The good old Birmingham City anthem will be ringing around Wembley Stadium tomorrow. It has an interesting history and by common consent dates back to the FA Cup run in 1956, the last time Blues played at Wembley in a major final. (They won the Leyland Daf and Auto Windscreens trophies in 1991 and 1995 and indeed I was there for the first of those.) In 1956 Blues, uniquely, were drawn away in each round and won each game first time. They went into the final as red-hot favourites. The details of the birth of the song differ slightly; some say it grew during the cup run. Others say that, on the team coach to Wembley, Blues Scottish winger Alex Govan was leading a sing-song. They were in the middle of Keep Right On as the coach arrived and the waiting Blues fans picked up the tune there and then. The truth is probably a mix of both.
We can draw a veil over the match itself. Blues were crap as they have been on a regular basis over the years. The final is only remembered for Man City’s German goalie Bert Trautmann playing on after breaking a bone in his neck, the only kick on target Eddy Brown got all match. The players vowed to make amends the following year but lost to Man Utd in the semi-final.
The original song was of course written and sung by the music hall singer Harry Lauder in the wake of his son’s death in action in WW1. The words have been amended to fit its purpose. It’s not easy to sing in parts either, unless you’ve got a voice like Lauder, and it can fall pretty flat unless a large number of the crowd really get into it and keep in going. Lauder’s line With love and wealth ’tis so is translated to We’re often partisan whatever that means. Without a song sheet most sing We’re off to Partisan in some vague reference to European football. But at least one fan (not me) grew up believing the line was We’re off to parties, Ann 🙂
The whole business of football songs has changed since the advent of all-seater stadiums. You no longer get the critical mass of lads standing together on the terraces which is necessary to get a good sing-song going, with a bit of variety. Most clubs therefore have regressed to one main song which everybody knows. If you’re watching the telly or listening to the radio tomorrow then I imagine that’s the one you’ll be hearing.