Yma O Hyd, the chants of Wales and the football supporters’ songbook

WHEN a tear rolled down Dafydd Iwan’s cheek singing ‘Yma o Hyd’ before Wales’ World Cup play-off against Austria, many hailed it as a moment of national significance.

In a sports-mad country often touted as the ‘land of song’, it’s perhaps unsurprising that when football and music collide, great excitement ensues.

But Thursday’s performances – first by the 78-year-old folksinger, then on the pitch by eleven men in red – seemed to elevate our collective spirit into a realm beyond sport, song or mere emotion. .

According to English folk singer Martin Carthy, the chants and football songs are “the only surviving incarnation of an organic living folk tradition” – and the adoption of Iwan’s nearly 40-year-old defiance anthem , by a wide range of the Welsh public certainly seems to confirm this.

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Written in the years after the landslide ‘No’ vote in the 1979 devolution referendum, and just before the seismic clash between the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher and striking miners in South Wales and elsewhere, ‘Yma o Hyd’ celebrates the survival of the Welsh people and the Welsh language for almost two millennia – since Macsen Wledig withdrew the Roman legions from the island of Britain in 383 AD.

Dafydd Iwan performs Yma O Hyd ahead of Wales’ World Cup semi-final victory over Austria. Photo: Chris Fairweather/Huw Evans Agency

The song has been popular, particularly with Welsh-speaking audiences, for four decades, and has been credited with contributing to the change in attitude that prefigured the Welsh Language Act 1993 and the second – successful – referendum. on decentralization in 1997.

It now takes its place in the long tradition of football anthems, songs that some academics have theorized as a form of popular crest, in which a group vocalizes its identity against an outside group.

Singing at football matches dates back to the early days of the professional game in the late 19th century.

A ‘war cry’ was recorded during the 1887 Scottish Cup final, and many Victorian music hall songs referenced the game’s popularity, including ‘The Dooley Fitba’ Club’ from Glasgow-born James Curran, better known as ‘Football Crazy’. .

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Welsh supporters were among the first known to develop chants to support individual players. “Give it to Ballie” – striker Billy Ball – was a popular song by Swansea fans in the 1910s and is referenced in the academic tome Sport, Music, Identities, edited by Anthony Bateman.

But despite these early examples – and songs like Portsmouth’s ‘Play Up Pompey’ and Newcastle United’s ‘Blaydon Races’ which have survived to this day – it wasn’t until the 1960s that the songs and chants were have become an integral part of football fan culture.

During the 1962 and 1966 World Cups, more affordable travel allowed international fans to mix en masse and adopt each other’s popular chants, songs and tunes.

It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that the recent development of what is perhaps the most eclectic songbook in world football has coincided with the most successful period in the history of the Cymru national team. , during which fans traveled in greater numbers, developing what comedian Elis James called “a bilingual counterculture”.

Until recently, songs more associated with rugby than football were seamlessly integrated into the canon, in keeping with the inclusivity encapsulated in the tagline ‘Together Stronger’.

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These include ‘Calon Lan’, a hymn written by Daniel James (Gwyrosydd) in the 1890s, and ‘Hymns and Arias’, a song specifically about rugby trips and other Welsh songs, written by the artist Max Boyce in 1971.

Frankie Valli’s 1967 hit, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” entered the repertoire via another modern folk tradition: advertising.

The National Wales: Singing and chanting are an integral part of attending football matches.  Photo: Chris Fairweather/Huw Evans AgencySinging and chanting are an integral part of participating in football matches. Photo: Chris Fairweather/Huw Evans Agency

John Morgan, head of presentation and promotions at BBC Wales, made a short film to advertise a televised match – the crucial and ill-fated World Cup match against Romania in 1993.

Despite Wales’ failure to qualify for USA ’94 – Paul Bodin, the crossbar and all that – footage of Rush, Hughes, Saunders et al ‘playing their hearts out’, in what are now Umbro kits vintage and highly sought after, have passed into legend, and the song into a standard.

READ MORE: The choir perform Yma o Hyd for Welsh Language Music Day

Fan favorites are often associated with particular games or periods in the team’s history. German DJ and producer Florian Senfter’s ‘Kernkraft 400’ – better known as Zombie Nation – became an unofficial anthem after Wales earned a goalless draw against Belgium in the Champions League qualifying campaign. Euro 2016.

The song was then played during Belgium’s visit to Cardiff, with a Gareth Bale goal giving Wales a 1-0 win and putting them on the road to historic tournament qualification.

Other songs popularized during Bale and Ramsey’s ‘golden age’ included ‘Don’t Take Me Home’, to the tune of Billy Ray Cyrus’ ‘Achy Breaky Heart’, and a whole series accompanied by the distinctive sound of eleven-piece brass ensemble The Barry Horns.

The National Wales: group of supporters of Wales THe Barry HornsTHe Barry Horns Wales Supporters Group

With the Horns installed atop the Canton Stand, or hidden in the corner of stadiums across Europe, Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” has become indelibly associated with Joe Ledley.

“Push It” by Salt N Pepa with Hal Robson Kanu, “Gimme Hope Joanna” by Eddy Grant with Joe Allen and “Give it Up” by KC and the Sunshine Band first with Gareth Bale, then with Kieffer Moore.

Meanwhile, 2Unlimited’s ‘No Limit’ has taken on a number of Williams from Wales – from Ashley to Jonny, and now Neco.

It is no coincidence that many of these songs are laced with both joy and humour, expressing the sense of wonder and mild disbelief that many Welsh football fans – who have already endured for decades of disappointment – have felt since the rise of the national team’s fortunes, first under Gary Speed, then Chris Coleman and now Robert Page.

But there is also a current of real social change. Beneath the sea of ​​bucket hats and flags created to liquidate Florentino Perez, a new generation of football fans has grown up in a culture that is actively inclusive, genuinely bilingual and often independent in its feelings.

‘Viva Gareth Bale’ rejects the Union Jack. The Barry Horns released an independentist single, “Cymru Rydd”. And despite the noise of pop, rock, disco and techno, ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ is still the piece de resistance.

No wonder Dafydd Iwan shed a tear.

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