From Gospel to Black and White Minstrels



I was mowing lawns for a living. Job done, I went to the bloke’s door. When I pressed the bell about three speakers boomed: CHEER, CHEER THE RED AND THE WHITE!


   I jumped back. Pressed the bell again.


   Then I realised the mat was a Swans print, Bobby Skilton and Leo Barry were on the wall, and the bell was the club song.

   You ripper!

   Bummer it was originally a Gridiron team’s victory song. It’s still the best line in football! And is the best club song. Sorta. There are a few of them.

   A good club song is a mighty, mighty thing. A chance to celebrate. To roar! To be invincible and shout at the world. It’s as tribal as drums.

   Richmond’s sounded a little hollow for thirty odd years, but BOM, BOM, BOM, BOM… is fun! And YELLOWANDBLACK the one massive word. Even opposition supporters can’t help but sing along to that bit. YELLOWANDBLACK can be growled like a tiger. When done right, it sends a message. Ruthless Richmond, we’re back! It rattles the pillars of the “G”.

   The fact they’re winning gives it so much more weight. LIKE THE TIGERS OF OLD… How did they know that line would one day be so apt?

   I always loved the start to the Bombers song. Bom, Bom, BOM… SEE THE BOMBERS FLY UP! UP! It’s positive. It physically lifts you. Watch their crowd singing it, fists sawing backwards and forwards like 20,000 barbershop quartets.

   I don’t like the TO WIN THE PREMIERSHIP FLAG bit, though. It always sounds hollow when a team is 10th on the ladder two rounds to go. Singing it would bring your celebrations for that game down.    But, whatever. When the old show tune is sung with gusto, it’s an absolute bottler!

   Carlton’s, on the other hand, unless you are a Carlton supporter, in which case it is the best song in the world, sounds like a bunch of moneyed up old boys with cigars. Maybe that’s their point?

   Turns out it is based on a 100 year old very racist black and white minstrel tune. Hmm.

    Collingwood’s leaves me cold. Sorry. OH, THE PREMIERSHIP’S A CAKEWALK…! Again, that’s not a celebration. That’s bragging. I don’t like any team boasting about Premierships before they are won. Even if they are based on an old show tune adapted as the fighting anthem for the Boer War.

   But, hey, when I’m in a Collingwood crowd as they are singing it, the song sounds like a home. And how many times have they been right? Plenty, damn it!

   Similarly, Geelong start with the statement: THE GREATEST TEAM OF ALL. Bleh. Yet when they win 3 out of 5, and are barnstorming yet again, who am I to argue? Who knows? Maybe John Watts, Geelong Premiership player who adapted the song from an Italian Opera, was simply saying he loved the place.

   Melbourne have a corker.

   THE TEAM WE LOVE. And EVERY HEART BEATS TRUE. Can’t argue with that. AS WE SING THIS SONG TO YOU! You beauty! Thanks! The tempo change is a beautiful thing. Sung like family.

   Shame it was adapted from such an American song.

   I was a Roy supporter. I always wondered about our song. Why wasn’t it more fun? Why were we bragging about winning Premierships this year when Plugger was kicking 16 against us at the Western Oval? The earnest tone of it made no sense. Then I saw the movie Casablanca, and, I swear, tears came to my bloody eyes!

   On their last game in Melbourne, me and a teammate played in a Twos final in the bush and, straight off the oval, footy gear still on, drove at 140kms per hr to get there for Fitzroy’s last quarter. Down by 20 goals against the Tigers, every Gorilla there sung the song again and again and again.

   When they played it after the game we couldn’t hear ourselves sing along over the humongous PA. The human element was already gone.

   I’m glad Brisbane kept it, but, to me, it sounds more like distant echoes these days.

   The greatest moment I’ve ever heard from a club song was given to me by St.Kilda.

 A group of hopeless romantics known as the Saints for Moorabbin Group were in a hired out room above a pub watching their boys take on the all-conquering West Coast in Perth. St.Kilda came back from about 4 goals down in the last to win, and the Moorabbin crew went off, dancing as they shouted the song! Marching! Knees up like soldiers on parade and drunken clowns! Back and forward, arms locking, into walls, all over the tables and room!




   No bragging.

   Just wanting to be in their number.   

   A song you can shout, tone deaf and timeless, and it will still sound like a carnival.

   Whoever chose that song did well. All those old songs were chosen well. Because they are old. Because they are before our time. Because they are timeless. Hell, some of them have been powerful for years. If the French national anthem can rally a country to war, surely, it can puff out the chest of a player and supporter or two. Whatever first birthed them, they are about more than that now. Each one comes with its own inbuilt penchant for inspiration.

   Hell, SO, JOIN IN THE COURUS, North’s club song invites you into it!! Corker! I’m there!

   Again, last line is a worry though. Not this year.

   I had the privilege of speaking to John Kennedy Sr the other day. Imagine how great, after all those decades of defeat, it must have felt for him to be singing the club song in the cramped Glenferrie clubrooms, feeling the momentum of it as they rose to their first flag!

   I think the new clubs missed out a little. I’m all for them, don’t get me wrong, every one, especially the eventual, inevitable Tassie Devils. But sometimes an electric guitar just doesn’t cut it.

   Trumpets, tubas. Banjos!!! They’re old, they’re daggy. And there’s nothing better. They have the weight of a club’s history. Its mud and blood and hard earned existence. You sing it, and your surrounded by all that.

   You are instantly a part of something. And you’ve just won a game of footy!


  Unless you’re a Fitzroy supporter at the ‘G’, nobody sings them when they’re losing.




  1. Malby Dangles says

    “DA DADA DA DAH!” Best hornline that is sung by the players. “The old DARRRRRK navy Blues!” Line sung with most passion.
    Best song!

  2. Stainless says


    I’d thought of doing a piece on the club songs but there’s no way I’d have captured the passion and emotion like you have. Great stuff.

    I’m totally with you about how the old songs stir the blood. I was at the G on Fitzroy’s last day and I’ve got to tell you tears came to my eyes too when they played their song for the last time and thousands of Roys’ fans defiantly jumped the fence to embrace the players despite the ring of security goons. Very “Casablanca”.

    I actually like the Carlton song but hadn’t realised that the music hall version of Lily of Laguna was a cleaned up version of the racist original. It just gives further cause to hate them, doesn’t it?

    Oh, and just to be a pedant, there’s nothing Italian in Geelong’s song. It’s based on the Toreador’s Song from “Carmen”, which was written by Bizet, a Frenchman, and set in Spain.

    Adelaide’s song is one of the new club songs that wasn’t manufactured for purpose in some studio and I reckon it’s not too bad. Its an adaptation of the Gendarmes’ Duet, from the comic opera, Genevieve de Brabant by Offenbach (of Can Can fame). The tune was picked up, and the lyrics re-written, to become the official hymn of the United States Marine Corp. However, I find a degree of amusement in both these proud, aggressive institutions using a song about two cowardly coppers who beat up on inoffensive miscreants but run away from any real danger!

  3. Trumpets, tubas, banjos, nothwithstanding Barbershop raga, is the only way to do a footy song. If the song doesn’t evoke a quartet of men in descending heights, it’s been stuffed up. Superbly pointed out Matt, but you forgot Footscrays???? “Coz you can’t beat the boys of the Bulldog breed” is hands down the best line of the lot!!

    PS I’d like your thoughts on how West Coast etc got it so terribly terribly wrong

  4. Basso Divor says

    Thanks for the history lesson Zurbs. Personally I’ve always thought the Sydney song a beauty. Any song that can heavily feature a banjo gets my nod. Smacka FitzGibbon anyone? For sheer enthusiam, the Tigers’ song is belter! Being a lifelong Catsman, I have sung the Cats’ song with an arm around the shoulder of the great John K Watts, the Cats’ 1963 Premiership player you correctly attribute the lyrics to. Wattsy apparently also wrote the words to club songs for WAFL teams East Perth and Swan Districts.
    Perth Muso and jingle writer Ken Walther wrote both the Eagles’ and Dockers’ songs and unlike the VFL origin club songs; are pretty much original compositions – although the Freo song does lend briefly from the Song of the Volga Boatmen. Interestingly Kevin Peek, guitarist with classical supergroup Sky, apparently also had a hand in the Eagles’ song.

  5. Matt Zurbo says

    Geez i lovethe Almanac! My mistake Stainless! I am a dumb woodcutter sometimes. I just assumed all Opera is Italian! Haha.

    T Bone, am going to do a seperate one on the Doggies and new teams in a few weeks, I reckon.

    To further what I did not put in the piece, Richmond’s song seems to be about a floozy shagging a lot with a sportsman! Just swap the word ‘row’ for ‘root’. Hmm.

    And Carlton’s song shocked me. There is another version of the one it is based on, Lily of Lagun, on YouTube that I could not bring myself to post. It is digusting. Look it up if you are brave. You would be banned for life if you sung it now. I wonder if the players know?

    Yeah, great info on the Crows! And Basso! Who would have thought, Sky? Amazing!

  6. Malby Dangles says

    If there’s a saving grace in using Lily of Laguna for Carlton is that the part used is the non-racist part of the song. The Blueseum has some info about when the Carlton faithful decided to adopt the song…there’s a version of the song that was out in the early 1930’s by a Jimmy Carlton and it seems to be the same time when the song became Carlton’s theme.
    In any case I agree the lyrics are bad.

    The original Freo song combines the haunting Volga Boatmen chant (which I like due to the its Eastern European vibe) with the crappiest chorus and most offensive use of shred harmonic guitar soloing since Yngwie Malmsteen. That bloody Ken Walther advertising guy has a lot to answer for, writing horrible songs for the WA teams.

  7. Just has a hankering to hear the old footscray song. Have to say, as great as it is, the Western bulldogs version is superior (and I’ve surpised myself in deciding that.)
    The new version has a refrain and a cresendo, which really gives a little something. All the same, as my mates and I like to say,, both versions are ‘toe tapping tunes!” (and I eckon it deserves more cudos than it gets.)



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