Monday, June 21, 2010

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot is very commonly sung at England fixtures — especially at Twickenham. The song arrived in the rugby canon through the Welsh male voice choirs who sang many spirituals. It was a popular rugby song at clubs during the 1950s and 1960s and was sung every year at Twickenham during the end-of-season all-day Middlesex Sevens tournament. During the 1970s the Twickenham crowd also sang it during England matches then coming into the last match of the 1988 season, against the Irish, England had lost 15 of their previous 23 matches in the Five Nations Championship. The Twickenham crowd had only seen one solitary England try in the previous two years and at half time against Ireland they were 0-3 down. During the second half a remarkable transformation took place and England started playing an expansive game many had doubted they were capable of producing. A 0-3 deficit was turned into a 35-3 win, with England scoring six tries.

In the 35-3 win, three of England's tries were scored by Chris Oti, a player who had made a reputation for himself that season as a speedster on the left wing. A group of boys from the Benedictine school Douai following a tradition at their school games sang Swing Low, Sweet Chariot whenever a try was scored. When Oti scored his second try, amused spectators standing close to the boys joined in, and when Oti scored his hat-trick the song was heard around the ground. Since then Swing Low, Sweet Chariot became a song to sing at England home games, in the same way that Fields of Athenry is sung in Dublin and Cwm Rhondda is sung at Cardiff. It has since became the anthem of the team as in 1991 the result of a plan of the then RFU marketing director Mike Coley for the team to launch a song leading up to that years Rugby World cup. He had wanted to use Jerusalem but it was used in the Rugby League cup final that year so the song was changed at short notice to Swing Low. there were a number of versions recorded including a 'rap' version with Jerry Guscott doing a solo. needless to say that was never released but the version released did reach the top 40 in the UK singles chart during the competition and was then adopted as the England rugby song.

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