11 August ~ One of the main complaints about the vuvuzela was that its ongoing monotone bleat failed to reflect the changes in the patterns of play. Perfect through pass – parp! Contortionist reflex save – parp! Studs-up attack on an opponent’s shin in the centre-circle – parp! The same could be said for choreographed chanting, which in many modern stadiums has become the preferred method of creating a decent atmosphere. But while it's impressively co-ordinated and far more pleasing to the ear than the plastic horn of hell, this Germanic phenomenon lacks an ingredient crucial to football – spontaneity.
I was at a German third division match last Saturday between Dynamo Dresden and Vfb Stuttgart’s second string. Dynamo’s impressive new stadium was around one-third full, with just over 9,500 fans in attendance on a rainy afternoon against reserve opponents who traditionally bring few or no away supporters. But there’s no such thing as a quiet game in Germany any more, thanks to the official sanctioning by most clubs of an approved chant-leader who stands in front of the terrace on a purpose-built platform with a bullhorn to lead the afternoon’s choral noise. At Dresden he was accompanied by a drummer and an assistant halfway up the terrace.
There’s nothing wrong with this, up to a point. It ensures that the teams are welcomed vigorously, and that the initial chanting doesn’t fade away once the game starts and the fans quickly realise they’re watching the same old crap as last week. But the megaphone fan takes his duties very seriously, ensuring that the singing is kept up for the full 90 minutes. Any slight lull feels unnaturally quiet, like when an unruly kindergarten is called to order by a stern matriarch.
The problem, though, is that just like the vuvuzela, choreographed singing tends to ignore the actual game. Applause in appreciation of fine play is generally lost, and overall excitement at a player getting through on goal takes a few more seconds to register. Worst of all, though, is the continued singing when the opposition is on the attack. It’s just not right to be chanting what a fantastic, world-beating team you’re supporting when they’re defending a corner. It should be quiet and tense until the danger is cleared. But when Dresden, leading 1-0, were defending a corner just before the hour mark, their fans at the other end were in full voice. As an unmarked Sven Shipplock headed in the cross, the singing continued. Gradually it faded, with the embarrassment of a novice at his first classical concert who's applauded at the end of the wrong movement.
The singing defiantly resumed a few seconds later, though Dresden never regained their lead and the game sauntered towards an unimaginative 1-1 draw. Towards the end, the singing became far more hypnotic and enjoyable than the football, and I almost tranced out into slumber. At times like that, when the players have run out of energy and ideas, well-organised singing comes into its own. But when the game itself is offering action enough to provoke a crowd response, I wish the chant man would drop his megaphone for a few minutes and watch the game too. Football’s greatest moments are generally unrehearsed. Ian Plenderleith