I have to admit that when I first saw the title, the cover and the dreaded word “banter” I wasn’t sure that Dirty Northern B*st*rds! would be my thing, but I was quickly won over by the well balanced mix of humour, serious themes and history – both football and social. It turned out to be a light and easy but fascinating trip around the country discussing rivalries and stereotypes, the wit of the terraces, the roots of deep feelings and where lines are sometimes crossed, whilst providing regular chuckles, occasional moments for thought and reflection and a host of fascinating little historical tales.
The book is split into three sections, first half, second half and extra time, and they cover different aspects of football chants with the first one largely focused on rivalries and how chants have developed by emphasising our differences. The highlight of this section for me was an interesting discussion around interpretation that can lead to a chant being one side of offensive or the other. This particularly comes into focus with the issue of race and being only a distant observer of Tottenham Hotspur the focus on the “Y word” was fascinating. The influence of being in a crowd also plays an important part in this to the extent of individuals joining in with songs that they might find personally offensive outside of a football ground because of the group mentality.
The second half was my favourite as it covered signature songs of clubs around the country and their origins. I am a regular participant in Nottingham Forest’s rendition of Mull O’ Kin Tyre by Wings, in which the words are changed to “City Ground, oh mist rolling in from the Trent” and have always been impressed by visiting Stoke fans when their massed choir sings Delilah, though I never understood why before. It was also pleasing to finally discover all of the words to one of my favourite signature tunes; Sheffield United’s version of Annie’s Song by John Denver. Those words in full are:
“You fill up my senses
Like a gallon of Magnet
Like a packet of Woodbines
Like a good pinch of snuff
Like a night out in Sheffield
Like a greasy chip butty
Like Sheffield United
Please fill me again”
At the risk of upsetting Sheffield Wednesday fans I heartily recommend a trip to Bramall Lane to hear it sung by the Blades fans in person. In fact that was the great thing about this book, it introduces us to the history and character of clubs all around these Isles and putting rivalry aside in favour of the wider game it pricked my interest further in travelling around our football grounds to experience each unique twist on a shared passion. Redressing the Sheffield balance a little the Wednesday fans apparently serenade their team to “Honolulu Wednesday”, their take on a song that featured in the 1933 Laurel and Hardy film “Sons of the Desert” and there are a host of similarly obscure journeys made by songs to football terraces.
The final section is a bit like a Tim Vine show of one liner chants and wise cracks from the terraces and brings the book to a fast paced and funny close. The pace is suddenly slowed right at the end though for its best three pages. It focuses on Stockport County but its brilliance lies in the way it captures so much that is good about the game. I will leave it for you to discover for yourself but it is a perfectly selected way to end a book that is all about what it means to be a fan.
Apart from some inevitable bias towards the author’s favourite club this is an enjoyable journey through football and Tim Marshall has done his research to tell the narratives behind the songs thereby allowing us to glimpse a little of the heart of each club and its fans. On a Saturday afternoon we are rivals but this book celebrates both our unique and our shared stories for which we are all richer.