Preaching To The Choir

17 Apr

Should you ever find yourself in the fabled crescent city of New Orleans, be sure to swing on by to 726 St Peter in the French Quarter. You’ll see a seemingly innocuous structure. It needs a lick of paint and to the outsider, might appear on the point of dereliction. Don’t be fooled though. Appearances are mischievously deceptive. Because once the corrugated gates open on any number of balmy Louisiana evenings and the heat of the crowd sends beads of sweat dripping down your forehead, you’ll find that there’s magic to be found.

Here you’ll find The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. And here you’ll hear music that takes you to places unimaginable. You’ll hear the vocal and clarinet stylings of the dapper Clint Maedgen as he belts out spiritual standard Down By The Riverside and once upon a time the charmingly rotund figure of double bassist Walter Payton wiggled his bum and took the time out to have a chat with round-eyed fans. Walter was a huge anglophile and would tell anyone who cared to hear about the culinary delights of bangers and mash. And they’ll play anything for you, these great men. But if you ask them to play the song that is synonymous with the city, it’ll cost you. The Saints will set you back ten bucks for a rendition. If you’re lucky. After all, these guys can play much more and they will. I do know of a place where you can hear it for free though. It’s done acapella too. By nearly forty thousand souls…

As Cristiano Ronaldo let fly and Heurelho Gomes fumbled on Wednesday night, the final embers of a miraculous recovery were clinically extinguished. As Spurs fans, it would have been easy to hang our heads and ingloriously spew vitriol and recriminations onto the pitch. But within seconds of the goal going in, you could feel something special in the air. Something that happens far too rarely in life. The collective will of a mass of strangers accepting their fate and showing the pride and defiance of the vanquished. It seemed like we all wanted to say thank you to a team that had taken us all on a very glorious adventure this season. Something that had always felt a distant speck on the horizon.

And so the low, almost whispered strains of ‘When The Spurs Go Marching In’ drifted magically around White Hart Lane. Arms aloft and building to the crescendo that allows us all to joyously tell the world we love our team. I unashamedly admit to wiping away a tear or two. Like the club emblem, the chest was puffed out and proud.

I’m not sure when this particular choir-like rendition of The Saints began to be sung by the Tottenham faithful but I can’t get enough of it. Like the club’s assimilation of Glory, Glory Hallelujah, it resonates beyond the confines of football.

Music and chanting is used by many cultures to nourish and soothe the soul. The Ancient Greeks used it to tell stories of gods and battles in the form of a chorus. The African slaves of North America used it to lift themselves above the crack of the whip and from that was born much of the music we hold dear within our psyches today. It defines who we are as individuals but more tellingly, connects us to others whom we might have little in common with.

As a person of atheistic tendencies, I have made the personal choice to reject many aspects of organised religion. That does not however mean I am a person of little faith. It is said that some people who are diagnosed with autism find it difficult to allow themselves physical contact with other human beings. That does not mean that they are bereft of the need to feel security and reassurance and they find other ways to fill the void, chiefly through contact with animals or inanimate objects. Connecting with the spiritual elements of music within the parameters of a football crowd, in my case serves the very same purpose.

This phenomenon is not solely exclusive to Spurs fans, of course. Being married to a Manchester United fan, I’m no lover of Liverpool as a matter of matrimonial duty. Nevertheless, when the Kop sings You’ll Never Walk Alone in unison, it’s hard not to allow myself to be swept up in the raw emotion on display. It’s been especially moving this week, which saw the twenty-second anniversary of the tragic events at Hillsborough. For a small moment in time, the local rivalries were put on hold as we all united to share in the grief of those who survived and remember those who were taken. As a signifier, a song from a musical embodies the sentiments and ethos of an entire club, locality, sport. And because of this, we allow ourselves to bond with others like us.

Spurs fans this week have come under mild scrutiny for their chanting of songs that some deem offensive. David Baddiel is claiming the use of the term ‘yid’ by Spurs as a rallying call and a term of identification, is somehow offensive to the Jewish community. Having attended Spurs matches for over twenty years now, I can safely say that the intentions of the chant are not designed to cause offence or hurt. It is the use of other more inflammatory terms such as ‘gas’ and ‘Auschwitz’ by supporters of other clubs when referring to Spurs that is far more vicious and callous to hear in the stands.

The act of singing is there to unite. And up and down the country, you can hear such a variety of songs in stadiums that celebrate all the wonderful humour, sentimentality and joy of following a club and in essence, being alive. The residents of New Orleans, having suffered such tragedy in recent years, seem to intrinsically understand the power of music to heal and bond. Whatever colour, religion or political persuasion we are, in the end, we’re all the same.

Sadly, Walter Payton died at the end of 2010. But through his wonderful bass playing and his love of a good old British dish, his memory will live longer. I’m proud to be in that number. And so should you. Just don’t forget your ten dollars. And tip is not included.

Dispatches has had the honour of being nominated for the EPL Talk Blog of the Season. If you would like to vote for it, click here thanks.

Dispatches on the Net:

Spurs can lose themselves and dare to dream – STV

Tottenham Hotspur: The Day After The Night Before – Just Football

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

6 Responses to “Preaching To The Choir”

  1. Ian Hutchinson April 18, 2011 at 09:38 #

    Not a fan of Jazz or Spurs but really enjoyed this blog. Thankyou for the Hillsborough Memorial comments. I must admit to liking Spurs fans haunting rendition of ‘when the saints’. Spurs did themselves proud in the ECL & so did their fans.

  2. Saadaab April 18, 2011 at 12:16 #

    Beautiful as always sir.

    I have to admit, despite being as fervent an anti-Spurs person as anyone, I can’t deny being captivated by the slow marching in song when it’s done wholeheartedly.
    Yes, it makes me absolutely sick and bring up bile but that’s exactly the point. It winds me up and brings out an equally wholehearted rendition of Bubbles from me –
    which is also the point. I’ve been at the Lane twice this season and both times the atmosphere has been absolutely terrific. Liverpool have this too, it’s truly inspiring. But Arsenal don’t :). Yesterday evening at Kings Cross some drunk Arsenal fans were getting off the same tube as me and shouting “Ar-se-nal…Ar-se-nal” to which I’d insert “SHIT” in each rest. I’m so mature :D.

    What you say about the Y-word is half true, but what really gets my goat is the double standards. I am personally offended by the word just like I’d be with the
    n-word or p-word, but if I was wearing Spurs gear and shouted out Yid Army I’d not get any kind of rebuke, but if I was wearing colours of any other team – especially
    West Ham or Chelsea I’d probably get arrested and banned for life from my club. A uniting affectionate song shouldn’t have that sort of potential ramifications.

    Also, not every ‘uniting’ song is positive. At West Ham we have the disgusting foreskin song towards Spurs which is uniting West Ham fans in their hatred for Tottenham but is by no means a good thing. And when they’re particularly angry at Man United they’ll spout up with the old “who’s that dying on the runway” crap. I say ‘they’ and not ‘we’ because I pride myself in not getting lost in petty partisanship and forgetting what football’s about. I think the day I ever (accidentally or not) join in with any kind of chant or song like this I need to evaluate my life and ask what the hell I go to football for.

    Going to football matches is just effectively going for a singsong. The match doesn’t *really* matter. If that was all I’d pay less and watch it on tv or something.

  3. Mark A Warmington April 18, 2011 at 12:44 #

    A great read! And yes, standing in the Kop during You’ll Never Walk Alone is one of the most inspiring moments of joy, belonging and acceptance that I’ve ever felt: a truly unifying moment that lifts the heart through any and everything.

  4. William April 18, 2011 at 23:44 #

    I do enjoy the unique way in which Spurs fans sing the Saints tune. The different areas of White Hart Lane are slightly out of time, but in a syncopated way rather than being simply disjointed. A bit like jazz, I guess.

  5. Carlito11 April 20, 2011 at 16:22 #

    Nice blog- enjoyed the New Orleans Jazz part- some lovely emotive stuff there. On the Y-word- I’m a Gooner and it is acceptable to say “I hate Spurs”. When I hear people of all teams including my own shouting “I hate the yids” and all manner of combinations, it sends a chill down my spine. You’re right that it’s far from the most offensive chant aimed at the clubs Jewish identity but I think it’s a bit like rappers using the N-word… Stupid white people think it’s then ok to use the word, potentially in a derogatory or inflammatory way.
    Keep up the good work on the blog. Hope you lose tonight 😉

  6. joel April 21, 2011 at 10:34 #

    i completely agree about the arsenal comment, even as an arsenal fan!

    I went to see the 1-1 in the first leg of the league cup a few years back and was shocked at how quiet it all was…in a match against our biggest rivals! But i think with Arsenal it is born out of frustration more than anything, well certainly this season.

    With regards to chanting, there is nothing more inspiring for me in sport than seeing the footage of the 18 stone lawrence dallaglio with tears in his eyes belting out the national anthem before the WC Rugby final. That was pure emotion and yet he cleared his head and composed himself within minutes to throw himself around the field for his country.

    The same cannot be said for the England players who mumble and mime their way through her majesty’s tune and look embarrassed by it all. The only saving grace on this matter is Stuart Pearce who has, quite rightly, insisted on his under 21 players standing together, arms around each other and singing every word like the mean it.

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