Aside from signing a DP level striker, nothing would make me happier than never having to 'sing' I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover again. Many people I have spoken to frankly hate the whole thing, but maybe it is too soon to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We gave it a good try, but the reality is that it's just not working. It's been almost five years and we have to face up to the fact that the dream of the whole stadium singing along a la 'You'll Never Walk Alone' at Anfield is clearly never going to happen. The main problem being that Four Leaf Clover is a bad song. Come on, admit it - you think it is kind of awful too.
The melody is all over the place and the phrasing (how the words match up and flow with the tune) is complicated and difficult to pick up. If you don't already know the song really well there is no chance that you can pick it up by just listening to the Sons of Ben singing it, and as a Philly transplant myself (albeit of over 18 years) I can attest to that fact. At the games I tried and tried but just couldn't make it out, even with the lyrics in front of me. For an anthem to be adopted by supporters it has to be so ubiquitous that the vast majority of people already have a good sense of the melody or it has to be clear and simple to pick up with repetitive lyrics. I'm Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover just doesn't check those boxes and maybe that's why it isn't really catching on with anyone but the 'hard core'.
Now you can howl and scream all you like about the song being a Philadelphia tradition because the Mummers play it and everyone knows how it goes, but I can assure you they do not. In an informal survey I went around my workplace and asked everyone born and raised round these parts to sing me the song. Many people think they know it but after the first line folk usually end up struggling for the words and or they mumble off with some vague variation of the melody that soon peters out to nothing. Even when presented with the lyrics they just could not get the melody right at all. This typical response cut across race, age, and gender lines however most interesting to me were the results from the younger set. 95% of participants aged 35 years or younger did not even know what the hell I was talking about. When I asked "Can you sing me I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover?" "What's that?" was their response. Even when I sang the first line they still gave me blank looks. What's more, two of the guys who had no idea what I was on about were former college soccer players who had each attended 'a few' Union games over the past couple of years.
I have been a season ticket holder since day one and have been in The River End many times over the years, however this is my first year full time in there. Perhaps it is just my own bias but this year it feels like there is a general lack of enthusiasm for the song. The countdown to 20:10 is either inaudible or lackluster and people seem to be singing it out of a sense of obligation instead of an enthusiastic desire to belt out an inspirational anthem. On top of that the timing is often just awkward.
I have watched games in many different sections at PPL Park and in each section people do actually want to sing along. Many times folks will either join in with the simpler chants they hear from the River End or even start their own organic song, usually based on something that just happened on the pitch. It is the spontaneity and drama of the moment that feeds the voices of the people. During ILOAFLC if something exciting happens on the pitch then everyone stops singing, and it takes a while to start up again. The energy and passion just fades right out of it.
One of the lowest point of ILOAFLC surely came towards the end of the 2013 season when the FO / SoB leadership proved my points for me (i.e. that it is both hard to sing and largely unknown) by attempting to get the rest of the stadium singing along. Thankfully they soon gave up as it was an abject failure. Their hearts were in the right place but it is impossible to impose a 'tradition' upon a people - instead there has to be a collective, almost subconscious will. Playing videos of the then SoB President speaking emotionally about his vision for ILOAFLC as 'our' anthem and placing lyric sheets on the seats throughout the stadium will not convince people to sing along to a song that they don't value and don't even know.
The true nadir was the frankly embarrassing 'cheer leaders' who held up signs saying "Get ready to sing Four Leaf Clover" a couple minutes before the 20:10 mark, then flipped them to say "Go!". The poor kids were either ignored, asked to move because they were blocking the view, or barracked by free-thinking Americans to 'go away' because we don't like being told what to do by anyone. You simply can't coerce loyalty or emotion - it has to be an organic product of the people, by the people, and for the people.
I understand that the leadership of the SoB did an incredible job in getting so much off the ground and we are all enormously grateful for their hard work. The founding members must have had a huge number of important decisions to make such as colors, logos, slogans, and many other issues. Perhaps it is time to evaluate the decision to sing I'm Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover at 20:10 and wonder if we have the courage to make a daring move and make a change for the better. After four plus years, well over a hundred games, and thousands of songs sung we are all now in a much better place for the people to choose a song instead of trying (no matter how earnest or well-intentioned it might have been) to chose a song for the people.
If it is truly sacrosanct then maybe we don't completely ditch ILOAFLC because I understand the value and attachment that many people feel for the song so how about singing it immediately at kick off? As soon as the ref blows, off we go. Everyone's voices will be fresh, we will be full of enthusiasm and it will be more obvious to the general populace that 'this is what we do' at kickoff and maybe then more of the stadium as a whole will be more likely to join in. After all, the Sons of Ben are but a small percentage of the 18,000 plus - perhaps with everyone joining in even I could grow to love our 'anthem'.
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