BOB GARFIELD: The impulse to archive, to preserve something fleeting, isn’t restricted to things that most people think are worth saving. Michael Dennis is cofounder of Fanchants.co.uk., a website that has captured 20,000 soccer fan chants from around the world.
[SOUND OF FAN CHANTS/UP AND UNDER]
Chants are the organic fan-generated soundtracks to soccer.
[FAN CHANT SOUNDTRACK/UP AND UNDER]
The venture began as a business idea but for its organizers has become a strange, addictive archiving endeavor. Michael, welcome to On the Media.
MICHAEL DENNIS: Oh, thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Before I ask you why in the world you’re out preserving soccer fan chants, and I can, believe me, hardly wait to hear the answer to that question, what exactly are soccer fan chants? We don’t have anything quite like that in the U.S.
MICHAEL DENNIS: It’s essentially a song that’s made up by the fans of a football team. It can be a longstanding, inspiring anthem that’s sung every game, or it can be sung once and never sung again. Usually, a good match, you’ll have 40 or 50 songs sung, sometimes twice that.
BOB GARFIELD: how do 40,000 people know the same chants?
MICHAEL DENNIS: You decide on your team when you’re a kid, you listen to it a couple of times, eventually those songs sort of are etched into your brain forever. Or if it’s one of those songs that starts in the crowd, it’ll start with one guy in a corner who sees something funny, starts a couple of verses of something, then it can end up being sung by the whole stadium.
One of my favorites is from my team, Leeds. There was a guy getting married on the pitch, and then some wag in the crowd just started singing, “You don’t know what you’re doin’, you don’t know what you’re doin’.”
[FANS CHANTING YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING]
BOB GARFIELD: You mentioned anthems as a recurring theme. These are a bit more lofty. They evince the supporters’ pride for their teams?
MICHAEL DENNIS: There’s only one or two anthems that each club has. They’re sung at every game in full voice. And I’ve been to some games where the hairs on – on my whole body have just been on end. Flower of Scotland, when the Scottish sing it, is pretty amazing.
[SCOTTISH FANS SINGING FLOWER OF SCOTLAND]
BOB GARFIELD: So one of your favorites is for a team called Manchester City. And they have a striker by the name of Mario Balotelli, and he’s got a chant all for his own self.
MICHAEL DENNIS: He’s a real character. He’s just a young guy, 19. He won 25,000 pounds at a casino and just drove around giving a thousand each to each homeless person that he saw. But he had to be taken off in a game ‘cause he had an allergic reaction to grass. [LAUGHS]
One of the lines is, “He’s got an allergy to grass but he plays and he’s f - ing class.”
…He's good at darts, An allergy to grass but when he plays he's [BLEEP] class, He drives around moss side with a wallet full of cash!
OOOOOOO Balotelli, He's a striker
[CHANTING/UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: Who underwrote your journeys to 720 teams, to collect 20,000 chants? And how long has it taken?
MICHAEL DENNIS: We’ve been doing this for five years, and I, rather fortunately, sold a travel business that I founded in Australia, so I had a little bit of money. And I was looking ‘round for something to do. And I went – just went to a game and recorded some chants on my camera and went home with my, my friend. And his phone went off, and it was one of those old ring tones, it was nnh-nhn-nh-nn. And when I said, no, no, this is what you want, and just loaded it onto the computer, roared it out of the speakers. We saw two light bulbs appear above our heads and one –
BOB GARFIELD: Ah, chants as ringtones. That’s the business?
MICHAEL DENNIS: That’s how it started. Now I’m more into the side of, you know, it’s a historical and cultural archive of the football fans throughout the eighties.
BOB GARFIELD: So you have somehow backed into being a ethnographer.
MICHAEL DENNIS: If I knew what that was, I could actually tell you that – yes or no, sorry.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] You know, there are people who collect the last recordings of dying languages or cultural rites for study by anthropologists and sociologists and linguists, and you’ve got 20,000 football chants. Where do you think [LAUGHS] this puts you in the pantheon of social scientists?
MICHAEL DENNIS: Considering that half the world either plays or watches football, I’d say I was right up there, if not the top.
BOB GARFIELD: Well Michael, thank you so much.
MICHAEL DENNIS: No problem at all. It’s been a pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD: Michael Dennis is a cofounder of Fanchants.co.uk.
[ARSENAL FAN CHANTS/UP AND UNDER]
And what you’re now hearing, at the incidence of our senior producer Katya Rogers, is a fan chant for her favorite team, Arsenal.