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

17 thoughts on “Shall we sing a song for you: Italian football songs, Part I

  1. Davyd Trunyov

    Thank you Vanda, now Inter song is stuck in ex-Milan fans’ head.
    One quick question, Italian and English soccer have a long history together, do you know if any songs or chants made it’s way from England into Italian soccer or if any Italian clubs have chants in English?

  2. Brian

    Great stuff, Vanda. I love the horn line that comes into the Roma song about 33 seconds in. I don’t know why, but most of the Italian club anthems make me picture a beautiful man in an unbelievably expensive sweater crying by himself at a table at an outdoor cafe.

    Davyd, it’s the opposite direction of travel from what you were asking about, but I definitely heard the “La donna e mobile” melody being sung at Old Trafford today. And I know many English clubs used to sing it with the words “Fuck off Mourinho.” So Verdi has made the trip from Italy to England, at least.

  3. SpanglyPrincess

    Brian, the workings of your imagination are bizarre.

    There is a certain amount of explicit and deliberate borrowing of English songs, which is part of Italian admiration for (some aspects of) English fan culture. Lazio, who used to have a kind of “gemellaggio” – twinning – with Chelsea often sing Blue is the colour. It is terribly funny, actually: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsGbZRSnA8o

    They have altered some of the words,so they sing “Blue is the colour, football is the game, SS Lazio you’ll never walk alone, perchè la Lazio Noi Sosterrem e per Sempre Canterem… la Lazio!” The end means “because we will support Lazio and we will always sing… Lazio!”

    “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and occasionally “Oh when the saints go marching in” are sung in English at various clubs.

    And yeah, Pazza Inter is very catchy. Worse, for me, is the extreme catchiness of Vola Lazio Vola. It’s not good to catch yourself humming that in the giallorosso Curva Sud, you know.

  4. roswitha

    The Inter song is fantastic. Seeing Javier Zanetti rock out to it in the video has always made me enjoy it that much more. Thank you for this post! I look forward to the next one with boundless enthusiasm.

    Re: inter-cultural musical influence. Surely ‘Nessun Dorma’ is the greatest musical signifier of the real or imagined post-90s gentrification of English football?

  5. historyman

    As usual, an informative piece about a fascinating cultural subject.

    Excuse my ignorance, but why would the Roma fans drop the ‘Seven Nation Army’ song when it became associated with the Azzuri? Are they like many of the fans from other regions who aren’t particularly interested in the national team?

  6. SpanglyPrincess

    True, Roswitha. It’s not so much of a singalong tune though is it.

    Of course, the best and funniest English use of La donna è mobile is West Ham fans to Liverpool (or, I presume, Everton) a few years back: We’ve got Di Canio, you’ve got our stereo

    Historyman: by and large ultras of any club are not that interested in the national team. Last time Italy played in Rome, two of the main Roma groups put up a huge sign in the part of the Olimpico where they normally stand saying “Assenti per scelta” [absent by choice]. Even where there is no conflict clubs tend to want their own songs, or at least not to have their songs overwhelmingly associated with another team – there was a sense at Roma that it had been somehow hijacked.

    As for the club vs country debate, it’s an interesting one. In England my feeling is that small clubs think England is important whereas big teams aren’t that fussed – the St George’s flags you say at England games are always from Kidderminster or Plymouth Argyle, never Everton or Chelsea. Whether that’s the same here I’m honestly not in a position to say, I’ve never noticed it but that’s not to say it doesnt go on. But that’s a whole other post for another occasion.

  7. Pep

    Wonderful blog. Great post. As a Roma fan may i borrow the Roma,Roma song for my own blog? I will glady credit you for the excellent find.

  8. SpanglyPrincess

    Pep, of course. If you search on youtube you can find versions of us singing the Inno, and also perhaps of Roma’s other two “official” tunes, both also by Antonello Venditti, celebrated Roman and cheesy crooner extraordinaire: Grazie Roma (which is played at the end of the match only if we win) and as written for the 83 scudetto, and the much rarer “Che C’é?” which he wrote for the 2001 scudetto.

  9. Pep

    Thank you Spangly. I love formaggio not just provolone or boccancini type. I love the Roma roma roma type formaggio. My father is an Inter milanista. And he thinks i became a Roma fan when i tripped down the stairs as child and hit four of the twelve steps with my head.

    Grazie tanti

  10. Pedant

    A tiny point on an excellent article, the song isn’t called ‘Bread of Heaven’ but ‘Cwm Rhonnda’ or (in English) ‘Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah/Redeemer’.

  11. ursus arctos

    In the early days of the NFL, a number of teams had college-like “fight songs”, but Hail to Redskins is the only one that has survived to the present day with any sort of popular following (“Bear Down, Chicago Bears” was one of the other ones).

    The fact that NFL teams were generally not capable of supporting large marching bands in the era before stadium music was taken over by organs and “jock rock” likely has something to do with that. The Redskins actually had a band (as did the Colts while they were in Baltimore).

  12. Gavski

    Interesting to read about the origins of the Seven Nation Army chant. A football fan all my life, I can honestly say i never heard this chant prior to the 2006 Scottish Cup semi-final between Hearts and Hibs in April 2006. The song played over the speakers at Hampden Park provoked a spontaneous chant to the bass line (tongue in cheek but rather politically incorrect ;) amongst the Hearts fans mocking the sexuality of their city rivals with “Oh the Hibees are gay”.

    I did not hear this chant again aside from being sung by Hearts fans until the Italians sang it at the world cup to diffrent words.

    Incidentally, the Hearts won 4-o ;) !

  13. Per Bristow

    A agree with you, most songs are “spectacularly cheesy, both musically and lyrically”. But that’s what it’s all about. It has to be. I can’t even imagine 1000s of drunken blokes, putting their arms around each other and singing something that is not completely over the top. Do you?

  14. lyrics

    music is gift of Jesus the heavenly God! i don’t like comparing one singer to another as it is god gifted. i just praise every singer and there voice and the heart that sings out.