.

But the Man City fans have occasionally reacted poorly to Man U's ill-gotten gains.  On occasion, they have referenced the Munich crash in their chants. The most common one is to the tune of "The Aeroplane Song":

Who's that dying on the runway?
Who's that lying in the snow?
It's Matt Busby and the boys
making all the fucking noise
'cause they couldn't get the aeroplane to go!

You think I'm kidding? Here's a clip:
Notice that the singers include women, and even kids.  And there are cops there, and they do nothing about it.

Liverpool and Leeds United, also rivals of Manchester United, have also used this song. But Liverpool are the only ones I know of whose fans have actually batted an airplane-shaped balloon around the stands.

Naturally, United fans get all righteous when the Munich crash is referenced. But they go even farther when it comes to Liverpool, the club they replaced as the most successful in England, and near enough to them (33 miles, roughly the distance between my residence and Midtown Manhattan) to be considered their "real rivals."

After the Heysel Disaster, in which 39 Juventus fans were killed in an accident at the 1985 European Cup Final in Brussels, Belgium, Liverpool fans have since been branded "murderers."

The deaths of the Juve fans were not Liverpool fans' fault at all: They ran from threats, and ran into a wall that collapsed, at a stadium that was too unsafe to host any event, much less Europe's biggest sporting event, what's now known as the UEFA Champions League Final.  The old Heysel Stadium has since been demolished and replaced with the new King Baudouin Stadium.)

Four years later, on April 15, 1989, Liverpool were playing Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup Semifinal, on neutral ground at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, home of Sheffield Wednesday. Arsenal in 1973, Tottenham in 1981, Leeds United in 1987, and Liverpool and Forest themselves in 1988 had all had near-disasters in the stands at that stadium, when stadium stewards and South Yorkshire Police did a poor job of getting them in, and people were nearly crushed and asphyxiated.

When it was Liverpool vs. Forest again in 1989, "nearly" didn't happen: "Actually" happened. Over 600 people were hurt, 96 of them killed, all of them Liverpool fans.

The "Murderers!" chants got worse, and while other clubs have used it, it's Man United fans who use it the most. They also chant, "Ninety-six was not enough!" To the tune of "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day," they still sing, "I Wish It Could Be Hillsborough Every Day!"

This, above and beyond their unearned success, is why Manchester United, while also the most-loved sports team on the planet, are the most hated sports team on the planet. And there's a lot more people who hate them than love them.

Man City fans, for reasons known only to them, have adapted "Winter Wonderland" to sing this about Sir Bobby Charlton, United's greatest player:

There's only one Bobby Charlton.
There's only one Bobby Charlton.
With a packet of sweets
and a cheeky little smile
Charlton is a fucking pedophile.

Charlton is one of the most admired living figures in sport on Earth, and, as far as I know, there is not one shred of evidence of him being guilty of such crimes.

Nor is there any such evidence against Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Tottenham fans sing the same song about him, because he seems to favor young players over older ones.

But it's not just Tottenham, who at least have the lame excuse of being less than 5 miles from Arsenal and the glory that Wenger has brought to the club (on top of what it had already earned): Man United fans, to the tune of "La Donna e Mobile" from Giuseppe Verdi's opera Rigoletto, have sung, "Sit down, you pedophile!" at Wenger.

Man United fans are pure evil.  All the songs about the Munich crash combined do not justify their despicable behavior.


Except it's not just them, or Tottenham fans, who are truly loathsome creatures. When Sol Campbell, Tottenham's Captain, played out his contract in 2001 and signed with Arsenal, even before he helped Arsenal win the League and the FA Cup ("doing The Double") in the very next season, and helped Arsenal clinch the 2004 League title at Tottenham's stadium, they sang this about Sol, who is black:

Sol, Sol, wherever you may be
you’re on the verge of lunacy!
And we don’t give a fuck
if you’re hanging from a tree
you Judas cunt with HIV!

Like I said: Loathsome creatures.

And this kind of behavior has come to our shores. I was a New York Red Bulls season ticket holder last year, in the South Ward at Red Bull Arena. (I did not renew my ticket, although I will be going to games this season.) And in the 2nd half, when the visiting team would defend the south goal, we would sing the "Packet of sweets" song about the opposing goalkeeper. And we have no way of knowing whether the charge is true -- and it almost certainly is not true for any of those goalies.

With Red Bull Arena being located in Harrison, New Jersey, which is next-door to Kearny, a lot of people from those towns come to the Arena. Many of them are of Scottish descent and root for Glasgow club Rangers. Many of them are of Irish descent and root for Rangers' in-city arch-rivals, Celtic, with their history of assisting Scots of Irish descent.

"The Troubles" in Northern Ireland have lent themselves to "sectarian" songs, with Rangers fans singing about "Fenian blood" and Celtic fans singing songs in praise of the Irish Republican Army. When Rangers fans want to insult Celtic fans' Catholic faith, they shout an obscenity about the Pope. When Celtic fans want to insult Rangers fans' British Unionism, they reverse said obscenity onto Queen Elizabeth II. (Even in this post, I won't post the exact words. Although I am not an admirer of the current Pope, I deeply admired both John Paul II and Elizabeth II.)

There was one pro-Celtic, anti-Rangers chant that I thought was in bad taste, but still funny. A few years back, Rangers goalkeeper Andy Goram was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Most people hear "schizophrenia" and think "multiple-personality disorder." That's wrong: They're thinking of "schizoid tendencies." Nevertheless, to the tune of "Guantanamera" (written by Cuban poet-soldier Jose Marti, but popularized in America by folksinger Pete Seeger), they altered the traditional, "One (name of player), there's only one (name of player)!" to sing, "Two Andy Gorams, there's only two Andy Gorams!"

However, when the Scotland national team plays, Celtic and Rangers fans swallow their differences and unite for their "country." And Red Bulls fans, no matter who they support in Europe, leave their international support aside and unite.

Whether Arsenal or Tottenham, Liverpool or Man United, Celtic or Rangers, Real Madrid or Barcelona, or (with the Portuguese community right across the Passaic River in Newark's Ironbound section) Benfica or Sporting Lisbon, they leave each other alone and support the Red Bulls. I have seen occasional scuffles in the South Ward, and not between Red Bulls fans and opposing fans dumb enough to buy a ticket in those sections. But it doesn't happen often.

One of the songs that is sung in the South Ward is by the London-based punk act Cock Sparrer, a minor British hit in 1983:

Take 'em all!
Take 'em all!
Line 'em up against a wall and shoot 'em!
Short and tall!
Watch 'em fall!
Come on, boys, take them all!
Take them all!
Watch them fall!
Take them all!
Watch them fall!
Take 'em all...
(repeat until you get tired and want to sing a new song)
In the wake of the mass shootings of 2012, especially the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, this song should probably be retired, no matter how much fun it is.

It's over the line.

Thankfully, Major League Soccer has, for the most part, been spared the violence of games in Britain, Europe, and South America.

But not for a lack of provocation.

Sort of makes "Yankees suck!" and "Boston sucks!" seem tame by comparison.


Anitha Meenan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Uncle Mike said...

The preceding comment was mainly a solicitation, and not someone objecting to the post's material.