Saturday’s 1-0 home result over Southampton puts Bristol Rovers in the FA Cup’s quarterfinals for the first time in half century, an occasion that is undoubtedly being celebrated in the hereafter by….Leadbelly. From PitchInvasion.net’s Brian Phillips.
Bristol Rovers are as associated with œGoodnight, Irene, Leadbelly™s most famous recording, as any English club with any song. They™ve been singing it since the 1950s, a full decade before œYou™ll Never Walk Alone was heard at Anfield, 30 years before Manchester City fans began to chant œBlue Moon. But the path that led to the association was chancy and circuitous, and in many ways, both Rovers and Leadbelly are lucky that they survived long enough for the song and the club™s fans to find each other.
There are any number of legends to explain the supporters™ adoption of a plaintive and slightly mystical American folk melody as their anthem, a song whose lyrics don™t exactly advertise their suitability for the purpose:
Sometimes I live in the country,
Sometimes I live in town,
Sometimes I take a great notion,
Jumpin™ into the river and drown.
I love Irene, God knows I do,
Love her until the sea run dry,
And if Irene turns her back on me,
Gonna take morphine and die.
Possibly the most persuasive story is that Plymouth Argyle fans sang the song to taunt Rovers supporters after Argyle took the lead in a match. When Rovers went on to win 3-1, their fans turned the taunt around and began to sing œGoodnight, Argyle. And the song stuck. Something about it just fit.
I love thinking about the loose threads of beauty and meaning in this world and the way they sometimes come together in football. I love imagining Leadbelly playing in a smoky shack to an audience of hellhounds and moonshine runners while five thousand miles away a group of men with kestrel stares and pushbroom mustaches took the pitch in their high-waisted professional short pants. I love the way a game played by the children of lords and a suicide moan from the American folk tradition can make something bizarre and powerful today, something unifying, in a context that makes perfect sense to us, though it would baffle the people who invented them.