“COME-ON-YOU-BOYS-IN-BLUE”, thumb is the most famous terrace anthem in the GAA at the moment. It’s, decease impressive isn’t it? It consists of six words, although this is six times more than most county supporters can muster. I, being a Donegal native, am fully aware that our only chant is the obligatory “Donegal…clap, clap, clap”, much like many other counties. There appears to be no place within the GAA for creativity in the stands and if someone dares to try something different, they receive disparaging looks before the men in white coats come to take them away. The irony is that the GAA is the best supported sport in the country, and yet its supporters would appear to be the least inspired. And it’s nothing that’s inherent within the Irish; other lesser-followed sports have no problem coming up with a bit of terrace creativity.
The League of Ireland, for example, lags well behind the GAA in terms of crowd loyalty and support, and even in professional organisation. But the crowds that do show up exhibit a brand of togetherness and communality that’s often lacking in the GAA. These fans display a type of creativity and fervour that simply cannot be attached to your typical group of GAA fans. At League of Ireland games, banners and flares light up the stands as well as witty chants and slogans being used to inspire the team and humble the opposition. Sometimes this goes too far and accusations of racism from the stands are obviously unacceptable. But at least the effort is being made to be original and indeed, to make the match more enjoyable from the paying fan’s perspective.
The GAA is at heart a very traditional organisation. The type of ideology that inspired the ban on foreign games is still prevalent in many ways. Players with highlights in their hair, or with white boots, or who play with their socks pulled up, do not match the description of the old-fashioned, ‘hard’ player. At underage level my coaches reacted to the news that I was having hamstring trouble by saying they never had those problems as a young fella’, so obviously it was something that was wrong with me and my generation. The onus on not showing emotion (or as they would see it, weakness) spreads to the players and the fans. Remember how Dublin players used to be castigated by the press for raising their hands after a goal or for celebrating in front of the Hill? It is in this context that anyone coming up with a chant is looked down upon by the rest of the match-going public.
The ability of small bands of LOI fans to sing together is one thing but Irish rugby supporters take it to another level. In Thomond Park or Lansdowne Road when Munster or the national team are playing respectively, their fans manage to sing, at least once a game, a hauntingly in-tune and together version of The Fields of Athenry. This marks a massive difference from your average GAA game where countless times I’ve heard the same banal tune (e.g. “Galway, clap, clap, clap…”), sung by supporters of the same team, but not at the same time. So it turns out to be a horrible mish-mash of a chant where one side of the ground is singing while the other side is clapping.
Maybe the fact that supporters come from wide distances apart in many counties inhibits any sort of communal spirit. Your average GAA spectator is good-natured and will share opinions on the match with strangers in the stand willingly, but perhaps there’s still too much of a distance to create anything more atmospheric. One of the great strengths of GAA followers is their ability to interact with each other, with no segregation in the stands required as of yet. Certainly the majority of supporters from opposing counties have no problem with a bit of banter or even engaging in insightful analysis during the game. More often than not, the beaten supporters will accept defeat graciously and wish the opposition well on their way. There are a lot of positive things to be said about GAA supporters. Indeed many of them might cite the behaviour of soccer fans and the dreaded ‘soccer elements’ as something to be kept away from the pure sports of the GAA.
The lack of terrace creativity takes away from the GAA spectacle. Maybe after Dublin’s All-Ireland win the added support for the GAA in the capital will lead to some fanatic wordsmiths emerging and leading the way for other counties to follow. In the GAA, new trends are always viewed with great suspicion, but this is one ‘soccer element’ that might just be worth embracing.