Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Swing Low Sweet Chariot?: I Predict a Riot

In the course of his ramblings the South African ex-pat lawyer Marcel Berlins suggests in today's Guardian that he was present back in 1988 when an England international Rugby Union crowd burst into Swing Low Sweet Chariot.

Marcel claims that :

(a) this was the first time this song had been sung at such an event;
(b) this was in honour of Chris Oti who had scored three tries against Ireland;
(c) this was initiated for "racist reasons", as Chris Oti is black and the song is of course a negro spiritual

As he is a legal eagle, an ostentatious consumer of the fine arts, and a first hand scholar of apartheid and was actually at the game you might think he is a good judge on such matters.

But I was amazed by two of the three assertions. While (b) may well be correct I suppose. After all Oti scored three of the six second half tries for the Brits and that day Ireland were mullered.

But (a) seems absolutely wrong to me. This song has been sung around Rugby for at least 60 and possibly 100 years. In the wild it is spotted on buses to and from games, in rugby clubs and yes, even on touchlines and in grandstands. Could this really have been the first time at an international?

Well, Marcel has backers here (wiki), here (everyhit) and here (RU fan site) though the latter is a little sceptical.

For myself, I predict a riot of letters over coming days, perhaps weeks, with earlier and earlier sightings of the song.

The idea of (c) that this was racist, albeit a "racist tribute", is utterly wrong, idiotic and indefensible.

When I was at University and much involved in sports we had a brilliant young player name of Francis Emeruwa (then a London Wasp star and later founder of the Nigerians RUFC) who played for England at most age groups and levels. Did our players and supporters only start singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot when Emmy arrived?

I'm looking forward to seeing his captain Graeme Buchan and team mate and white South African Rob Udwin at the XXI Club 75th Annual Dinner in Manchester on 10 November 2007. I'll ask. But it's a no. Meanwhile watch that Guardian letters page.


Second Row said...

"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" has been around and sung in the Bars of many a Rugby Club for years.

The mimes and gestures accompaning this song in the post match celebrations are not fit for a familly blog !!

Chris Paul said...

Absolutely. Not Fit!. Though apparently they're OK for a family wiki. So I'll not be pointing at that again.