Artificial Turf: Football and Folklore

Artificial Turf: Football and Folklore
It is only natural that the people's favourite sport is also a source of creative inspiration for the people, while players, coaches and referees are often featured as characters in the chants, legends, jokes and anecdotes of the fandom.
Artificial Turf: Football and Folklore
It is only natural that the people's favourite sport is also a source of creative inspiration for the people, while players, coaches and referees are often featured as characters in the chants, legends, jokes and anecdotes of the fandom.
Despite being a sport, football has served as a vibrant source of inspiration for many artists. This Welcome2018 special project explores the reflection of football, the planet's favourite sport, in various art forms. Strictly speaking, folklore is not an art genre, and yet it is an object of meticulous study by the science of philology, which also studies works of literature. This fact appears to justify the inclusion of this small football folklore study in our art section.
The football chant is at the forefront of some of the most dynamic, evolving urban folk genres. The followings of Europe's premier football clubs boast hundreds of texts they will sing or chant at the stadium, and their repertoire is enlarged and updated all the time. To a true fan, a football match is akin to a magic ritual. The fans don't just watch the game; they take part, and their chants are meant to empower the players while disempowering their rivals. Football chants often imitate other folk genres, like the more rugged forms of the Russian chanson.
I’m a fan, a fan forever
Dedicated to Spartak.
When I die, given me no gravestone
Put Spartak’s flag on my grave.

My beloved Spartak, you are able
To beat the Horses again and again.
The Horses belong in the stable.
And no one can score like you can.
Football chants often imitate other folk genres, like the more rugged forms of the Russian chanson
It's "The Bomb"!
The Bomb is perhaps the most widely known Russian football chant. Having been around for over thirty years, this chant has been enlarged with contributions from several generations of football fans, who followed many different clubs. While CSKA fans claim to own the Bomb, Spartak fans contend that the Army squad had borrowed it from the red and white (Spartak). Lokomotiv fans tell the story of how the Bomb used to be the every-team chant in Moscow in the 1980's. In St. Petersburg, Zenit fans have their own local version of the story. The text of the Bomb is a dialogue between the cheerleader and a chorus of fans. The cheerleader will ask questions, and the chorus will thunder a concerted "no" to every question except the very last one. The list of questions can go on forever. It starts with a bomb, as the song title indicates:
"A-bomb? — No!
H-bomb? — No!
Bomb that never explodes? — No!
Bomb you can buy anywhere? — No!
Bomb that doesn’t exist? — No!
Bomb the kids play with? — No!
In the short version, this would be followed by names of rival teams, all of which the fan chorus would reject until finally the list got to their own team, and they would greet it with a resounding "YES!!!" Over the years, the "negative" part has become augmented with all kinds of totally bizarre characters and invocations of various storylines, such as:
"Girl named Masha? — No!
Semolina kasha? — No!
Girl named Lena? — No!
Crocodile named Gena? — No!
As the Bomb goes on, the list of things and characters "rejected" grows like a snowball. Most of these new appearances are entirely unexplained and attributable solely to folk imagination gone amuck:
"Sprouts of bamboo? — No!
Baba and booboo? — No!
Crow named Karkusha? — No!
Pink piggy named Khrusha? — No!
Bunny named Stepashka? — No!
Bandit named Promokashka? — No!
Cruise missiles? — No!
Pinochet’s junta? — No!
Alla Pugacheva? — No!
Raisa Gorbacheva? — No!
Moldavian port wine? — No!
Saddam Hussein? — No!"
Each club's fans have their own ending for the Bomb:
"…Our very own, our precious red and blue
the Order of Lenin all-powerful
CSKA Moscow? — Yes!!!"
or:
"…The bottomless pit? — No!
Our great, our mighty Leningrad Zenit?! — Yes!"
or:
"…Lady with a pin? — No!
Spartak that will win? — Yes!"
The text keeps getting bigger and bigger. There is no final edition of the Bomb and there cannot be one, according to notorious CSKA fan Dima Lysyi, who is credited with giving this chant a new lease on life in the 21st century. At this point, the chanting of the Bomb can go on for five minutes without interruption.
The fans don't just watch the game; they take part, and their chants are meant to empower the players while disempowering their rivals
Einstein roots for Amkar
Fans of the more obscure clubs, those that cannot exactly promise their followers the moon on a stick, have a harder time compared to fans of the majors. They cannot invoke great military victories from history to help them compose their chants. But they manage. They invoke the ancient Greek gods instead, as in:
"Neptune rules the mighty seas,
FC Saturn rules the pitch!"
or great scientists:
"It was Einstein’s learned call
That Amkar will crush them all!"
or classical poets:
"Lermontov, Pushkin and other great poets,
Would follow Krylya Sovetov — we know it!"
or they may allude to their poetry:
"Grass is getting greener, the sun is sparkling so,
Let’s go have a beer. Rotor, way to go!"
The followers of England's perennial middlings West Ham resort to the dark side of famous English humour. As the London squad was losing a match 0-6 to Manchester City, the Hammers fans started singing: "We lose every week, we lose every week! You are nothing special, we lose every week!"
West Ham fans are famous for their self-deprecating irony. "You're nothing special, we lose every week!" they chanted as their team continued losing to Manchester City, eventually losing 0-6
When the Hammers were about to get whitewashed in a derby against Arsenal, their fans came up with a chant that was even more fun: "Let's pretend, let's pretend, let's pretend we scored a goal!" And they roared up as if the Hammers had really just knocked one in
If he kicks it with his right one it's a crime
This story circulated even before the Second World War. It was about some footballer who could kick the football so hard he once killed a goalie with it. In punishment, this footballer was ordered to always wear a bandage – red or black, I forget – around his right ankle to signify that he was never, under no circumstances, at liberty to kick the football with his right foot.

Soviet journalist Igor Fesunenko recalled one of the earliest versions of this legend in his book Brazil. Football. Torcida: "I remember us, young boys, sitting behind the holey goal-mesh at Metallurg Stadium in Zaporozhye some time in the 1940s, listening to some older kids' stories about the great Basques and their fierce resistance on the pitch, about the invincible Spartakians, and about some guy, a footballer, who had once kicked the ball so hard it broke the goal-post. His next game, his shot was so powerful that it killed the goalie instantly. This was reported to Comrade Stalin, who shook his head disapprovingly, and forever forbade that footballer to play with his right foot. This song went around at the time. It went: "When he kicks it with his left he'll break the goalpost; if he kicks it with his right one it's a crime."
"When he kicks it with his left he'll break the goalpost; if he kicks it with his right one it's a crime," goes a fan song about some footballer who, as legend would have it, kicked the football so hard it killed the goalie instantly. The provenance of this legend is associated with the name of the Leningrad footballer Mikhail Butusov.
The provenance of this legend is associated with the name of the Leningrad forward Mikhail Butusov, whose goal kick in a match with a Turkish team in Istanbul in May 1925 hit the Turkish goalie in the stomach so hard the goalie flew back against the mesh, clutching the football and, as they say, went unconscious for a few seconds, but then came to and continued to play.

The Soviet team had another friendly fixture scheduled in Odessa on their way back. Butusov, who had a knee injury, was not supposed to play, but the local authorities kept sending couriers to the team administration, begging them to let their star player play. Anxious to get rid of the pesky petitioners, one of Butusov's teammates, Fyodor Selin, said: "Leave the man alone! Football would be the last thing on his mind right now. He knocked the Turkish goalie dead! Hit him in the stomach inadvertently with a football and… End of story." An hour later, all Odessa knew the horror story. Soon the rumour reached Moscow and Leningrad. Butusov did play in that match, after all, but he wore a retentive bandage and he mostly played with his good foot, the left one. Thus the myth was born that he was officially forbidden to use his right foot.

The history of Russian football nicknames
His name was Ponedelnik: a Monday that almost became Doomsday
The sequel to the striker-killer legend, circulating in the 1970's and 1980's, was more of a kids' anecdote. In the new iteration, whoever takes that striker's kick and lives, gets a million dollars. The story went that, since that goalie's death, a giant gorilla had been trained as goalkeeper in an African country. Once, when that gorilla was goalkeeping in a match, the murderous striker stroke again and killed the beast. There followed some episodes involving a boxing world champion and a great stuntman, booth as goalies who had allegedly met with the same fate. In the end, the great Lev Yashin himself wanted to give it a try. He would have made it for sure, but they did not let him. They said that the "bad guys" had plotted to stuff the football full of lead in order to kill our great goalkeeper, so it was the right thing to do to keep him from trying. Whereas the parts about the stuntman, the boxer and Yashin were pure folklore, the ape part had a real story behind it.
Spartak striker Alexander Shirko scored lots of goals, but he missed more often than he scored, earning a double-barrelled nickname from the fans: "Ajax Gravedigger" and "Goal opportunity's gravedigger"
Rostov's SKA played against the Mali national team on its African tour of 1963. "So we walk out onto the field of play, we swap some pennants," recalled team captain Viktor Ponedelnik. "Suddenly I spot this monkey on a chain, handled by the Mali team's goalie. I'm surprised, and I'm thinking: 'What's he going to do with this monkey while he plays?' The goalie lets his monkey perch on the goal crossbar, ties its chain around some nail, and the game begins."
"That monkey is the Mali team's mascot. If you've killed it, we're not going to leave here in one piece."
At some point in the game Ponedelnik struck really hard, aiming at the Mali goal, and the ball hit right next to where the monkey was sitting. The startled animal fell to the ground and just lay there without moving. The African team stopped playing and huddled over the monkey. Someone picked it up and the entire team left the field. The stadium exploded in a roar of disapproval. A barrage of random items – anything the spectators could find – flew in the general direction of the Soviet team. "That monkey is the Mali team's mascot. If you've killed it, we're not going to leave here in one piece," the interpreter said ominously.

Fortunately, the monkey recovered. The game was back on 15 minutes later. However, the Rostov coach Viktor Maslov asked the squad to refrain from goal kicks if they could help it, so as to stay out of harm's way. In the meantime, during the monkey-related pause, the reporter for the French newspaper L'Equipe figured the match was over and reported back to France that Ponedelnik's goal kick had killed the monkey. That reporter stood corrected for, as we know now, no animal was hurt.
You really hit the sky there, pal
Alexander Kerzhakov is the butt of countless jokes about all kinds of misses, this despite being the most prolific goal-scorer in Russian football history
Whereas football legends are usually associated with the names of outstanding footballers, this other folk genre – jokes or anecdotes – typically targets football's greatest losers. To give you one example, Spartak striker Alexander Shirko scored lots of goals, but he missed more often than he scored, earning a double-barrelled nickname from the fans: "Ajax Gravedigger" and "Goal opportunity's gravedigger."

Perhaps the most widely known joke about Shirko goes like this: "One time Shirko tells [coach] Romantsev after a match: 'I think the referee was cheating in favour of the other guys today, Oleg Ivanovich. Can I go punch him in the face?' 'Maybe not, Sasha,' the coach replies with a sigh. 'You're going to miss, aren't you?'" In another joke, a distressed Shirko tries to kill himself, but he cannot: he misses again. Your guess is as good as mine as to what kind of job Shirko would take up once he retired from football, according to the football fans' grapevine. "'Cos he was such a muff, now wasn't he?"

Those strikers who missed occasionally – and that's pretty much all of them – were lampooned in similar jokes at different times in their careers – Fyodor Smolov, for instance, and even Alexander Kerzhakov, despite being the most prolific goal-scorer in Russian football history. The latter really got it from the fans after the 2012 Euro Cup in Poland (to get this joke, one has to know that in Russian, the same word is used for both "goal" and "gate"):
"Someone knocks on the Gate of Paradise. Saint Peter opens. In front of him stands a man wearing a jersey with a tricolored diagonal stripe.

— Who are you? - Saint Peter asks.
— I am Kerzhakov, a Russian footballer.
— How in God's holy name did you manage not to miss this gate???"
Popular jokes are not known to spare the Russia squad which, frankly, has put the fans' love to a test much too often. The shortest joke about the Russia squad is this one: "When trouble comes, open wide the gate! …and other news from the Russia national football team." This one is possibly high in the running for the wittiest one:
"Two ants are standing at the edge of a football field, watching the Russia squad training.

One ant says to the other:
– You know, we're way tougher than they are.
– How so?
– There's a 100% certainty that you and I are going to be out there on the pitch for the World Cup final."
Well, Cherchesov's boys are going to get a chance to shame these and other ants and sceptics this coming summer, by morphing from joke characters into legendary heroes, celebrated in triumphal football lore. We believe in them!
We believe that, this coming summer, our squad stands a good chance of morphing from joke characters into legendary heroes, celebrated in triumphal football lore
Aleksander Feldberg, Deputy Editor of InStyle, exclusively for Welcome2018
Photo credit:
Vince Talotta/Toronto Star via Getty Images, www.cyclowiki.org, Мариинский театр / Наталья Разина, www.moiseyev.ru, Джавахадзе Зураб/ТАСС, Images via Getty Images