Reason: Power of song lifts sports world higher

PRIDE: A Munster fans sings aloud during her side's Heineken Cup quarter-final against Harlequins at the Stoop in London.
PRIDE: A Munster fans sings aloud during her side's Heineken Cup quarter-final against Harlequins at the Stoop in London.

It is the time of year when many of us go all jingly. So in celebration of this curious phenomenon, the Sunday Star-Times is putting up the five best sports anthems. Those Christmas gluttons who like some jingo with their jingle may wish to skip to the end where they will find an unexpected number one. I was most surprised.

There are many great and curious "sports" songs from Simon and Garfunkel's The Boxer who "carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down" to Vangelis's bombastic theme to Chariots of Fire that became a schmaltz waltz for every undergrad trying to run round the quad of Trinity College.

There are the comic masterpieces. The cult UK band Half Man Half Biscuit (best known for Trumpton Riots and Dickie Davies Eyes in which UK football commentator "Brian Moore's head looks uncommonly like the London planetarium") penned a tribute song to snooker ref Len Ganley.

Half Man Half Biscuit demanded the end of the locomotion and the mashed potato. Instead, "clench your fists, point your knuckles straight ahead, do your best to look like a teddy bear, then try and pretend to look vertically dead, come on baby do the Len Ganley stance".

The modern Half Man is the Duckworth Lewis Method, a band whose songs celebrate cricket. Jiggery Pokery tells the story of Mike Gatting's dismissal to a young Shane Warne, to one of the great balls in test cricket. "It was jiggery pokery, trickery, jokery, how did he open me up, robbery, muggery, Aussie skulduggery, out for a buggery duck . . . I hate Shane Warne."

Most of this is magnificent stuff, but we decided to narrow down the category. We wanted the songs, most of which had a different incarnation, that were reborn on the sporting terraces and in the stands. The songs that grew up into a thousand chants. The jingles that make us tingle all over.

So here is my highly subjective top five . . .

5. La Vie en Rose - Edith Piaf

This is a very personal selection, an ephemeral moment of beauty. On one pallid Saturday in Dublin, 40 minutes before the Six Nations match between Ireland and France, the band of the Garda were trying to lift the crowd.

They marched to the French end and quite unexpectedly struck up La Vie en Rose. The entire French section responded in full voice. "Quand il me prend dans ses bras, il me parle tout bas, je vois la vie en rose."

It was one of the most moving moments I have come across in sport. Two cultures coming together, turning a grey day pink. We all view sport through rose-coloured glasses - la vie en rose.

4. Three Lions - Baddiel, Skinner, the Lightning Seeds

There have been some pretty decent England football songs, but this one was written by the fans, for the fans . . .

It's coming home,

It's coming home,

It's coming,

Football's coming home.

Three lions on the shirt

Jules Rimet still gleaming

30 years of hurt

Never stopped me dreaming

So many jokes, so many jeers

But all those oh so nears

Wear you down

Through the years

It doesn't matter the nationality. All Blacks fans knew their own 24 years of hurt, the jokes, the jeers, and all those oh so nears. Never stopped them dreaming.


3. Fields of Athenry - Pete St John

Low lie the Fields of Athenry

Where once we watched the small free birds fly.

Our love was on the wing we had dreams and songs to sing

It's so lonely 'round the Fields of Athenry.

Who knows how or why a modern folk song about a convict made it onto the terraces. Michael is transported to Botany Bay after stealing corn from an arrogant and uncaring British civil servant during the famine years. He leaves behind wife Mary, a new baby, and an Irish anthem of defiance, solidarity, nostalgia and tenderness.

2. You'll Never Walk Alone - Rodgers and Hammerstein from Carousel

The anthem of the Kop and the daddy of them all. John Peel played Aretha Franklin's gospel version on his first show after the Hillsborough tragedy. It lives on. Written in the forties, reborn in the sixties, the voices will never be stilled. Spine tingling.

When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high

And don't be afraid of the dark

At the end of the storm, there's a golden sky

And the sweet, silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind

Walk on through the rain

Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on, Walk on

With hope in your heart

And you'll never walk alone

You'll never walk alone

1. Why Does Love Do This To Me - The Exponents

It took me a while to figure out why this New Zealand anthem is just so good. Then I got there. Shall I compare thee to a summer's day. It is almost the perfect iambic pentameter. Written in five minutes in a back room in London, it will endure far longer.

I don't know why does love do this to me?

The egotistical framing of the line in the first person, the central love, the monosyllabic iambic heartbeat, the repeated question in does and do. I suspect Jordan Luck did not realise how good this was when he wrote it. But it frames the sporting experience.

Was I going mad? I thought I better check with Harry Ricketts, poet, biographer, academic scholar and cricket lover.

He said, " ‘I don't know why does love do this to me' is rather a fine iambic pentameter, I agree. It's the little ungrammatical, rhythmical shimmy of ‘does love' which ‘does' it, don't you think?"

Stroll on.

Jingle bells and merry Christmas.

Sunday Star Times