Who Are Yer?

When supporters chant ‘Who are yer?’ in a football match it’s not because they’re showing off their knowledge of French philosophers wrestling with questions of existence and identity. It’s a phrase that echoes around many a ground up and down the land, meant as a taunt to demean the opposition as being unknown or insignificant. Go a goal down and you’ll likely be on the receiving end of the question. If more goals follow, the chant takes on an even more mocking tone.

‘Who are yer?’ has been kicking around (ha!) in football since the 1990s as part of the repertoire on the terraces but it dates back to the 1840s. Records have it as being used as an insult on London streets by local mobs. It was – and is – an assertion of superiority. That said, football being football, fortunes can change in a game and victims of the taunt soon after kick-off might be voicing it themselves come the final whistle!

It is a chant, like so many, that’s meant to provoke a response. That’s all part of the banter in the stands. We chant and rant, carp and moan, sing and clap, whistle and boo. It’s a sport for active participation rather than quiet admiration. Fans, though, come in as many sorts as there are in attendance at a game. There might be collective euphoria when your team scores and stadium derision when a player makes a poor move but shared sentiments are interspersed with individual behaviours and stories.

As a boy standing on the Bridgford-end kop with my dad and granddad, I’d be fascinated by those around me (not least because I couldn’t see much of the match) and what they did. There was the bloke in a flat cap with his Reds’ scarf tucked neatly into his overcoat who stood meditation-still for a whole game – apart from when he dipped his hand into his pocket for a sweet – and spoke only one word: ‘goal’. That came in a 2-1 loss against Fulham in the sixties. Or the two friends who gave a running commentary for 90 minutes to anyone who would listen. ‘They’re courting,’ said Dad. Some fans would exchange a few comments and then fall into an argument which suddenly evaporated when Forest mounted an attack. Others attended matches, it seemed, just to add it to a list of complaints about life in general.

Most of us, though, make our way to a match with hope and that becomes collective hope as we gather. Then it’s a force-field. Watch Forest fans stream over Trent Bridge on match-day and you can feel it. LS Lowry – famous for his ‘match-stick’ figures – is one of few artists to have captured something of the spirit of a Saturday afternoon. His ‘Going to the Match’ (painted in 1953 and soon to be sold by the Professional Footballers’ Association) shows crowds flocking to the turnstiles in Bolton, with terraced houses and factory chimneys in the background. The stadium is embedded in the community, up close to its homes and places of work. The figures lean towards the ground as if answering some kind of calling. Which they are.

Post-match scenarios are a different proposition. I’ve spent many a pint in pubs close to the City Ground, sharing fresh memories of Forest goals scored – frequently ‘sublime’! – or commiserating over a defeat. Often ‘unlucky’, rarely ‘deserved’, disappointment’s always alleviated by turning to possibilities for the next game. But disappointment can be heartfelt in the immediate aftermath of loss. You’ve invested time and money and energy into the game and been left with that question ringing in your ears: ‘Who are yer?’.

Michael Palin, of Monty Python fame and world adventure TV programmes, plays out a very amusing parody of the supporter whose team has let him down in his ‘Ripping Yarns’ series. His character, Golden Gordon, returns home from yet another defeat declaring: ‘8-1, eight-bloody-one!’ and proceeds to throw the living-room clock out of the window. Some furniture follows. It’s a spoof of a fanatic fan in 1930s Yorkshire but it does show how football gets under the skin, tugs on the emotions.

With my dad and granddad, a loss was met with subdued car talk on the way home before a sudden rush of words targeting a player or bad luck ended with a sigh from granddad when we dropped him off. ‘I don’t know why we bother, sometimes,’ Dad would say but we did. It’s the fate of football fans that they should run the whole gamut of emotions over the course of time. Relative highs and lows are part and parcel of any club. What’s different for Forest at the moment is that extremes have been compacted into a single year.

Around the end of September last season, the Reds sat at the bottom of the Championship and now they prop up the Premiership. In between, they set the city alight with their Wembley play-off win.

To be a supporter is to be in it for the long haul. That doesn’t mean you can’t fall out with or have a break from or feel disillusioned about your club but it does mean you care, even if it sometimes turns to despair. And it’s something shared with other people from all walks of life. Whether we’re season-ticket holders or occasional visitors, it’s part of who we are.

*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).

*Main image @NFFC Forest fans at Leicester were beaten but not out-sung.

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