”Written byFreddie Hiney
“Music was important. Football was the easy part.” – Zinedine Zidane
Football and music. To some, they may be seen as opposites, but they have more in common than you would imagine. Picture Messi, Ronaldinho, and Maradona dancing around the opposition to the sound of the supporters. When they’re in perfect unison, the crowd is the choir, players are the dancers, and the manager is the orchestrator. Think Tshabalala dancing to the supporters in his opening goal celebrations in the 2010 World Cup. When each element clicks together, it causes a perfect symphony; a long through ball over the defence is as smooth as a jazz player on a Friday night.
From the big leagues to the minors, music is richly embedded into the world of football. Heart-thumping yet melodic chants can be heard in stadiums all over the world. Fans from all backgrounds come together to belt out their clubs’ chants arm-in-arm, or in some of the sport’s sour moments, hurling melodic abuse at the opposition or the forever-blasted officials. I remember visiting England when I was 8 years old, watching Exeter City losing by a couple of goals, at which 8,000 City Fans started harmoniously singing ‘The Referee’s a W*****.’
For those who haven’t experienced it, the feeling of being in any sports stadium while 60,000 spectators are chanting is almost indescribable. It can set the tone for the match, create momentum, and give players an extra bounce in their step. I have been fortunate enough to attend some beautiful and loud stadiums; Old Trafford in the Champions League; the Kop at Anfield, Green Point Stadium during the 2010 World Cup, and (during my university days) as a season ticket holder for Cardiff City’s in-and-out season in the Premier League. One thing all these moments have in common is the singing and passion from the crowd.
Each club has its own identity and chants, while the players feed off the energy from the crowd and vice versa. When a team has momentum, you hear the crowd at its most intense state, and when the home team is losing heavily, you won’t hear a thing. The action of the players and sound of the fans thus mesh, creating soundwaves; the more impressively the home team performs, the higher the soundwaves will be, and the higher they are the more outrageously creative some of the real stars will become, like Neymar doing a rainbow flick reminiscent of a ballet dancer. Or, if you want rock n’ roll, theirs Ronaldo striking a bullet into the top corner from 40-yards in ‘09.
When they’re in perfect unison, the crowd is the choir, players are the dancers, and the manager is the orchestrator.
Whether you’re in the refugee camps of Northern Africa, favelas of Brazil or alongside the high rollers in Monaco, you will often see a few kids knocking a football around. It is estimated that four billion people around the world follow the game, and there is no game that spills over the seven seas like football. From Antarctica and Andes to the deserts, if you’ve got a football and some jumpers for goalposts, you can play anywhere, and that’s precisely what has happened. Once it has taken root in a culture, each country soon comes up with its own style and rhythm of both playing and supporting, often correlated by their culture; another indication of how music, dance and football aren’t so different. There’s the Spanish flair of short passes and fast movement, much like the sudden pauses and sharp turns of bolero dancing. Crossing over the Atlantic, we see the tricks and flicks of Brazilian football redolent to Samba dancing. In South Africa, players can be spotted singing in the tunnels before the game and dancing to their celebrations with the crowd.
The 2010 World Cup was Africa’s turn to show the world the love of the game on this continent. When the tournament came to South Africa, it brought a carnivalesque atmosphere full of music and cultures. The country turned into a festival of bright lights, outfits, football, and parties. All this while ‘Waka Waka’ by Shakira was on full blast, a nostalgic trigger now for good times in a vibrant city of music, passionate fans, and – could we forget – vuvuzelas. The latter may have grabbed the headlines, and been an eventually annoying gimmick, but the truth is whatever the occasion, be it sport or political protests, this country invariable turns out with its own brand of dancing and music.
Take the vibrant Soweto Derby of Orlando Pirates vs Kaizer Chiefs, where the supporters compete as much as the players, with drums, trumpets, saxophones, song and outfits. and voices instead of a football. The fixture is filled with music and energy, quintessentially South Africa, presenting a carnivalesque atmosphere that is hard not to be seduced by. The Pirates fans will be singing ‘Ndiya Ndiya Molo Molo’ (I’m Going Hello Hello) or ‘Ishibulabula’ (It’s a Blur) while supported by Mgijimi dancing. On the other side, the Kaizer Chiefs faithful are blasting “Ajabulile Amakhasi’ (Happy are the Kings). When it’s Bafana Bafana’s turn to take the pitch, these rivalries are forgotten, resulting in an ocean of song and dance.
We’re good at it, but it’s everywhere. Music is ingrained into football. You’re singing chants outside of the stadium, during the game and into the night. Each country boasts their own sounds and iconic songs. Liverpool’s ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ has produced some goosebump moments in games, such as their dramatic comeback against Barcelona in 2019. Then there is the 90 minutes of calypso-meets-war which is the Boca Juniors vs River Plate Derby, or the Yellow Wall of Borussia Dortmund, both movies backed with a soundtrack of drums, flares, and chanting. Such an intense atmosphere produces some true local stars – as the saying goes, pressure both bursts pipes and creates diamonds. Of course, the infamous Champions League theme song can’t be ignored; a real tester to the vocal cords.
When the tournament came to South Africa, it brought a carnivalesque atmosphere full of music and cultures.
Chanting allows for the fans to openly communicate with the players. Remember the moving scenes of both sets of fans combining at Leicester City vs Cardiff City after the former had just lost their popular chairman in a helicopter crash. It can be used for a welcoming, praising, as well as breaking down the opposition. Ronaldo’s recent return to Manchester United was a chat-driven ecstasy, thousands of fans heard to be drumming and singing ‘Viva Ronaldo’ hours after the game had finished. On the other side of the spectrum, it can be a way of getting under the skin of opposition players. During a game between Stoke vs Chelsea, when Chelsea’s left-back Ashley Cole and Pop Star Cheryl Cole were known to be getting a divorce, Stoke fans started singing; ‘You gotta file, file, file, file, file for divorce.’ (to the tune of Cheryl Cole’s ‘Fight for This Love’). There have been some unprintable variants of such celebrity-baiting over the years!
The past year of empty stadiums and silent games has made it clear how central music and rhythm are to football. You cannot buy atmosphere, but you sure know when it is missing. Without sound from the fans, it quickly starts to resemble a training session, while when the stadium is packed with fans ‘mad for it’, as they say in Manchester, something happens which is remembered long after the scores are forgotten. You will always hear players thanking the fans after the game, and rightly so, for they don’t just pay their massive wages – they create the unique spectacle that professional footballers are lucky enough to part of.
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