The hunt for the creator of a football club’s anthem

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Media captionSheffield United’s Greasy Chip Butty Song

From You’ll Never Walk Alone to I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, certain songs have become synonymous with particular football clubs.

In Sheffield, the red half of it at least, that anthem is the Greasy Chip Butty song, belted out to the tune of John Denver’s 1974 hit record Annie’s Song.

You fill up my senses

Like a gallon of Magnet

Like a packet of Woodbines

Like a good pinch of snuff

Like a night out in Sheffield

Like a greasy chip butty

Like Sheffield United

Come fill me again

But how did a sentimental tribute to the US country star’s wife come to be reworked as a terrace anthem?

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BBC Radio Sheffield Reporter Simon Thake set out to uncover the origins of the song

I’ve lived in Sheffield for over 20 years and have always been fascinated by the Greasy Chip Butty song and have long wondered who wrote it.

To me it speaks of a bygone era, a romanticised time before Twitter and all-seater stadiums, when games kicked off at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon and fans quite possibly drank a gallon – eight pints – of John Smith’s Magnet bitter before the game.

So, after all those years of pondering I decided to see if I could discover its origins.

My first port of call was my Radio Sheffield colleague and lifelong Blades fan Helen Bailey.

She told me what it means to supporters. “In terms of the lyrics, I think it sums up Sheffield quite well; everyone loves a greasy chip butty, everybody loves a night out in Sheffield.”

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PA Media

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Sheffield United striker Billy Sharp grew up singing the song

Club captain and boyhood Blade Billy Sharp grew up singing the song on the terraces of Bramall Lane.

“I did not know when I was a kid exactly what some of the lyrics meant, but I remember singing along to it,” he told me.

“It’s just a really catchy song that still gives me goose-bumps to this day when I hear it before the game.

“I don’t know where it came from or who created it, but it’s definitely Sheffield United’s anthem.

“Before every home game when they play that song and the fans sing it, I always find myself singing it as the game’s just kicked off.”

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PA Media

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Bramall Lane is one of the oldest grounds in the world still used for professional football

So it’s a song that’s obviously very important to Blades fans, and has been for many years, but the story of how it made its way to Bramall Lane has long been a mystery to most.

During my research, I found claims online about the song having first been heard during an away game against Stoke City on the opening day of the 1985-86 season.

However, in Matthew Bell’s book, Blades Tales: A Collection of Memories, Stories and Anecdotes of Supporting Sheffield United, fan Darren Reid recalls first hearing the song even earlier than that, on an away trip to Southend United in 1984.

This was the earliest mention of it I could find so I made up my mind to track Darren down, eventually finding him at St Peter’s in Chains Church in Doncaster, where he is the parish priest.

He told me he vividly remembered the hearing a group of older men in their 20s and 30s “having a good laugh and singing along to Annie’s Song” on the terraces at Southend’s Roots Hall stadium, but he could not tell me who they were.

I quizzed Blades legend Keith Edwards, who played in that 1-0 win at Southend, but he admitted: “If they weren’t singing about me, I wasn’t really interested.”

What makes a good football song?

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Art Zelin/Getty Images

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John Denver wrote Annie’s Song for his wife Annie Martell – they divorced in 1982

Dr Simon Warner, a visiting researcher in popular music at Leeds University, says there are a few key ingredients.

“A good football song has to have that memorability, something people can remember the words to easily, something they can join in together with quickly and speedily; it’s also got to have a good rhyme to it,” he said.

“I suppose Annie’s Song, which has got a very strong and memorable chorus, really fits the mould. It’s not a complicated tune, it’s simple to remember and once you have learned the words you’ve got the full package.

“[The Greasy Chip Butty song] also says something about working-class life, it says something about footballing life and it says something about social history; it’s got some really interesting ingredients to it.

“Sources [for football songs] are many and varied and it might seem a little strange that a John Denver song, a country song, ended up on the Sheffield United terraces, but it’s just one of many places that football fans have gone to over the years.”

With my search for the mystery Sheffield United fan foundering, I started to hear rumours that the song might not have originated in the Steel City at all – but on the other side of the M1, in Rotherham.

Then out of the blue I got an email from a man known as Popeye who said I needed to find Gavin Hancock, a member of a group of Sheffield United fans who called themselves the Rotherham Blades.

From that point my search began to pick up speed.

Gavin told me how he and his friends used to drink in a pub called the Mail Coach, in Rotherham town centre, and how in the early 1980s he heard some of the regulars singing an amended version of Annie’s Song.

One man in particular, he said, was singing – a Rotherham United fan called Terry Moran.

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PA Media

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The final destination of my musical quest eventually proved to the Rotherham suburb of Masbrough

“We were in that pub most weekends when we weren’t at the football,” Gavin told me.

“We’d sing songs and banter with each other and he [Terry] sang that song to me.

“It was about a night out in Masbrough and about Magnet, which is the beer we were all drinking at the time.

“Subsequently I changed it to suit Sheffield United and then we started singing it on the coaches and minibuses and then it just spread from there, really.”

So, there it was – I’d found the man who had brought the Greasy Chip Butty song to Sheffield, but my quest wasn’t over. I still wanted to speak to Terry Moran.

A few phone calls later and it was done – Terry agreed to meet me and tell me everything.

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Terry Moran says he wrote the Greasy Chip Butty song as a celebration of life as a Rotherham United fan

He explained that the lyrics had first come to him one night in the Mail Coach. He remembers scrawling the opening lines on a toilet wall, but says it was always about the beer and not the butty.

“For some reason I remember taking my biro out and scribbling down ‘tha fills up mi senses like a gallon o’ Magnet’.

“Gallon of Magnet was always the inspiration – greasy chip butty was just part of the things that make a good day out when you’re going to the football.”

He said the song was a celebration of life as a Rotherham United fan standing on the terraces of the club’s old Millmoor ground, and drew its inspiration from the punk era to dismantle the “schmaltzy, sympathetic original”.

“[Millmoor] was a hellhole, but it was our home ground and there’s an affection and an affinity to the place so let’s celebrate it one way or another,” he said.

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Hugh Hastings/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

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Millmoor might have been a “hellhole” but it was the scene of a famous 6-0 drubbing of Chelsea in 1981

At last, my search was over. What had started out as a hunt for a lyrically inventive Sheffield United fan had resulted in the discovery that the terrace anthem sung week in week out for decades at Bramall Lane had in fact been penned by a fan of one of their South Yorkshire rivals.

The last thing I needed to know was how did Terry feel about this?

“It annoys me a bit… in fact it’s annoys me quite a lot, especially as they get the words wrong.”

Tha fills up mi senses

Like a gallon o’ Magnet

Like a packet o’ Woodbines

Like a good pinch o’ snuff

Like a night out in Masborough

Like a greasy chip butty

Like Rotherham United

Can’t fill me enough

To hear the documentary Like a Greasy Chip Butty listen to BBC Radio Sheffield from 18:00 on Monday 31 August.

Additional reporting by Oliver Wright

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