Pop music has long driven supporters' culture, often providing the tune for re-purposed lyrics about the team, a favorite player or a hated rival. Sometimes clubs even adopt a pop song verbatim as an unofficial anthem.
Indeed soccer and music have long been linked -- a connection we're celebrating this Memorial Day weekend with the inaugural MLS Summer Beat concert series.
And with that in mind, we did a Q&A with handful of supporters from around MLS about their favorite pop influences on the terraces, their attempts at adopting club anthems, and even their suggestions for rival fans.
Steve Ferrezza, Empire Supporters Club, New York Red Bulls
MLSsoccer.com: In your time with ESC, has there ever been a point when you felt like the supporters might adopt any particular song as an anthem?
Ferrezza: Last year in the USL playoffs for Red Bull 2, during an extra time period, we started singing “Lean On Me.” It was straight-up “Lean On Me;" didn’t change a single word. And it caught on in the supporters' section as a joke. We just did it for a laugh. And then at half-time for the extratime period, the guy in the PA booth starts playing “Lean on Me.” And the entire stadium just starts singing it. And we’re looking around like, “Wow, this might actually catch on.” So it’s definitely something we’re going to try this year.
We’ve tried to throw in some Beastie Boys, I will say that. We’ve thrown in “No Sleep Til Brooklyn.” We do a variation of “Girls,” but we change the word to “Goals.” We get bored sometimes. We’ve done a little bit of Wu-Tang Clan.
Does it matter to you if Red Bulls supporters sample more artists from New York or New Jersey?
We try to stay open, we try to stay where we’ll take anybody from the New York area and use their song if we can find something.
Ever thought about adopting a Blur song, given that whole NYCFC-Manchester City-Oasis connection?
I have not, but that’s a great idea.
Have you ever thought of a great song for someone else’s club?
I have. One of them has been haunting me for years, and I’ve been hoping that we got him. I have a song for Kei Kamara, which would just be “My Sharona,” but with Kei Kamara. How has nobody thought of this? New England, Columbus, nobody ever thought of it. It’s simple, it’s easy, everybody would catch on.
Nachiket Karnik, Dark Clouds, Minnesota United FC
The Dark Clouds have called Oasis’ “Wonderwall” their anthem, dating back to the former Minnesota Stars’ NASL championship run in 2011, and stemming from YouTube videos from post-game rituals inside the dressing room. What's the story there?
Karnik: In these videos, you could see then-assistant coach, Carl Craig, with the Minnesota Stars, singing in the locker room with the players, “Wonderwall,” after games. So the fans kind of picked up on this. And then the fans started singing it, and in fact when they won the leg of the NASL Championship that was held in Minnesota, the players actually came into the Dark Clouds where we were standing and sang the song back to us.
We sing the whole song. And now we’re singing it after we win the game, or a particularly kind of emotional moment, like a player is leaving, or the last game at the National Sports Center was a good example. We sing the whole song from beginning to end. It’s kind of become the anthem, you know? But we don’t sing it when we haven’t won.
What about artists who are from this side of the Atlantic, or even the Twin Cities?
I think we’ve sung a song by Prince. We’ve tried to implement a little bit of Bob Dylan. There have been some attempts at some of that. But I think if there’s a common theme with the Dark Clouds, it’s this desire to infuse our songs with a sense of originality.
“Wonderwall” doesn’t seem like the most obvious anthem. Are you ever surprised at what sticks?
There’s no way to predict what people will like, and what catches on, but it’s a beautiful things when it does. I’ve looked at the section when we start singing new songs, and it’s kind of this magical thing when someone picks up something you never expected to be fantastic. Then the next couple rows of the section picks it up, and then everybody just starts bellowing it out. It can be a really great thing.
Patrick Stanton, Section 8, Chicago Fire
Some songs take longer to move from the pop charts to the home end than others. But you all have been singing Outkast since they were still an active group. How did that come about?
Stanton: In 2005, I turned 18, and I was finally old enough that I could drive myself to the game. “Hey Ya” came out from Outkast not long before (2003). And at every single game of the 2005 season, and ‘06 and ‘07 where it carried over, we must have sang “Fiiiiii-rrrrrrre, Fiiiiiii-rrrrre” instead of “Hey Ya” twice a half for three years. It was so simple and everybody just loved that. That was like the first one where we pulled it straight out of Total Request Live.
We’ve done this once and it worked for a couple of years. We would sing it every game at the end of the game. And it was “Keep on Loving You” (by Illinois’ REO Speedwagon). We just sang that chorus, basically ad nauseum, win lose or draw.
Why did you stop?
We kind of changed it up I guess. Just for simplicity's sake. One thing to understand with the Fire and Section 8, over the last six years, if you were invested in the club and you’re still here right now, you’ve endured not only changes in your life, possible marriage, kids, etc., but you’ve also endured one playoff game in that time. And it was on Halloween, at home, and we’ve lost.
Does today’s top pop give you any ideas?
We should really get back into pop culture and maybe make a Ke$ha song really fun or a Lady Gaga song really fun. I wish we could just do more Beastie Boys stuff. But even the people who would get the Beastie Boys reference are getting too old to be in the supporters' section and jump around and make it cool.
You almost have to work with your audience, and the primo audience for supporters' groups is ages 18 to 22. I don’t have any specific song in mind. We did some Kanye stuff. And then Kanye got crazy. And everyone’s like, yeah, let’s not support Kanye.
Manolo Gutierrez, El Batallón, Houston Dynamo
El Batallón is a supporters' group in the Latino Barra style. Are there any particular Latin popfavorites that you sing?
Gutierrez: One of the big ones that everyone really enjoys is Celia Cruz’s “La Vida su Carnaval,” which translates to “Life is a Carnival.” It’s an iconic salsa song. If you’re Latin American, or if you’ve ever stepped into any sort of Latin American club or you’ve traveled to any Latin American club, at some point you have heard this song. So it’s one of those things where like, as soon as you hear it, you know the tune.
It is a Spanish song and it’s a very long and complex one, so it’s one that was probably a lot more popular when we were much bigger in Robertson [Stadium] and it was a lot easier to get our group in.
What about influences from pop songs in English?
One of the ones that has really been embraced and really caught on is “Forever We are Orange,” and that is to the tune of “It’s a Heartache” by Bonnie Tyler. It’s another iconic song. When you hear it, you know it. It’s very melodic, and it’s not very complex, and it’s constantly repeating itself. It’s almost hypnotic.
We actually have a chant that goes to a tune to a very iconic DJ Screw anthem, “June 27.” That and Los Skarnales; they had a lot of notoriety in the 1990s and they’re still around. They actually closed out Super Bowl Live this year. They have a lot of brass which we can use very easily.
Do you ever find yourself coming up with a great idea for someone else’s team?
No, man, not really. I can say with certainty absolutely not. But I had an opposing supporter ask me once why we didn’t sing “Orange Crush” by REM, I think when we were in Kansas City.
Phil Martinez, RioT Brigade, Real Salt Lake
RSL actually has a team-sanctioned anthem written Branden Steineckert, a Utah native and drummer for the punk band Rancid. And between the choral tradition of the Mormon church, Salt Lake City’s punk scene, and a large Latino community, it strikes me that RSL fans bring a unique mix of musical backgrounds. How much do you feel this at Rio Tinto?
You can. I’ve been to games different places, and there are a lot of different stadiums have their own sound, but a lot of them very much follow the European rhythms. Ours is a little bit different. We do have a really large Latin base here. And so a lot of our stuff kind of falls around the Hispanic community, and also back to the punk. It’s kind of interesting, because the two dynamics you wouldn’t think work together, and actually, they do.
Right now, the first one we’ve talked about is “Jump Around” by House of Pain. I think we’re going to implement that this year, just getting people to jump. The more we can get people to stand up and the more active we can keep them, we think as supporters group we can get more momentum on the field.
What about other chants based on pop songs?
We don’t really do a whole lot of those, but we do have whole lot of militant chants that are kind of like a cadence call. In RioT Brigade alone, I think we have about 20 combat vets. In Salt City United there’s probably about 10 or 15, and I think Rogue Cavaliers Brigade has got about seven or eight. And then throughout the stadium, there’s quite a bit of veterans.