Good question, good question. And indeed one that has a long and complicated answer. Join me as we go down this rabbit hole…

This Q was put to me (Webbie @FootieAndMusic) and I answered – off the top of my head – that it could be this by Albert Whelan, also by Gracie Fields, both released in 1931.

I also a gave side mention for this from The Band of the Arsenal Football Club released in 1934.
That’s right, they had their own brass band back in the day.

The Band of the Arsenal Football Club – Blaze Away:
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But – I was too quick with the reply to that question. It was Philippe Auclair (@PhilippeAuclair) the journalist and musician who has himself recorded some football songs, pointed out another tune. This suggestion reminded me that I had actually wrote about what is reported to be the oldest song: On The Ball, City associated with Norwich City:

“On The Ball, City” (sometimes abbreviated ‘OTBC’ in writing), the Norwich City F.C. song, is described as the world’s oldest football song still in use today; the song is in fact older than the club itself having probably been penned for Norwich Teachers or Caley’s FC in the 1890s, and used by clubs such as Swifians and Norwich CEYMS before being adopted by Norwich City.

» On The Ball City – 1959 Version

As my fellow football and music aficionado Sid Lowe (@sidlowe) would say there’s a caveat to that though.
The tune wasn’t specifically done for Norwich City FC, just adopted by them. I know I’m splitting hairs there, either way as the wiki entry says it was first used by them in 1902.

» Next up is this mention from @Vincera90, an upcoming podcast series all about Italia ’90, with Mark Godfrey the curator and host of the series – On his previous gig at The Football Pink he wrote about a football tune that his missus suddenly burst out singing. It is something her Grandmother used to know and learnt it from her.
Harry Weldon
Around the end of the 1800’s/start of the next century there was a music hall artist named Harry Weldon, who was treading the same boards as one Charlie Chaplin around the same time. Weldon used to have this character called Stiffy, the Goalkeeper and during one of his skits sang about him.

There was a 78 RPM record released in 1914 but the tune was performed on stage years before that, could be early as 1900. So it might be the oldest popular football tune on record – unless you know better….
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» Slipping in a bit of classical now…. Jonathan Wilson (@jonawils) the oracle of everything football informed me about Sir Edward Elgar (composer of “Land Of Hope And Glory”) who it turns out was a big Wolverhampton Wanderers supporter. Apparently he used to cycle more that 40 miles from his home in Malvern, Worcestershire to watch them play. He was such a big fan of Billy Malpass that he even wrote a composition about the striker.

Extract from Before The ‘D’…Association Football around the world, 1863-1937:

Billy MalpassIn February 1898 Wolves beat Stoke 4-2 in a Football League fixture. At Elgar’s request, Dora sent him a local press report of the match. The report, in covering a move involving Billy Malpass, used the phrase ‘he banged the leather for goal‘. Victorian writers frequently employed terms such as ‘the leather’ ‘the globe’ or ‘the sphere’ when writing about the ball. This phrase captured Elgar’s imagination, and he set it to music. The ‘score’ was included in a letter he sent to Dora in March 1898.

In 2010 a choir performed the piece to raise funds for a church but sadly there isn’t any video of audio of this concert. The only thing I found was this 6 second snippet:

We have our answer, sometime around 1898 then ? But wait – there’s more:

Pat Walsh (@pathfinderpat) let me know that around the same time as Elgar on his push bike going to the matches, in Scotland they were singing about the football, or fitba as it’s also known. The opening lines to this ballad might give you a hint of what became a famous song:

‘S’Noo ye a’ ken my big brither Jock, / His richt name is Johnny Shaw, / We’ll he’s lately jined a fitba’ club, / For he’s daft aboot fitba’.

A bit more from the Scots Language Centre about this tune before I reveal (unless you’ve already guessed)

…This is believed to be the earliest known song and prose of its kind about professional football in Scotland. It was printed between 1880 and 1900 and was written by James Currin. Currin was a native of Donegal, Ireland where the Scots language was (and still is) spoken. It was printed in Dundee but speaks about the game in Glasgow. The character says that his brother has joined a football club and makes fun of the state he gets himself into…

Have you guessed ? It is the ditty that eventually became the song Football Crazy.

The modern version of the tune was covered in 1953 by Patrick Galvin and Ewan MacColl (Kirsty’s Dad) but the most well known one from the folk duo of Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor, released in 1959:

» Robin Hall Jimmy MacGregor – Football Crazy

– A quick side mention too for this other article on the Scots Language Centre site about football songs before 1860. None of them recorded on sheet music or anything like that, but we’ve got to include them if you really want to answer the question.

Wrapping things up with a few others which were flagged up:

» My football and music brother Pascal (@45footballCom) says that this is probably the oldest football song released on a record that actually calls individual players by their name, Willy Derby’s “We gaan naar Rome” for the World Cup in Italy:

He also tells me that FC Zurich who had their own choir:

» Henrik Modén (@soulhenrik) told me about the AIK (Stockholm) Waltz from 1929:

» John Irving (@irving_john) let me know about ‘Corrado Corradino, La gioventù di cui portiamo il nome’, 1915. First “anthem” of Juventus:

There you have it then. Old football songs. Really old. Have we recorded here all of them though ? Do you know of any others ? Add a comment below:

2 Replies to “The oldest football song ?”

  1. Written for the Caterhaugh game on 5th Dec 1815, “The Lifting of the Banner” contained a line that became a football anthem. (According to Fifa museum)

    “Then strip, lads, and to it, tho’ sharp be the weather,
    And if by mischance you should happen to fall,
    There are worse things in life than a tumble on heather,
    And life is itself but a game at foot-ball.”–2621854/

    Not on the link but the rest of the song was published in the The Scots Magazine Fri 1st Dec 1815, the next verse is

    ” And when its over, we’ll drink a blithe measure
    To each laird and lady that witnessed our fun,
    And to ev’ry blithe heart that took part in the pleasure,
    To the lads that have lost and the lads that have won”

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