Christmas, Chants, Jesus, Carols and Amazing Grace

19 November 2013 — Leave a comment

This post is written by Walter Otton and first appeared in the December issue of ‘cfcuk’ – a Chelsea football fanzine.

Football supporters. They’ve all got their favourite chants, haven’t they? Recently on Twitter a Norwich City fan was digging out Chelsea fans saying they didn’t have an anthem of sorts that resonated with the club and specifically cited ‘Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea!’ as repetitive dross that ‘sums up’ their support.

Chelsea fans beg to differ. Especially at away games, usually in the second half, the chant often goes on and on and on and on. It actually defines their support. Encouraging the team on with relentless vociferousness. Other clubs, obviously, have their own version: Villa; City; Forest; Leicester; Arsenal etc – the list of football clubs goes on whose sets of fans repeat the name of their team over and over again. The key thing to add, other than the continued repeating of the teams name, is that it is sung to the tune of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ – and not a lot of people realise that!

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see!

There are a few other examples that spring to mind of terrace chants that are rooted in Christian songs. The traditional hymn ‘Give me oil in my lamp’ has been adopted by sections of England fans and changed to ‘Keep Saint George in my heart’ with the chorus ‘Sing Hosanna to the King of Kings’ now ‘No Surrender to the IRA’ instead. The word ‘Hosanna’ is a shout of praise, and was yelled by the crowd as they welcomed Jesus as he rode on a donkey into Jerusalem. This event is remembered in our calendar as Palm Sunday. Last season, Chelsea fans sang their own version of this tune. The chant took shape and gathered real momentum as the season drew to a close and Chelsea headed to the Dutch capital for the Europa Cup Final in May to play Benfica: ‘Amsterdam, Amsterdam, we are coming! Amsterdam, Amsterdam I pray! Amsterdam, Amsterdam, we are coming! We are coming in the month of May.’

Chelsea’s popular anthem ‘Carefree’ is taken from the school assembly chorus ‘Lord of the Dance’ – though I’d be surprised if schools sing that anymore. People of a certain vintage will remember it as a favourite as the music teacher attacked an old piano with vigour as the school children sang enthusiastically away on the wooden floor of the assembly hall.

The hymn ‘Cwm Rhondda’ was written in 1905 by Welshman John Hughes for a hymn festival in Pontypridd. In English we known this song as ‘Bread of Heaven’. The chorus ‘Bread of Heaven, feed me now and evermore’ has been adapted by fans in several ways. These include, ‘Is that all you take away?’ when mocking low numbers of travelling support, ‘We can see you sneaking out!’ as opposing fans leave the stadium before full time, usually because they’re losing badly, and ‘What the ****ing hell was that?’ when an attempted shot hits either row Z or the corner flag.

There are many parallels when considering football and church: Worship; Sacrificing time and money; Following; Singing together; Unity in adversity; A fluid, organic movement; Celebrating; Victory; Family; Doctrine.

Chelsea striker Peter Osgood made 285 appearances for Chelsea, scoring 105 goals. He is hailed as ‘The King of Stamford Bridge’ – the ground where Chelsea play. Osgood died suddenly in March 2006. His chant ‘Osgood, Osgood, Osgood, Osgood! Born is the King of Stamford Bridge’ will forever be embedded in Chelsea culture. His song was adapted from the Christmas Carol ‘Noel Noel, born is the King of Israel’. When Osgoods song is sung in pre match boozers, Chelsea fans hold their drinks in the air to toast the finest striker that ever played for their team.

So…. Christmas. I don’t know about you, but I loathe the commercialism that dominates the festive period. Am I a Scrooge? No. Am I alarmed by our culture of excess? Yes. Some may speculate that Jesus (who mentioned helping the poor, the needy, the widows and the orphans numerous times) is turning in his grave at the greed that not only overshadows his birthday but sticks two fingers up to his teachings. Unless of course you happen to believe that Jesus is not dead at all so would be unable to turn in his grave, but instead you may hold the belief that He died and rose again as the Easter story depicts. If that’s the case I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Good Lord is banging his head against one of Heavens walls as a result of how Christmas is commercialised.

So this leads us full circle back to Amazing Grace. It was written by John Newton in 1779. Born in Wapping near the majestic Thames, Newton lived an extraordinary life. Brief details can be found on a wiki page. Alternatively, for those who are interested further, you can read his biography, written by Jonathan Aitken. He looks at Newtons important influence on abolitionist William Wilberforce and explores many facets of Newton’s eventful life story. Newton experienced a remarkable conversion and embroiled himself in a passionate fight to end the slave trade.

Talking of passion, next time you hear a football clubs supporters belting out the name of their team over and over again, you can listen now in the knowledge that the origins lie in an extraordinary hymn – written and composed by one of the most significant men in history. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.

Whatever you’re up to over the festive period, have a blinder and remember whose birthday we are celebrating.

Happy Christmas!

@WalterOtton 

Published by Gate17: Walters ebook #ROE2RO is a free download to your Apple device or £0.77 via Kindle. 100% of royalties give a kid in poverty a hot meal. Walters debut novel ‘The Red Hand Gang’ is available on ebook for under £4. Paperback copies are priced £10. To order a print copy please email: enquiries@gate17.co.uk. Walter’s collection of short stories titled “SHORTS!” is out soon! 

Peter Osgood song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIxBPpg3l5g

Jon

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I am a qualified youth worker, writer and consultant based in Littlehampton, UK. I've worked in the voluntary youth sector for over 12 years, am married to Kirsty and we have two daughters named Hope and Eloise. Check out 'Journeying Together: Growing Youth Work and Youth Workers in Local Communities' and read my opening chapter.

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