by Ryan Bailey

CHARLOTTE — As David Tepper walked into Courtyard Hooligans on December 17th 2019, a matter of hours after Charlotte MLS was officially unveiled, the entire bar erupted in a chorus of cheers.

Moments later, however, a chorus of a different kind could be heard ringing through the packed-out pub:

I say Charlotte!
Is wonderful!
I say Charlotte is wonderful,
It’s full of banks, beer, and soccer,
I say Charlotte is wonderful!

Without prompt or instruction, and 14 months ahead of the team’s first match, hundreds of fans at Hooligans participated in one of the key traditions in soccer fan culture: chanting.

Of course, a raucous crowd is nothing new to American sports—thunderous renditions of “Let’s Go Panthers!” and “Keep…Pounding!” are often heard at Bank of America Stadium. But the lexicon, history and significance of chanting is a little more detailed in the soccer world.

Chanting could first be heard on the terraces of Europe as early as the 1920s, but came to prominence in the 1960s, as the post-war Baby Boomer generation brought youth culture to their local stadiums.

Nowhere was this more obvious than at Anfield, home of Liverpool. In 1964, when hometown heroes The Beatles were taking over the world, the entire Kop end would join together with rousing renditions of Lennon/McCartney hits:

The fans at Anfield generally don’t sing The Beatles anymore, but they have immortalized a song by another 1960s Liverpool band, Gerry and the Pacemakers. Before every match, the Reds’ faithful sing a rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,’ which has become a show-stopping ritual on Merseyside.

Although some chants exist as pre-game sing-alongs like those seen at Liverpool, a soccer chant is typically a more ad-hoc affair. It will borrow a well-known melody and add lyrics that glorify the supporters’ team—or insult their opponent. The idea is to make a stadium intimidating for the opposition, while giving the vocal support of the “12th man” to the players on the pitch.

A chant isn’t usually taught or prescribed by a club, nor is it typically written down and formally disseminated among a fanbase. The use of a popular melody and simple lyrics is often enough to allow a new chant to spread like wildfire from its originators to an entire stadium. If it catches on, it sticks around and becomes part of the fabric of the fan experience.

One of the peculiarities of the process is the wildly disparate melodies that are used. Many chants are based on popular hymns and classical music that are no longer commonplace in other areas of society.

The aforementioned ‘Charlotte is wonderful’ chant, for example, uses the melody of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ which is an old Christian hymn. It is used by countless soccer teams around the world—including many in MLS—and is also common among the football fans of the New Orleans Saints and Baylor.

When a set of fans are silenced by an opponent’s goal, the chant of ‘You’re not singing anymore!’ is often heard, with a melody taken from the century-old Welsh hymn ‘Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer.’

But curiously, many of the most popular European chant melodies are American in origin. The highly adaptable ‘Here We Go!’ chant is based on ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever,’ written in the late nineteenth century and officially adopted as the National March of the USA in the 1980s. And the “Glory, Glory” chant that is frequently bellowed by fans of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester lifts its melody from the American Civil War song ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic.’

In addition to reviving ancient songs, chants can also use modern popular music as a basis. ‘Go West’ by the Village People forms the basis of ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’, while ‘Seven Nation Army’ by the White Stripes has been transformed by fans of many sports, including the beautiful game.

Pop melodies can come from obscure sources too: the famous chant that Manchester City fans dedicated to the Toure brothers—which comes with its own dance moves!—is from a 1990s song by a lesser-known Dutch techno group.

Chanting is a well-established part of MLS fan culture, with the likes of the Seattle Sounders and Minnesota Utd creating an intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams from the stands. Even Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks have been known to indulge in some vocal support for their favorite MLS side…

The significance of chanting—and the fans who instigate the chants—in the growth of MLS cannot be underestimated, says Taylor Rockwell of the Total Soccer Show. “I think independent supporters groups have contributed to the growth of the game in this country almost as much as some of the big names that have played here,” says Taylor.

“It’s great to watch Zlatan or Josef Martinez play, but it wouldn’t have the resonance it does if you didn’t have thousands of people in the stands waving flags, singing songs, and generating the atmosphere that they do.”

It is, therefore, an excellent sign of things to come at Bank of America Stadium that the official Charlotte MLS supporters club, the Mint City Collective, are already working on a range of chants.

MCC Members primarily use Slack to communicate and have established a thriving #chants channel therein. A recently submitted ditty pokes fun at Charlotte MLS’ I-85 rivals to the tune of 1980s pop anthem ‘We Built This City’:

Screw That City
Screw That City

Meanwhile, the local chapter of Pancho Villa’s Army, the supporters’ group for the Mexican National Team, have already started singing Spanish-language chants in honor of the new team. “Yo si le voy le voy a la Charlotte” (“If I’m going, I’m going to Charlotte”) sang the Villa’s Army fans at Hooligans when Tepper made his launch-day visit.

Charlotte MLS is in the process of building a team that will aim to make the city proud when it begins play at Bank of America stadium in 2021. And by the look of things, that team will be able to count on its 12th man being in full voice from the outset.