The Sound of Football: Arbroath (Andrew)

Every fortnight we cover the best and worst football songs from every club in the UK from our book ‘The Sound Of Football: Every Club, Every Song’. You can buy it here


Nickname: The Red Lichties

Ground: Gayfield Park

Stadium Capacity: 5,940

Song: Tom Hark by The Piranhas

Arbroath was the home of Scottish singer and entertainer Andy Stewart, who lived and died in Arbroath. In 1961, Andy had a hit worldwide with his song ‘Donald Where’s Your Troosers?’ about a Scotsman wearing a kilt. If he’d been singing it in Arbroath, he’d have sung ‘Donald Where’s Your Longjohns?’ The Red Lichties play matches at Gayfield Park, next to the sea. As a result, it’s exposed to the shifting, strong and bitterly cold North Sea winds. This creates problems for visiting teams as the ball can get caught in the strong wind, confusing attacking players and goalies coming for crosses.

Like Grimsby Town, the fans like to sing ‘We Only Sing When We’re Fishing’:

We only sing when we’re fishing!

We only sing when we’re fiiiiiiiishing!

We only sing when we’re fishing!

sing when we’re fishing!

(Source: terrace chant)

And, whenever a goal is scored at Gayfield, the stadium tannoy plays ‘Tom Hark’ by The Piranhas.

The song was initially recorded in 1953 by Elias And His Zig Zag Jive Flutes and is based on “Kwela,” the traditional South African folk music (see Burnley for another origin tale).

The Piranhas’ saxophonist Phil Collis discovered the song in his mum’s record collection and persuaded the band to do a version. Phil wrote the lyrics as the group travelled in the back of a van from their hometown of Brighton to a recording studio in London.

The original was an instrumental, so we brought it up to date with some lyrics,” says Phil. “I could say the words were deep and meaningful, but they don’t mean much. I scribbled them on an envelope in about an hour.

The song itself is 2 minutes 45 seconds long. If the club had played it to celebrate every goal in 1855, it would have been played for 85 minutes during Arbroath’s most famous victory. A victory that took place the same day as another famous match.

On Saturday, 12 September 1885, Dundee Harp played Aberdeen Rovers in the first round of the Scottish Cup. The result made football history as Harp beat its Aberdeen rivals 35 – 0. But, what was thought to be the biggest ever victory, only lasted a few short hours.

Dundee Harp had an Irish player, Tom O’Kane, who lived in Arbroath. After the game, he sent a telegram home to wind up his friends and boast of his achievement. But, unknown to Tom, that very afternoon, Arbroath had gone one better. The rampant home team handed out a 36-0 thrashing to Bon Accord.

To make matters worse, Dundee Harp had scored more than 35 goals. The referee had noted at least 37, but as he was unsure of the exact total, he discussed it with O’Kane, and they agreed that the ref would tell the football league that the score was 35 – 0. Not knowing the tally was so important, O’Kane was happy to take the lower figure until he heard back from Arbroath.

At first, he thought their response was a joke, that Arbroath couldn’t possibly have scored one more goal at the same time as Dundee Harp was creating a new record. However, when Tom arrived back in Arbroath, he realised the truth – Arbroath had set a new record for the highest winning margin in football, a record that still stands to this day.

Even if Harp’s original 37 – 0 scoreline had been allowed to stand, there is evidence to suggest that Arbroath may still have beaten it. Many years later, the referee of the Bon Accord game, Dave Stormont, admitted in a newspaper article that he’d disallowed seven legitimate Arbroath goals, and the score should have been 43-0.

If it’s any consolation to Tom, the Dundee Harp game still officially holds the record for the game with the second-highest winning margin. And if they’d play Tom Hark, fans would have heard it for 82 minutes.

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