Soccer Soundscape: How Fan Chants Impact Match Atmosphere

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. Just by looking at the number of fans and players of the game, it is clearly tough to argue against its world popularity. It is truly one of the few sports that can be found all around the world. Reportedly, over one billion people tuned in to watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina (which Germany won 1-0). A number like that proves its popularity around the world. Part of what makes the sport so special is the passion and energy of the fans. People live and die with the results of their favorite club, and for those who are in fact true fans, it is a lifelong bond. The dedication of supporter groups each and every match makes the experience incredible. The soundscape of soccer is completely affected by the passion of the supporters. These devoted individuals are able to have an undeniable impact on the match atmosphere and match result through their effervescent chanting.

Mario Gotze scores the game-winning goal in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final

Often times, people forget about the importance of sound in sports. Both Phil Durrant and Eileen Kennedy were unimpressed with the research done on the connection between sound and its role in sports. They believe that sounds are often uncared for or neglected. They decided to work towards achieving an increased awareness to the sound heard, for example, in televised games or matches. In their work, “Sonic Sport: Sound Art in Leisure Research”, they discuss a short film titled Super cfc, which captures a televised soccer match but includes both a separate recording and video. The recording comes from actually being at the match while the video is what is seen on television. The film has the natural sounds of the soccer match compiled with what you would hear watching the match at home, which would be the commentators and some of the louder sounds from the match that made it on television. The film has three different movements that cross-fade into one another. The first is two players going for a header and clashing into each other. The second is of a player casually walking and turning around. The last of the movements focuses on some players converging before a free kick is set to take place. Each movement represents a different part of the “audio-visual relationship” going on during the match. This study was able to show how viewers, both those viewing/listening at the match and those doing the same while watching television, become engaged to the noises and images produced through each example. By combining the three different parts of the match, the sound has three separate moments, which allows us to see how the soundscape of the match changes as the match progresses. Durrant and Kennedy’s ultimate goal is to not let sound become obsolete in sports and that more people pay attention to its intricacies and impact on the sport.

While the sound from the players is certainly important in the overall soundscape of soccer, it is the sound from the fans that truly defines the soundscape and atmosphere of a match. The role of being a supporter is not to be taken lightly. The passion that comes from fans is what can truly inspire a team to perform. In a study done by Sandy Wolfson, Delia Wakelin, and Matthew Lewis, supporters were asked to pick from a list of options what makes playing at home such an advantage, compared to playing away. An overwhelming majority of fans selected the fan support as being the number one advantage for playing at home. Other factors that were on the list included “familiarity, travel, territoriality and referee bias” among others. This study proves the influence that supporters believe they can have on a match. It is a reciprocal relationship between them and the players; both are expected to do their best on match day. The chants are the key to expression for soccer fans. The atmosphere created by supporters during matches is something that needs to be truly witnessed to be able to have an idea of the magnitude of its impact.

In my opinion, Borussia Dortmund, a German club, has some of the most devoted and passionate fans in the world. Here is a video of what the crowd at one of their home matches looks like: 

Over in North Lincolnshire, England, we find Scunthorpe United, a soccer team that currently plays in Football League One, England’s third division. Tom Clark used data he collected from attending matches at Glanford Park, Scunthorpe United’s home stadium, to examine how supporters use songs and fan chants during matches. He found that these chants have a huge effect on the collective identity felt by supporters when watching a Scunthorpe United match. Clark mentions the word “placelessness” many times and how it is beginning to be seen more and more in the sport. However, the use of song and chants is exactly what combats this placelessness; song allows spectators find a place among the placelessness. The connection that a spectator has with a club is an extremely strong bond and chanting before, during, and after matches further strengthens the collective identity that unites the supporters.

Supporter groups, however, do not always bring about a positive impact on the match. In an article in the Newcastle Herald from Australia, the author discussed a soccer match in the A-League (top soccer league in Australia) between Sydney FC and the Newcastle Jets. In the match, Newcastle lost at home to Sydney FC 2-1. Throughout the match, supporters of the Jets had been getting very upset and, in turn, started to become very vocal and used “unsavoury chants” during the match. This happened in December of that season, about two months into their season. Williams describes the fans as potentially suffering from early signs of “premature season burnout”. Throughout this 2008 season, the Newcastle Jets supporters, also known as the Squadron, had been held responsible for bringing in some vulgar chants into the soundscape of the sports stadium and television broadcasts. Of course, it made sense that the Squadron was not happy given the state of their team; at that point in the season, Newcastle was close to the bottom of the table.

Soccer has had many incidents involving vulgar words being said by players or supporters during matches. Some get extremely serious and controversial like the Zinedine Zidane headbutt of Marco Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup Final. According to reports, words were said about Zidane’s sister, prompting him to lose his head and lash out at Materazzi. While swearing and bad-mouthing during matches can cause problems, it is inconceivable to think of an environment where a soccer match does not have this sort of soundscape (to an extent). The vulgarity that Williams had previously described does need to be toned down; there is no doubt about that. But the actions of a few in this Squadron, or any other fan group, should not dictate how the chants at matches are regulated. The Squadron has to bring it upon themselves to understand what they can and cannot chant, but the solution is not to institute more security and regulations for them. They need to remain vocal because it is their duty as supporters. As Williams says, “They will benefit from energetic and vocal support of all kinds in the course of remaining matches. While teams do well from a spirited chorus, diversity in the fan mix is also crucial.” The diversity is a necessity and cannot be completely regulated. There has to be some room for groups like the Squadron to express themselves and share some banter throughout the match.

According to Williams, instituting security and other rules would simply lead to more vulgarity in chants and breaking of the rules, leading to a chaotic atmosphere. It is crucial to remember that supporter groups are an absolutely integral part of soccer culture and putting them under regulations is not the answer. They play an integral role in the soundscape of the sport and limiting them would be controlling the potential of the match environment and soundscape. Like Williams says, “Love or hate them, the language of sports fans will continue to occupy a central place in the sport, culture and media matrix.”

Racism from supporters also has been an extremely important issue in soccer recently. One of the most noteworthy incidents happened in Italy in 2013. In a friendly between AC Milan and Pro Patria, the Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng (who currently plays for FC Schalke 04) led his teammates off the field after being on the receiving end of racist fan chants. Just 26 minutes into the match, Boateng heard the chants, grabbed the ball, and punted it at the fans. All his teammates supported his decision to walk off and he became the first player to have prompted a match to be abandoned due to racism. This match became one of the biggest stories in world soccer that year and made it clear that racism in soccer was still a major problem. Here is the video of the incident: 

One anonymous former professional player claims that players did not care about what the fans thought. In an article from The Telegraph, Mark Bailey looks into six different questions that  “The Secret Footballer”, the book the anonymous player wrote, answers about life in the Premier League and soccer as a whole. One of the topics that he specifically focuses on is the players’ relationship with the supporters. In the book, he states, “Fan chants I’ve always hated. I never read papers unless I play well. That may sound egotistical but, psychologically, it is a tremendous boost reading great things about yourself. It helps me greatly. When I don’t play well, I don’t read the papers. Simple.” Clearly this is only the opinion of one player, but it does ask the question of how many others feel the same way. I believe that The Secret Footballer had some bad experiences with fan criticism and therefore has an unfavorable view of them. The fan chants negatively impacted his personal match atmosphere.

Kath Woodward also had a personal anecdote to share about her experience witnessing chanting for herself. She was on her way back from the university where she was doing research and waited for the train to leave the station. That day was the last day of the Football League season and she knew that Leeds, the local soccer team, had been promoted with their victory over Doncaster. As a result, she expected there to be some rowdy fans on her train home; the celebration carried on into the train. The fans were all loud, drunk, and clearly very happy. As Woodward put it, going through chants and songs when you are winning or have already won is just what you do, especially if the victory wins you promotion to the next league. The fans were piling into the train car, and Woodward noticed that they were all white men. The volume of the chants increased as the train progressed on its route. The chanting also became more and more vulgar. Woodward described the scene in the train by saying, “we were drowning in sound”. As much as she was struggling to move around in the crowded train, she said the sound was even more invading than the sheer number of bodies. One of the Leeds fans apologized for their behavior and proceeded to ask if Woodward had a team she supported. Thinking that she may be cut some slack or be seen as an “unthreatening target”, she relied truthfully saying she was a Sheffield Wednesday fan (a rival of Leeds). To her surprise she was met with a variety of chants (the obvious ones that were always made towards opposition). Woodward felt the chants getting louder and louder as the ride went on. What surprised her about this experience was that even though she had experienced crazy supporters many times at matches and had even joined in while watching on television, this train ride experience “seemed alarmingly and frighteningly out of place”.

The account shared by Kath Woodward is an intriguing description of fans outside their true sports environment. Their actions do not seem to differ a great deal from how they generally act while watching the match itself. It is interesting to think about the soundscape of the fans outside of the sports arena atmosphere and how it translates. Often times, you would get the same sorts of fan energy and reaction while watching matches at pubs. Obviously, fans getting rowdy in a train seems like it is out of place. Woodward was up close and personal with them in a small sized train car and saw first hand how sound can engulf an area. These supporters have made their role in each match crucial to the match soundscape and result.

Soccer is one of my favorite sports, and I am extremely passionate about my favorite club, Chelsea FC. I was first introduced to the club when my family visited London over ten years ago and randomly decided to go for a stadium tour. My first experience at a Chelsea match was like nothing I had ever experienced before. This past March, I finally made my way to Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s home stadium in London, for a Premier League match against Southampton. The build up to the match was everything I thought it could be and more. As I walked up to the stadium, I could really feel the energy of the match; the chants were already in full force as the fans were making their way into the stadium. I truly felt the passion of the club as I was joining in with the chants. I knew that this feeling around the stadium was something special. The match atmosphere was amazing to be able to witness first hand, and although the match ended as a 1-1 draw, it was still one of the greatest experiences I have had in my life.

This is a collection of some of the more well known Chelsea chants:

Attached is a recording of from my time at the Chelsea Southampton match at Stamford Bridge. I compiled a few recordings together so as to try and create a narrative. The recording starts with the supporters singing before the match followed by a few recordings of actual soccer. It ends with the classic Chelsea FC anthem, Blue is the Color. Being able to go to a match and be part of the incredible atmosphere added so much to my passion for the club. Listening to the thousands singing throughout the ninety minutes of the match, along with before and after, makes you really understand how it could be possible for a group of spectators to have a significant impact on the match. The unity and energy displayed by going through chant after chant really says a lot about a club’s supporter group.

All in all, both the positive and negative effects of fan chanting and singing at soccer matches are important to consider when discussing match atmosphere and overall soundscape. However, it is the positive impact that should have a greater significance in the sport. There is absolutely zero place in soccer for some of the offensive behavior and hooliganism and it needs to be contained. Every match at every professional level is almost guaranteed to have some supporters attending and positive home support is a constant. For that reason it is less talked about because it tends to be a given that the home support will be extremely vocal. We here about these horrible incidents because they are more rare than a good home support chanting and singing for their club. What makes soccer such a special game is the incredible passion and pride coming from supporters. Their contribution to the soundscape and the sport cannot be understated.




Works Cited:

Bailey, Mark. 2014. “The Secret Footballer: ‘Players Don’t Care what Fans Think’” The Telegraph, November 6, sec. sports.

Balmer, Nigel J., Alan M. Nevill, Andrew M. Lane, Paul Ward, A. Mark Williams, and Stephen H. Fairclough. 2007. “Influence of Crowd Noise on Soccer Refereeing Consistency in Soccer”. Journal of Sport Behavior 30 (2): 130.

Bateman, Anthony, 1966, and John Bale. 2009;2008;. Sporting Sounds: Relationships Between Sport and Music. New York; London: Routledge.

Clark, Tom. 2006. “‘I’m Scunthorpe ’til I Die’: Constructing and (Re)negotiating Identity through the Terrace Chant.” Soccer and Society 7(4): 494-507.

Cummins, R. 2009. “The Effects of Subjective Camera and Fanship on Viewers’ Experience of Presence and Perception of Play in Sports Telecasts.” Journal of Applied Communication Research 37 (4): 374-96.

Edwards, Luke. 2013. “AC Milan’s Kevin-Prince Boateng leads team off pitch in protest at racist chanting in friendly match with Pro Patria” The Telegraph, January 3, sec. sports.

Johnson, O’R. 2011. “Soccer Chant Flap Kicks Up Controversy.” McClatchy – Tribune Business News, Jun 23.

Kennedy, Eileen, and Phil Durrant. 2007. Sonic Sport: Sound Art in Leisure Research. Leisure Sciences 29(2): 181-94.

Miller, Michael E. 2015. Nazi Chants at Dutch Soccer Game Expose an Ugly Blot on ‘the Beautiful Game’: From Nazi Chants in Holland to Sieg Heils in London, Anti-semitism is on the

Rise in European Soccer. Washington: WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post.

Racist Chants Overshadow Start of Euro 20122012. Public Radio International, Inc.

Schoonderwoerd, Pieter. 2011. ‘Shall We Sing a Song For You?’: Mediation, Migration and Identity in Football Chants and Fandom. Soccer & Society 12(1): 120-41.

Sounds of Soccer: A New Love For the Game. 2007. National Public Radio.

Swanepoel, De Wet, and James W. Hall III. 2010. “Football Match Spectator Sound Exposure and Effect on Hearing: A Pretest-post-test Study”. South African Medical Journal 100(4): 239-42.

Williams, Craig. 2008. Chant-nasties All Part of Sport Soundscape. The Newcastle Herald          (Newcastle, Australia), December 13: 19.

Woodward, Kath. 2011. “Sounds Out of Place.” Soccer & Society 12, no. 1: 76. SPORTDiscus    with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed October 21, 2015).

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