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.
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.
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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