Dreams And Songs To Sing: How The Anfield Songbook Has Evolved Down The Years

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, September 13, 2017: Liverpool's supporters on the Spion Kop before the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Liverpool and Sevilla at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

IS it just me, or does the Liverpool FC song repertoire feel a bit tired?

Without falling victim to the notion “it was better in my day”, when you regularly hear The Fields of Anfield Road rolled out thrice before half time on a European night, it does make you wonder how the creative juices stopped flowing; when the hymn book was finally closed.

In many ways our song directory mirrors our club; wallowing in past glories, mired in the past and mercifully just about staying relevant thanks to an extensive back catalogue. Or maybe, like with the drying up of new Christmas hits, someone just concluded a while back, we’ve got enough.

I can’t do justice here to the history of The Kop’s inventory of chants over 50-odd years except to opine that the drop off in recent times coincides with a shrivelling local identity, dwindling cultural influence from the novelty that Europe once represented, a less volatile society and, losing our religion.

Historically, many of the old chants, dating back to the ‘60s, were derived from hymns. People went to church in those days, and by God, did the big fella have some belters. “The Saints” preceded “The Reds” at Anfield until the more heathen among us allowed that simple word switch and we’re still all marching in to this day.

When You’ll Never Walk Alone was adopted during the 1963-64 season it sounded more like beautiful religious consolation than something at the top of the hit parade. Of course, The Beatles’ numbers – and Cilla Black’s ballad, If You Ever Had a Heart – were also aired by a football crowd literally finding its voice. Interestingly though, perhaps respectfully, The Kop has generally steered clear of adapting Fab Four classics, with the obvious exception of Yellow Submarine, on the premise that the dubious lyrics and Ringo’s lead vocals render it fucking shite.

The city’s two fine cathedrals act as symbols of Liverpool’s former religious divide; never as fiercely sectarian as in Glasgow but more keenly felt round these parts in days of yore. Liverpool FC was, historically, the “Protestant” club on Merseyside. A great uncle of mine and staunch Evertonian, Tommy Jones recounted his only venture onto The Kop with his Liverpudlian mates back in the days of Elisha Scott. The sight of an unfamiliar face amid the usual throng begged the question, “Is he one of us?” They weren’t asking if Tommy was a Red.

LIVERPOOL FANS PAY HOMMAGE TO THE WORLD FAMOUS FOOTBALL TERRACE, KNOWN AS THE KOP, AT ANFIELD, DURING THE MATCH BETWEEN LIVERPOOL AND NORWICH. THE KOP IS TO BE DEMOLISHED AND REPLACED BY AN ALL-SEATER STAND.

When Kopites belt out Poor Scouser Tommy, with those emotive connotations of war, heroism and death, most would be unthinking of its origin in the Ulster loyalist tune The Sash, commemorating King William of Orange’s victory over Catholic, King James II of England and Ireland in 1691.

Gradually, over several decades – accelerated by the Celtic light shone by Kenny Dalglish and possibly the Bhoys’ support in the wake of Hillsborough – there was a swing in the albeit tenuous religious leanings of the crowd. The Celtic-Rangers chant from the centre of The Kop, prominent in the early 1980s, harked back to days when creed mattered more on the terraces, but by then was more or less split down the middle. A few years on, amid the bobble hat explosion of 1984-85, Celtic’s green was more abundant than Rangers’ blue.

Whatever the shift, it was sufficient for the acceptance and rapid growth of the Fields of Anfield Road by the late 1990s. The crowd’s current favourite tune, unashamedly ripping off the poignant swirls of The Fields of Athenry and the tragedy of the Great Famine, sits squarely in Irish rebel territory. However, most warbling Kopites are only thinking of Stevie Heighway on the wing, even if they are largely sympathetic to the stealing of Trevelyan’s corn.

These two embedded Kop standards are equally loved and vociferously delivered by our crowd, despite nuances belonging either side of a stark religious divide which still rumbles uneasily beneath the surface in some quarters, if not at Anfield. The kids today – even if they can get into the match these days – are still awash with musical influence but only a select (lucky?) few have inebriated uncles and granddads singing Faith of our Fathers in the back parlour of a Saturday night.

The Kop always wanted to be different; the innovator, always to lead, never to follow. We didn’t sing other teams’ songs. We pinched a few tunes but stayed true to a Mersey soccer beat. Further legitimate persuasion came only from the brave new world that was Europe and Liverpudlians, used to the outside influence of a port city, were blessed with receptive eyes and ears.

Not only did continental fashions begin to appear, but suddenly The Reds became “les Rouges” against St Etienne, the French capital was Gay “Paree” and back in Rome it was Campioni Liverpool. Later, the distinctive harmony synonymous with the appearance of Italy’s Azzurri – also heard on most Serie A grounds – was used to serenade Liii-ver-pooool.

All the while – peaking around the mid ‘80s – The Kop were organically becoming the first English set of ultras and some of the vast AS Roma (and Juventus) flags adorning Anfield on European nights back then were perfect accompaniment to an increasingly snobby songbook.

Liverpool fans on The Kop hold up their scarves

As the years wore on and holidaying abroad took hold, dancefloor Reds weren’t averse to adopting some summer Europop and the otherwise questionable “Ole, Ole we are the Champions” was quite appropriate for Kenny’s Boys of ‘88. And of course, another Eurosmash, “Hey Baby” was used to serenade goals from a Norwegian full back before it was traded in for the less melodic, “For fucks’ sake, Riise”.

Of course, Reds of my vintage lived through harsher times and The Kop often held the whip hand in dishing out abuse. The old terrace had more than its fair share of cruel ditties. Referees were always “bastards” in the black, bald men had “arses on their heads”; vile racial abuse for black players wasn’t at all rare, and World Cup winner, the late Alan Ball, was mocked for his high-pitched voice. Some of it was funny, some of it wasn’t.

If the opposition ever dared take the lead, The Kop and Anfield Road – like Pavlov’s dog at the sounding of a bell – would instantly have the away fans threatened with “getting their fucking heads kick in”. It was merely a sign of the times.

Once Hillsborough made some Liverpool fans finally realise the Munich Air Disaster had been unfair game all along, a whole gamut of stupid taunts disappeared from the array of chants heard on Liverpool terraces. Football is all a bit nicey nicey these days but at least most decent human beings have stopped stooping so low. In fact, drop an outsider into Anfield, or Old Trafford today and there’s still enough choral intimidation to set the game apart without resorting to the basest of insults.

We can still afford to lose some of the nastiness and still have a good measure of hostile songs that makes the game a better place – and a much needed 90-minute departure from reality – for the committed supporter.

Maybe we haven’t quite moved with times to create our new material. The modern Liverpool songbook definitely needs some inspiration, but we haven’t lost it altogether and can still occasionally manage to be refreshingly cryptic.

How else can you explain after John Terry’s mother, spotted sightseeing in Liverpool and glancing skywards to the Liver Building to read the time was then endlessly saluted at Anfield for being a fan of the Scouse clock?

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33 Comments

  1. Player specific songs have been pretty creative…suarez and Torres to name two.

    But football songs in general have become like the x factor..everyone with their variation of the same tune. But I have to admit you don’t get that at anfield. And would you rather stick with old originals or sing modern templates like everyone else?

    I had a very brief Twitter chat with Mike Kevin about spontaneous atmosphere…i think this piece feeds into it. Most footie songs, the good ones, have a top tune behind them. If modern music is formulaic then I guess chants end up like that as well.

  2. Good article Mike. Personally I have always disliked the ‘Bertie Mee said to Bill Shankly’ chant. Don’t think Shanks would ever had condoned Agro! I know it’s a bit of a catch chant, but it’s back to those bad violence days and I am not sure how many really know who Bertie Mee was!

    • Shanks used to love that song back in the 1960s…..dont think Bertie was impressed like.
      The tune was “The Tennesee Wigwalk”
      “I’m a bow legged chicken,
      I’m a knock kneed hen.
      I havent been so happy since i don’t know when,
      I walk with a wiggle, and a wobble and a squawk…doing the Libpool Wigwalk!”
      Yes kiddies, the Spion Kop really used to sing that regularly!

  3. Wow Mike. I wondered what your column would be on this week. Funnily enough I often guess right. Had no idea this week due to the break but this is a brilliant article and something I’ve also been thinking about recently.

    I remember when I was young I used to sing both Celtic, Rangers. I never understood why we sang it haha. I thought it was it more like a pantomime where one half of the kop would sing one and the other the other. So, I just chanted both.

    Our songs are awful now. I used to like poor scouser tommy because it reminded me of being a kid but since this ‘up the bum’ has been added I just cringe. It’s just not us. Like you say we’re associated with creativity. But, a few good ones have fallen by the wayside. I really liked the Maxi song plus Torres and Suarez ones. I thought they were good crowd songs. I liked the Rafa one and won’t forget the semi at OT when it went on for ages. I quite liked we’ve got the best midfield in the world. I wasn’t particularly keen on here’s to you Jordan H or Brendan Rodgers Liverpool but my point is the art isn’t dead. It’s just hit the buffers recently. The ones we do come up with now perhaps does suggest a huge drop off. Emre Can Emre Can Emre Can or Adam Lallana, Adam Lallana. Repeat for Bobby Firmino. Sturridge, Sturridge. It’s possibly kinder than he’s fat, he’s round, he bounces on the ground etc but a bit boring.

    I like the spontaneous songs. I always remember the one about Peter Shilton after his encounter with Tina. Childish but good which reminds me, I know some didn’t like it but I remember laughing out loud that night on the kop in the league cup semi when we sang Diego Costa the elephant man.

    The reason our songbook has been on my mind was getting back in the CL. We wanted to back the team but didn’t have the songs. Oh when the reds is probably one of the best tbh but everyone has it so it seems uninspiring to me. We are the famous the famous kopites seems very tired. There’s 2 words in life I can’t pronounce, innovative and internazionale so I found it hard to belt out ‘bring on’. Thank god we didn’t resort to we hate Nottingham forest. That would just compounded the feeling of ‘gone stale’. One of my favourite lines from any song is ‘in 77 and 84 it was Rome’ but then we won it 5 times is wank I reckon. I saw one of the taw contributors moaning on twitter (with good reason) but I love the line ‘shanks said no I don’t think so). It’s all very dated though. Doesn’t feel right. Maybe we’ll just have to accept it’s over. Maybe we should just copy others. Very sad.

    Great article full of fascinating things though. I sometimes try and write songs and I always start with thinking of Beatles songs. I’m surprised that option’s been neglected. Maybe a good place to start. Go back to our roots.

    • Robin lad, the “Poor Scouser Tommy” originated from the Red River Rock tune.
      As usual then, lots of tunes morphed into others….usually due to drunken repetition on away footie specials…the hard core Kopites honed these tunes on away trips and aired them in the alehouses before Anfield matches….it never took long fir a tune to take off once you knew the ‘hookline’ especially it it was bawdy or derogatory.
      Perhaps the ending of the ‘away inter-city specials and lack of mob meetings around the stadium watering holes has led to the demise of collective warbling from the match goer these days.

      • That’s fascinating mate. Red river rock is one of the earliest songs I can remember. It was always played in our house yet I’d never have made that connection to the extent I just played it to see if I can make it fit and it does. I’m amazed. Mike’s right though too. Oh I am Liverpudlian onwards is definitely the Sash which though absolutely obvious now, I’d not even realised. Read all your comments on this thread and they’re very good. You clearly know what you’re on about and you’re clearly a lot older than me, haha.

        Can you tell me anything about the origins of ‘we are Liverpool, tra la la la la. I ask because the very first record I ever owned was hail to the kop you know we love you a lot. It’s a story filled with glory that’s never ever gonna stop, haha. On the b side was we are Liverpool. I owned it in 1980 I think. So, was we are Liverpool a song that was sung on the kop or just a recording by someone that later re-emerged. My memory is awful but I don’t remember it on the kop back then. Cheers.

  4. I loved ‘your not fit to wipe my arse’ as a young lad enjoying his first years on the Kop.

    Have to agree with the lack of local lads leading to a drop off in creativity.

    Plus less scarfs held above heads for YNWA as too many of the consumers / customers are too busy filming it!

    • Every time we played Ipswich….or Norwich.
      “You’re going home on a Combine Harvester…..”
      Also when we played the Baggies,
      “Oh i do like to be beside the seaside,
      I do like to be beside the sea…,
      Oh i do like to stroll along the Prom, Prom, Prom,
      Where the brass band plays ‘Eff Off West Brom!’…..”

  5. Maybe it’s my age but personally I loved the songs of the Houllier and early Benitez era. Since then it’s all gone a bit stale. Notable exceptions being the Maxi song and ‘Stevie Gerrard is our captain…’ which I always preferred to the ‘big and fucking hard’ chant. These days the best we seem to be able to conjure up is some form of ‘du du du *players name*’, sure I get caught up singing the Mane and Gini songs but they are a bit shite really aren’t they?

  6. “We all agree, Tiswas is better than Swapshop”

  7. Bald bobbie

    I think it was Grimsby or some other fishing port we ‘battered’ in the 80’s we sang to the opposition players changing their surnames to fish:’There’s only on Jimmy Haddock’…..you had to be there….

    Also your religious references are very ify. Think you’ve made it up to be honest.

    • Precisely Bobbie lad…Bob Parsley, Terry Mackerel etc.
      Uncle Bob started it off, the rascal, when we got drawn against them he told the press “There’s summat fishy aboot this game lads!”

  8. Chris Maguire

    I see you forgot to mention the 90s classic “Riedle and Ince” to the tune of “Needles and Pins”.
    Must have been an oversight.

  9. Bald bobbie

    Ha! Just remembered chanting “fuckoff speedier, fuckoff speed when it was rumoured Kenny was interested in buying David Speedie in the 80s. We should have done that before we purchased Oxo_chambermaid!

  10. Kopitejohn

    I’m old enough to remember Gary Sprake inadvertently and literally throwing the ball into his own net and the Kop spontaneously to a man started singing ” Careless Hands” by Des O’Connor

    • Another good one was a few days after it was revealed that Tommy Docherty had been caught having an affair with Man Utds physiotherapist’s wife, Mary Brown.
      As fate decreed their next match was at Anfield and the non stop rendition pouring from the Spion Kop of;
      “Who’s up Mary Brown?
      Who’s up Mary Brown?
      Tommy, Tommy Docherty!
      Tommy, Tommy Docherty!”
      Was more than the stuffy mancers could take….they sacked the Doc soon after.

      Always liked the Doc mind, he always praised Shanks and loved the Kop….perhaps just not on that day…..could have made a good coach at Anfield if he was younger.

  11. Yes it was Grimsby. Kenny Dogfish,Phil Eel,Jimmy Plaice etc 5 -0.Personally I liked the songs from 70s and 80s. Brian Hall he shot he scored and all the Kop has roared.Liverpools got Keegan in the middle that’s why were on top .

  12. Boozing the away pubs pre-match late 90s with a Toon Army mate (er,soldier?)- the amount of repeated effort one of them was shouting the lines was bemusing. But sure enough, during the first half he led off again(“Mohammed is a teddy bear”), and we all had it back at him Pavlov style. Probably could hear the crowd laughing on MOTD.

  13. Could never understand why we didnt start a chant about Dirk when scoring a hat trick against Utd. How great would it have been to have had the tune to their chant about diego. Every time utd came to Anfield we would have something to sing back.. Also why didnt we make up something about knocking Utd out of Europe. If we draw them later in the Champs league and knock them out again it would be too good an opportunity wouldnt it!!

  14. Maybe TAW could encourage it’s subscribers to use the power of social media by posting new songs on YouTube and then showing the best to its members. Look how quickly the Benny Woodburn/Starman song took off with Wales fans after it was posted.

  15. Mike, you lost the plot there….Cilla sang “Anyone Who Had A Heart”…we also used lots of McCartney and Lennon tunes on the Spion Kop in the 60s and 70s.
    Were you not at away grounds when the signal to ‘take’ a home section was accompanied with the chorus of ‘Altogether now….”?
    “Chelsea you’re a shit team” (baby you’re a rich man)
    “If You Want It…Here It Is…Come And Get It”…etc, etc.
    Also the ‘Celtic, Rangers’ chant was always followed by a haunting ‘Liv-pool’ by all and sundry as a show of unity that Glasgow and Belfast sectarianism had been almost eradicated in Liverpool in the 1960s….just as it was rearing its ugly head again in the Troubles.
    ‘The Sash My Father Wore’ was also the same tune as ‘God Bless The Prince Of Wales’ an old tune sung at the Investiture in
    Caernarfon in 1969.
    It was a myth that Liverpool were the Proddy club….as proven by my family, and countless others, of Catholic heritage…grandad was a follower in the early part of the 20th century along with most of his Catholic pals from the Dingle before they volunteered for the British Army for the Great War…..do not try and perpetuate a poor myth….our roots, and the Blue and White shite come from Methodists… anti drinkers….that was never going to last long in a city built by Welsh, Scots and Irish!
    The dearth of original footy chants at present is linked to the maudlin, boring and crap corporate gash churned out into the ‘charts’ these days.
    If we ever get another ‘new wave’ of pop music to ruffle the boring status quo(no offence to Rossi et al) then i am sure fans will use the dynamics and change lyrics to suit.
    Who can recall, years ago, the Travelling Kop mobbing into Charlton Athletic belting out a raucous “Into the Valley….”?

  16. Football ‘customers’ are happy to sit through a nice game now. A bit like the theatre, when it starts everyone hushes and observes ( or films the bloody thing). I will always love football and Liverpool F.C. ( Celtic was my chant back in those lovely atmospheric times). I have lost some love for the top flight and I know you have to move with the times but I feel we as fans have lost our way and are not innovative/original anymore. Like the team, unfortunately we are creatively bang average and as even more billions of pounds continue to disassociate the fans from the players in their wealthy bubbles, we will just meander along like the ordinary clubs (fans), who we wanted to be different from. The fun has gone from the matchday experience for good, Imo. It’s my last season ticket, someone else is welcome to my spot, 45years of home/away & European attendance has given me many highs & some awful lows but it was at a time we felt we belonged to the club and the players were as devastated as us when they didn’t win. I don’t feel I belong to a football club….I am just a ‘customer.’
    I don’t even blame FSG, it is the top level, football world in general. Stop the ride..I’m getting off.

    • Amen, bro, Amen.
      FSG and the previous Chuckle Brothers have just speeded up the process of making this once unique club into a clinical, corporate cash cow….we were lucky to have enjoyed the ride back in the day son.

  17. Mike Nevin

    Bootsie – the 60s and 70s as a regular matchgoer is a bit before my time. Aways for me started in about 83 when I was 15. I bow to your longer judgement on the proddy/catholic thing – agree it wasn’t acute but there was a narrative or myth as you call it that it was the case. As for the Beatles thing, again I’m talking of my own experience. I was bemused that my Gerard Houllier chant to all you need is love never took off. It even starts with the Marseillaise!

  18. Mike, jus a small correction ; Cilla sang “Anyone who had a heart”
    however,
    nice history lesson for he current generation, who , like their media, music, politics and culture , lacking in depth creativity and original ideas, many of the “fast food / me me me generation” can hardly string a sentence together , and often get it so wrong when they do bother ..(comparing Brendan with “build a team like Shanks did” ….cringe )
    lack of depth, most of the best songs came from our generation, not just because of success but also because we were not supplied with so much media and stuff that fills their heads now,.. we had to depend on our own imagination, our games and fun ,, many of us only had a football to play with…
    kids now overloaded with choices.. the culure is lost via commercialization of everything..Lfc even do it wi5h Shanks/YNWA players and fans (are no longer “supporters” IMO) fickle disloyal and thin on knowledge of their own..

    and do dads pass it on… ? I wonder… lyrics are often born out of social life, suffering , pain and experience… suffering caused he blues… (ask evertonians) ha ha but we are REd or are we.. ??? “socialism” is put down a every chance.. and we invented lyrics

    even 10 years ao in Piazza del Duomo, Milano , @nearly 05h creating lyrics like “Tommy Mascherano” 10/20 lads who didnt wan to o o sleep afer Torres had helped us to a 0-1 @ san siro..

    the core problem is social-cultural… mind you watch Klopps defence should cause some “emotional inspiration” for the current “kloppites” .. ha ha ha
    ChriS

  19. Mike Nevin

    Yep the Cilla song was Anyone who had a heart. Got that wrong, but then I’m not a huge fan, even if she did once have a fine voice.

  20. Pierre Head

    Anyone looking for inspiration could do worse than check out ‘The Kop Choir’ album/cd recorded at 2 home games vs Chelsea/Bayern [?] in the early 70’s.
    Excellent rendering of ‘Men of Harlech’ with ‘Toshack is our king’ at the end. Also heard is the infamous ‘Rangers/Celtic’ chant followed by a haunting ‘Libpool’ at the end. Even the Libpool Bootwalk gets an airing!
    One of the funniest – to the ears of a 10 year old standing at the front of the Kop in 1970 – was the spontaneous chant directed at a handful of Southampton fans spotted in the Main Stand :
    ‘ Over there, there is a smell
    And do they smell?
    Like fucking hell!
    20, 000 singing that and simultaneously pointing at the cringing victims certainly had me laughing.

    Sadly, the atmosphere at Anfield – bar a handful of games – is finished.

  21. The Kop was always on the very edge of current affairs.Peter Shilton was once caught with his pants round his ankles and tried to drive off before the husband caught him and crashed into a lamppost.Next game the Kop sang “Shilton Shilton show us your d**k”
    Another game against Nottingham Forest”Gerry Byrne Gerry Byrne running down the wing.Feared by the bad loved by the good Gerry Byrne Gerry Byrne Gerry Byrne.” Sung to the tune of the old Robin Hood black and white tv show.
    It was always topical.And I’m starting to remember a few more now!
    But it was in the days when ordinary blokes just queued up to get into the match.

  22. Lucky Desperado

    Enjoyable and informative article enhanced particularly by Bootsie.
    The mobile phone quite simply interferes and lessens most experiences in our life, distracting us from the present moment not to mention posture issues and problems caused by radiation.
    The Mane chant is great its simplicity, I had composed a couple for him, using O Jays ‘Love of Money’ and Flying Lizards ‘I want money’
    My fave is Ring of Fire, perfect when used at right time, no words necessary nuff said

  23. robert ohare

    When away fans sing about Gerrard falling over we should sing back “sing something simple you simple twats”just like in the 70’s .was a great answer back

  24. Lots of memories here . As a kid on the Koop in the 70,s I was in awe of a full throated kop choir belting out the songs. The Terry Mancini verbals and the wobbles of Manchester City also come to mind

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