Shall we sing a song for you: Italian football songs, Part I

Jennifer Doyle’s interesting post on Tottenham Hotspur and the Battle Hymn of the Republic got me thinking about the kind of songs we sing here in Italy. Music is such a powerful force that the singing is often one of the most direct emotional aspects of going to football. When you go to any match in a country where you don’t speak the language, it’s very easy to feel excluded. After all, even if at home you wouldn’t join in another team’s chants, you would at least understand them. But of course each country has its own traditions when it comes to football songs, a mix of the familiar and the bizarre, and it can take time to learn your way around.

The first major difference from the English game is that nearly all clubs have their own official Hymn. This isn’t a song which has been adopted, in the fashion of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, but a specially written dedicated piece, usually by some prominent singer-songwriter who is a fan of the club in question. And they are almost without exception spectacularly cheesy, both musically and lyrically. Though I am of course entirely biased, I think that Roma has one of the best (below), though Inter’s is not too bad (and has the merit of acknowledging the team’s inconsistency in its chorus “Crazy Inter” – a new celebratory version was recorded last year). The hymns of Lazio, Juve, Milan and Napoli are perhaps more representative of the typical awfulness of most such efforts. The lyrics are essentially banal sentimentalism of the laziest kind expressed with a sprinkling of local dialect, accompanied by cheesy europop beats and a climactic modulation to create a sense of emotional elevation. But if it’s your team and your anthem, it is almost guaranteed to give you goose-bumps when belted out by 40,000 people.

Roma Roma Roma

There’s no compunction about stealing other people’s national anthems. The Marseillaise, curiously, gets used from time to time, and you’ll also hear John Brown’s body – the Battle Hymn of the Republic – usually known to Italians as “Glory Glory Hallelujah.” It’s sung at Lazio, as “Forza Forza Grande Lazio” and on the other side of the fence as, you’ll be amazed to hear, “Forza Forza Grande Roma”. Some groups are also unable to resist the compelling tune of the Red Flag, even when they violently disagree with its political sentiments. British visitors will find plenty of other familiar tunes – rather bastardised versions of “Sailing”, “Bread of Heaven”, “Guantanamera” and so on. Meanwhile Roma sing anti-Lazio songs to the tune of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, the Popeye theme tune and best of all, Old Macdonald had a Farm. Verdi is always a favourite, with both “La Donna è mobile” and the triumphal march from Aida cropping up across the country.

The international language of cheesy pop is of course a major source of musical inspiration. OMD’s “Enola Gay”, “That’s the way I like it” by KC and the Sunshine band and of course “Go West” are universal favourites, while several clubs also use “Yellow Submarine”. Plenty of classic Italian pop songs also get an airing. I often have the disconcerting experience of learning a song in the curva and only subsequently hearing the original version (which is usually a terrible disappointment). Juve sing a version of “Andavo a 100 al ora”, a 1962 hit by Gianni Morandi which is great (below), while Marcella Bella’s 1972 song from the San Remo festival of Italian song “Montagne Verde” is also used at Reggina and elsewhere. The shock of encountering Raffaella Carrà’s 1978 masterpiece “Quanto è bello fare l’amore” in a tacky nightclub was considerable given that I had only ever heard a rather different version asserting that “there’s no priest or woman for me, in my heart is only you: AS Roma”.

New tunes are picked up from the charts or often from adverts on TV: the “kinder chocofresh music” (Inter), the “Grana Padano parmesan advert” (Roma). And of course fans borrow from one another. In February 2006 Roma played away at Bruges in the UEFA cup. The visiting fans were impressed by the Bruges’ supporters use of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and the following week back home they adapted it to their own ends: PO-PO-PO-PO-PO-POOOO-POOO, making an anti-Lazio modification by adding “biancazzurro bastardo”[blue and white bastard] to the end. It became a Roma favourite in no time but quickly spread beyond to become the theme of Italy’s 2006 World Cup campaign (without, obviously, the anti-Lazio addition). Roma, of course, abandoned it once it became associated with the Azzurri.

If the tunes are a combination of the familiar and the more obscure, the words cover more or less the same themes as football chants the world over. In two-club cities, songs tend to exult the status of one particular club in the city. Juve fans sing “Torino, what a beautiful city! Torino is our city! Torino is black and white, and black and white it will always be!” (This song is mendacious on at least two counts). Chievo sing “We are not Hellas! We are Chievo!” which I suppose is at least straight to the point. Sampdoria sing “We are Genova” while Genoa retort “How the fuck can anyone support Samp?”

Another universal theme is the impossibility of staying away from your club. Torino fans sing “Torino… always at your side… I know why I won’t be staying home.” At Empoli, it’s “I’ll never grow tired of you, you’re the most beautiful thing there is,” a statement which stretches the boundaries of credibility if you take a look at their defenders Richard Vanigli and Vittorio Tosto. For Cagliari, simple geography makes loyalty a bit more demanding: they sing “We’ll take the ship and follow you.” Genoa (and others) sing a song as if by a resentful girlfriend: “Why do you leave me alone every Sunday to go to the stadium to watch the match? Because… because I support Genoa alé alé!” comes the answer.

Of course, a major part of any club’s songbook consists of chants against other teams. This links into the regional prejudice I’ve mentioned before, and will be the subject of my next post.

Italian texts for many songs can be found on tifonet.it

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