By Jason McKeown
I’m tone deaf. Get me on the karaoke, and I’ll empty the room. When I join in with singing songs with the kids in the car, I’m unanimously shushed. But put me in a stadium watching Bradford City, and there’s rarely any holding back.
Chanting is one of the great things that makes football supporting such a communal experience. The intention of a chant is to be as loud as possible, so the unspoken rule is that everyone can join in. That can be harder if you’re sat in a part of the ground where not many people near you are singing, but such is the volume of football chants that it often doesn’t matter if you’re the only one around you choosing to take part.
When you’re right in middle of a singing City crowd, it’s truly something special. Everyone chanting at the top of their voices. You can feel the noise reverberating around the stadium. Drifting out over the stands, even, so anyone close by the ground can hear it too. Chanting helps you to feel more engaged with the action on the field. More connected with the club. It’s your own way of giving 100% to the cause. Doing your bit, to help the team win.
Most of the time, on the pitch and in the dugouts, there’s no acknowledgement of the chants reverberating around the ground. As though everyone involved in the game is to focused to notice. But then just occasionally, the mask slips. You see a player laughing along at a funny chant. A manager responding to the “give us a wave” song. They hear everything.
A match played to a backdrop of chanting is what makes live football so captivating. I remember my first ever City game, where what stood out was the non-stop singing from the Kop, supported by a drummer at the back of the Midland Road stand. When I took my American in-laws to a City match, it was the atmosphere that stood out to them too. And when I took my eldest daughter to Valley Parade for the first time, I made sure it was for a game that would feature a strong atmosphere.
The chanting is as much of an attraction as anything you will see on the field. For clubs like City, it is the most powerful weapon they have in encouraging people to be City supporters, rather than Premier League armchair fans.
It is a real shame that Valley Parade isn’t always a cauldron of noise. Part of the problem is the fact the club resides in the lower leagues. We berate the fact City teams often slip up at home to small teams near the bottom who everyone turns up expecting to beat, but on such occasions the intensity of chanting is less, which doesn’t help. It is not just the players who subconsciously assume a walkover.
When an opposition team brings a pitiful away following, it always dampens the atmosphere compared to a packed away end. The Grimsby game in February was a terrific atmosphere of noise, partly because the Mariners brought 2,500 fans. It’s the same with away games. Going to Deepdale, for example, guarantees 90 minutes of City chanting in that big away end.
When the outcome of a game appears more in the balance, or City are clear underdogs, the chanting is so much better. The noise around Valley Parade can be incredible. And when you think back to all those cup heroics under Phil Parkinson, the noise and intense chanting we provided was just as crucial a factor as the game plan. Being present for those triumphs, doing your part by signing yourself hoarse, was so rewarding. We made a difference, playing a crucial role in those amazing triumphs.
What makes football chanting so accessible is the basic nature of the songs. They’d never win awards for musical originality. But they allow everyone to quickly join in. The words are easy to pick up. The tune easy to follow.
There’s something great about being at a game that gives birth to a new chant. A catchy song shamelessly ripped off from another club is tried out, and everyone has joined in to suddenly make it our chant. A recent player arrival, who has been playing well, is suddenly awarded their own ditty. I remember at Oldham away in January 2017, and a lad behind us was brave enough to debut a chant for Romain Vincelot. It spread around very quickly, and within minutes a bustling away end was blasting it out. That lad was so proud and rightly so.
Some chants capture an era, and become entangled with the memories of that time. The FA Cup quarter final run of 2015 and ‘Everywhere we go’. The League Cup miracle of 2013 and ‘It’s only a cup’. The slow rebirth of Bradford City in 2007/08, with the Dale Cavese chant.
The awarding of players with their own chant can be a mystery. Usually it’s on merit for their heroics (Gary Jones is magic, ohh Rory McArdle). Sometimes it’s just to recognise someone giving their all (Barry Conlon, Donovan Ricketts). It’s great when a player who the crowd initially didn’t like wins them around enough to earn a chant (Luke Oliver, Mark Marshall). There are sometimes new signings who get a chant before they’ve properly played for the club, and if they don’t work out they aren’t sung about for long (John McGinlay, Devante Cole). And then there are players who everyone loves but for some reason never get a chant (James Mererdith).
The best City chants are the ones with the longevity to keep being sung game after game, year after year. Take me home, Midland Road. Wash your mouth out son. And my personal favourite – City till I Die. The latter won’t win awards for originality, but it is a powerfully emotive chant that at full volume makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
As the country recovers from an initial peak of the coronavirus pandemic, Premier League and Championship football has resumed behind closed doors. Without fans. Without noise. It is strange and unnerving. Football ripped of its heart and soul. And the games feel less intense. The players seem that bit slower. The outcomes lacking true meaning.
Football without fans is nothing. And that’s because of the lack of noise. The absence of chanting in grounds drains all the colour away. A return to full stadiums with chanting will be special. We’ve missed it.
I’m an introverted soul. Not blessed with great confidence. Never the life and soul of a party, more on the fringes struggling to make small talk. But when you’re in a stadium full of City fans chanting, those insecurities no longer hold you back. Amongst the safety of a crowd, you can lose your inhibitions and sing loudly. Safe that no one can really hear you individually. No one can sing any better than you. So let’s all dial it up to 11.
It’s one of the best things about being a football fan. Supporting Bradford City. Ignoring the fact you can’t usually sing to save your life. To bellow chants out at the top of your voice. Become part of the spectacle rather than spectating. Waking up the next morning, after a City win, to discover your voice is all croaky. Your heart full of songs you’ll be chanting all day in your head – or outwardly in the car – to re-live the feeling of joy you experienced singing passionately with like minded fans.