Former sports journalist and current Norwich City and FC St Pauli fan, Andrew Lawn, has a bachelor’s degree in Politics and Media from the University of East Anglia and researches football chants...
He explained to the Official Site why the Wheelbarrow Song is the perfect football chant…
Notts County fans, like fans of football clubs across the UK, and indeed the world, have a proud tradition of chanting.
These chants are hugely diverse and can be; supportive, critical, hostile, crude, humorous, and on occasion seemingly pointless.
They contain within them words, ideas or themes that could be deemed offensive. Why do we do it and what do our chants tell us about ourselves as individuals and about society as a whole?
In essence football fans chant in support of their team. Fans of all clubs know that being a football fan is not (all) about winning; it’s about coming together with a common bond; be it geographical, historical or cultural. Chants are the embodiment of this; by singing together individuals within a crowd become one voice and one entity.
That togetherness is already being hailed at Notts this season and held up as one of the reasons that hopes are high that this season will be more fruitful than last year’s relegation scrap.
Not all football chants are a positive expression of identity however, because whilst accentuating similarities within a community can create a collective identity, that identity is sustained by an opposition to a different ‘other’.
From the names; ‘Notts’ County, never Nottingham County for example, to the chants, the rivalry Notts fans have with Forest provides an example of this.
While I agree that some chants are always unacceptable - those ridiculing characteristics individuals cannot choose; race, gender or sexual orientation for example - to completely remove chants would irrevocably alter and damage a valuable tradition, a tradition which also brings out more positive traits; camaraderie, loyalty, humour and the ability to face adversity.
The ‘wheelbarrow song’ is a perfect example of this and for me sums up all that is good about football chanting.
For those who haven’t heard it, to the tune of ‘Old Smoky’, it is simply;
“I had a wheelbarrow, the wheel fell off, I had a wheelbarrow, the wheel fell off, County, County, County”
Why then is that the perfect football chant?
First, its origins are disputed, rooted in folklore and the memories of famous comebacks at Shrewsbury Town or misfortune depending who you believe.
Secondly, it’s simple and inclusive. It uses no divisive language or themes, but it brings a community together, finishing with a rousing rendition of “County, County, County”.
Thirdly, it is self-deprecating; the inference being that as a club we are so unfortunate that even our wheelbarrow is broken.
Finally, it is completely irrelevant.
It has nothing to do with football, until the final reference to County, and is all the stronger for it.
The sole point of the song is the singing of the song itself. It expresses no particular support, derision, masculinity or geographical relevance and yet perfectly encapsulates what it is to be a football fan; you get a new wheelbarrow, bundled up in it are ideas of potential, excitement and achievement, then just as everything looks good, the wheel falls off, the promise remains unfilled, the excitement turns to abject disappointment.
Yet, despite all that, we still love the wheelbarrow. We’ll get a new wheel, it’ll be as good as new. We believe again.
That is not to say that football chanting and those who engage in it, should be given carte blanche to sing whatever they want, and the continued crackdown of abuse which draws on prejudice should be wholeheartedly supported.
It is by no means all bad, however, and any group of people who can sing publically about their broken wheelbarrow or lose 6-0 at Rotherham and respond to the home fans taunts with; “We lose every week, you’re nothing special, we lose every week”, is worth saluting.
Andrews book ‘Who are ya, who are ya, who are we?’ Is available from the publisher Booktango and can be bought here.