My participation in the World Cup consists of being impressed at the ability of various crowds to turn just about any phrase, name, or rhythm into a chant. The British are the best at it, possibly because they aren’t distracted by decent food. Why had this never developed much in America?

We don’t participate this way in (actual) football games, even though if ever there was a sport that demanded a lot of standing around in unpleasant weather, it’s this. Some colleges have developed third-quarter traditions, usually marching band dependent, but this carries dangers of its own. Such a practice can easily become personality-dependent.

When I attended Notre Dame football games as a Saint Mary’s College student,, the band played the finale of “The 1812 Overture,” and the entire student section shaped our thumbs and index fingers into an “L,” chanting “LOU” on the downbeat. We were quite good at it. But this became somewhat awkward in my sophomore year, when Lou Holtz left and Bob Davie slid in. We were instructed that we were now supposed to chant “BOB” and figure out how to fashion a “B” and a “D” with our fingers without flipping off the entire stadium.

It did not catch on.

But it doesn’t even seem to bother the British when a player switches teams or a coach vanishes. They adapt and overcome. There are four or five cheer formats, and they simply, as a group, somehow decide amongst themselves that this is what we’re yelling now. They can shift on a tuppence (or whatever a dime is over there, I don’t know; my entire education on Great Britain comes from Mary Poppins and Regency novels written by American NaNoWriMo participants who cannot let go of their last viewing of Pride and Prejudice, Colin Firth version.)

We rarely do this on an organic level in America, and when we do, there’s usually an organizing authority. But sometimes it doesn’t stick even when there is; the Notre Dame cheerleaders and mascot led an entire tutorial on the “BOB” thing at a pep rally, complete with marching band, and we still didn’t perform the modification with nearly as much as coordination and enthusiasm as “LOU.”

But such a thing happens naturally in the UK. It’s not like they sit around in Parliament voting on it. The cheers and songs issue forth, and everyone, as a group, simply agrees to this. Maybe you can move as a blob like this when your entire legal system lumbers about for hundreds of years without one single solitary constitution.

But we even attempt this in baseball culture. At first I thought high-end crowd participation was a staple of soccer because there’s so much free time between anything at all happening, but then I had to admit that goes for baseball as well. I prefer to see my player standing around, however, in anticipation of something actually taking place rather than taking a forced breather because some human boost of an Instagram “model” is writhing on the grass. Our pauses in baseball are respectable.

Still, the dead space remains. We’re conditioned to act only on cue when action on the field doesn’t require it. There’s the seventh inning stretch, and then there are the likes of The Trumpets, which serve to fill the usual bullpen gap anyway. The closest thing we have to it is the Wave, which I rather enjoy, but which has fallen very much out of fashion since my childhood. Marty Brennaman will go to his grave telling Reds fans to sit down when so many as two people in a row happen to stand up to hit the bathroom at the same time.

Maybe we need this sort of organized fervor on the diamond. Maybe we don’t. I do know we’ll able be quite, quite fine without bringing vuvuzelas into the equation.

29 Responses

  1. LDS

    Glad to see you taking a pause this week. Hopefully, next week will bring you and the rest of the RLN writing staff more interesting topics on which to riff.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      You do what you can when there’s only the hot stove to look at.
      Sometimes you even resort to soccer.

      • SOQ

        My boys grew up soccer fanatics and I have to admit that I enjoy the game (more so live than on tv). My oldest works for LAFC now and got to go to Qatar for the USA v Wales game. A trip of a lifetime for him

  2. Oldtimer

    Who Dey is an example of a fan driven cheer that stuck.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      True. But that’s more of a slogan, I think? Rather than the complicated three-act Broadway plays they’re putting on in England?

      • Oldtimer

        It was a cheer when it was first created. The two words Who Deny have evolved into a slogan but there is a full cheer to go with them.

      • Oldtimer

        Who Dey. Gotta either have edit feature or get rid of Auto Correct.

  3. David

    My wife wrote three (3!) regency romance novels in the 1990’s, and yes, she does LOVE “Pride and Prejudice” (Colin Firth as MR DARCY!).
    She still has a few copies of each that she hands out to special friends. I have read one of them
    No vuvuzelas were used in the composition of any of the three novels.

    So sit down, and watch the game. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I think the secret to Brit fans at Soccer (Futbol!) games is that this is a group drinking event. The national pastime in the UK is drinking, not Futbol! And while plenty of people get drunk at American baseball games, it is still not the SOP for every fan, like in the UK.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Good for her! Those who managed to get into print before the age of the Kindle insta-download made it over any number of large hurdles. Do her a solid and read the other two. There’s an excellent chance I’ve read them myself ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Brian Cubbison

      When Todd Frazier was with the Reds and his walk-up song was โ€œFly Me to the Moon,โ€ I thought the third base fans should yell โ€œJupiter!โ€ and the first base fans should yell โ€œMars!โ€ at the right time.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        That would have been outstanding.

  4. Votto4life

    I thought Americans, at the World Cup, chanting โ€œItโ€™s called Soc-cerโ€ was pretty good. Though my British wife didnโ€™t care much for it.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      LOL, I imagine not. Awesome.

  5. Mark Moore

    Being as I’m not a soccer/futbol fan, I have little material to reference. But I get your point. It makes sense. And maybe it is the poorer quality British food that spurs them on and turns them into hooligans.

    Then again, when a “big crowd” at GABP is a number approaching 10K … well, we won’t go there today. It’s the offseason and we’re waiting in anticipation for “stuff to happen”.

    Oh, and the ND football fan ladies who run my life were more than a little disappointed Saturday evening. Still, it appears to be a season salvaged from the brink. Now if the players would all commit to learning the words to the Alma Mater … and not just the last phrase! ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      In my day, none of the players actually lived on campus, either. I hope they’re enjoying their time in their particular chapter of the NFL minor leagues.

  6. Rednat

    i will say the Brits are quite creative with their chants. they had a chant for the famous middle weight English boxer Ricky Hatton,” There’s only one Ricky Hatton”, to the tune of “walking in a winter’s wonderland”. It’s like, where the heck did they come up with that? lol

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Well now that song’s different forever…

  7. earmbrister

    MBE, it’s always a pleasure to read your musings. You could make watching paint dry somehow interesting.

    I have two soccer playing teenagers. My oldest is a huge Argentina fan, and a huge Messi fan. In today’s match vs Poland he did not find it amusing that I quipped that “I understand why they call him Missie” (missed PK). Soccer fans are SO MUCH more animated than any other sport, and it’s not even close.

    And it’s not just a British thing or a European thing. Or a Central America or South American thing. Go to an MLS game: even here in the US, soccer crowds put other U.S. sports crowds to shame (with hockey fans giving them a run for their money).

    Enjoy the World Cup. It’s only played “every” four years and for only a few weeks at that. And the US has advanced from Group play, which happens about as often as the Reds are competitive ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      awwwww thanks so much! Apparently there’s going to be a watch party on Fountain Square for the next game. Playoff vibes ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Ryan

    Re soccer, people call baseball boring?

  9. Jim Walker

    As I was reading along, flash mobs (remember them?) popped up from somewhere deep in my aging brain.

    The whole idea was that word would be spread about when and where to show up and what to do by word of mouth (literally or via texting chains). And when the activity started others might just join in on their own.

    Then one day I saw a news article or heard on the radio that some organization was sponsoring a flash mob at such and such time and place. It even went on to say what folks should wear so everyone would know who was part of the mob.

    Just another fun thing co-opted by a penchant in this country for everything to be organized with someone clearly in charge.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Excellent example. The second you see anything in the mainstream, it’s already desperately uncool.

  10. Old Big Ed

    There are a few things in American sports. The dear old “Yankees …” chant will always pop up at Fenway, but the beauty of it is that it can start up in games in which the Yankees aren’t even playing. Miller Lite commercials in the 1980s featured the tag lines of “Tastes great” and/or “Less filling.” In Tiger Stadium, the fans in the left field stands would chant “eat …,” to which the right field fans would retort “… you.” It got to the point where the Tigers had to shut down the outfield seats altogether.

    And there was the greatest spontaneous fan/crowd display in American history in Chicago on July 12, 1979 — Disco Demolition Night. The “event” was planned from on high, by a Chicago rock DJ who hated disco music. He convinced Bill Veeck to do an event between games of a doubleheader, whereby fans could bring a disco record (for cheaper admission), which would be burned in a bonfire in centerfield between games of the doubleheader. The “EVENT” however, was from the ground up, when 50,000 riotous disco haters showed up, tossed vinyl records like Frisbees, charged the field, and caused the White Sox to forfeit the second game.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAJfOcnYYEQ&ab_channel=BradPalmer, in which the newscaster says “Rock fans under the influence of beer and drugs and armed with disco records don’t mix with baseball.” (The Indians forfeited a game in 1974 on “Ten Cent Beer Night.” I wonder why.)

    A nice one is the tradition at Iowa football games at the end of the third quarter to stand up and wave to the children in the children’s hospital overlooking the stadium. I don’t think it was imposed from on-high but was instead started organically. (At Kentucky football games, there is a widespread habit of fans muttering “Same old Kentucky” after any number of inexplicable play calls and goof-ups.)

    Alcohol definitely has something to do with the crowd energy. That is one reason that college football has boisterous crowds, whereas GABP has to pipe in enthusiasm. Youth helps, too. Soccer crowds are young, as are college basketball crowds at Duke, and at places like Auburn, where the oldsters (“blue hairs”) never had season tickets, so the college kids are near the court and rowdy.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Now this, sir, is a dang essay. Thanks so much for it, and for your perspective.

  11. Gonzo Reds

    The name of my fantasy football league that I commish is “Real Football, Soccer Sucks” which pretty much sums up my feelings on soccer. Only good if you need background noise for a nap, I mean 0-0 ties after 90+ minutes, really? At least in hockey you get boarding and fights to oh and ah about.

    Always hope the USA wins for national pride’s sake (especially against countries like I-ran) but to be perfectly honest I’ll be happy after Saturday’s likely loss to not hear anything about soccer for another four years. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Ha! I think the issue of the tie is why we just CAN’T with it over here.

  12. Jim Walker

    I agree with you. And in soccer, a tie isn’t really a tie in the standings. Both teams get a point in the standing but they also leave 2 possible standing points on the table. Those can loom as large as a missed extra point at the end of the season when UEFA spots or relegation are settled.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Ah. Well, the important thing is we can ignore it again for a while, unless Team USA does really well in the Olympics.