Footy clubs always want to be the best. They strive to win at all costs, even off the field.
Whether its building ‘state of the art training facilities’ for millions of dollars only to have your cross-town rival erect ‘the best state of the art training facilities’, or accusing your opponents of Guernsey design theft — the merry-go-round of clubs unabashedly boasting their achievements of who-is-better may as well be enshrined in the rule book of the game itself.
It can be about culture: From North Melbourne’s “shinboner spirit” to Sydney’s Swan’s “Bloods culture”, these often-spoken, yet rarely explained, club ethos’s claim body parts as though every other human player exists without them.
It can result in long-running feuds: For example, did Wayne Harmes really kick the ball out in the 1979 grand final? Collingwood fans will vehemently say yes, Carlton fans: not a chance. Was Gary Ablett’s remarkable F-you to gravity in 1993 really the mark of the century? While Geelong fans would agree that it was, many other fans don’t share the same view. And what really happened in the controversial “Sirengate” match in 2006 between St Kilda and Fremantle? Freo fans still swear that they were robbed that day.
But let’s open up another round of seemingly petty AFL arguments: club songs.
These team anthems are played before every AFL game, and the winning team has their song broadcast to the stadium at the end of the match. For the champion team, the sweaty and weary warriors enter the club rooms to belt out their club's theme while attempting to dodge the obligatory Gatorade celebration showers from grown men who arguably should have gotten over the quick thrill of soaking someone against their will when they were age 6, but for some reason haven’t.
AFL songs are a big part of AFL and more broadly, Australian Rules football culture. And in the spirit of Australian Rules culture: which of these is the best?
What makes an AFL club song good, you ask?
Well, it can be a lot of things. Overall the best theme songs portray the stoic, oiled-up and ridiculously masculine brand that the clubs like to represent to its supporters. They need to be catchy, a good ditty. Driving percussion is good. Ultimately, they need to be easy to sing along to and easy enough to remember so raucous, fired up and often drunken supporters can sing at the top of their lungs after a win.
So without further ado – here is the absolute definitive ranking of AFL songs – from worst to best.
18. FREMANTLE DOCKERS
“HEAVE HO, WAY TO GO. WE ARE THE FREO DOCKERS”
This song definitely reflects the club’s often alleged, but never quite proven, identity crisis.
For some reason, most AFL songs sound like they would be at home in the early 19th Century, with brass horns and acrobatic men wearing suspenders and handlebar moustaches. Not so for the whacky Fremantle Dockers, whose theme song sounds like they were striving for a late 80s big hair rock Cheap Trick-style that went shockingly, shockingly wrong.
This anthem was written on the Dockers arrival into the AFL in the mid-90s, and ironically, despite their rival clubs’ songs being 100+ years-old, this one sounds the most aged and outdated of the lot.
Ross Lyon, club administrators — ANYONE — please do something about this abomination now!
17. WEST COAST EAGLES
“WE’RE THE EAGLES, WE’RE FLYING HIGH”
Oh dear. What’s happening out West? For such a proud AFL state, you’d think they would put more thought into their footy theme songs.
An incredibly bland and stale tune. It’s as though they paid a session musician $100 to come up with something in a 24-hour turn-around on a lazy Sunday.
Also suffering from the same the big hair rock/Cheap Trick illness as their fellow Western Australian brethren; this song makes clear that the Eagles joined the then-VFL in 1987.
And for anyone who knows anything of the club’s history the lyric, “we’re the Eagles, we’re flying high” is retrospectively, a terrible line.
As reigning premiers, this year they’ve reworked their team song and their updated version no longer fires shots at the eastern team’s shortcomings (“For years they took the best of us” has been removed). A good move (don’t define yourselves by others West Coast!), but not quite a chart-topper, as they’re still getting mixed reactions.
16. BRISBANE LIONS
“YOU’LL HEAR THE MIGHTY ROAR”
The song was originally written by Fitzroy players in the 1950s to the tune of the French National Anthem, "La Marseillaise"; a tune that's somewhat bland.
However, hats off to the way the lyrics have attempted to recognise that the Brisbane Lions are the AFL’s arranged marriage of the late Brisbane Bears and Fitzroy Lions – “We will always fight for victory, like Fitzroy and Bears of old”.
But let’s all be clear – both Fitzroy Lions and Brisbane Bears died in 1996 and no amount of frankenstiening their clubs histories will bring them back.
Like Brisbane’s on-field performance in past years, this is nothing special.
15. GOLD COAST SUNS
“WE ARE THE SUNS OF THE GOLD COAST SKY”
Like the Gold Coast’s on-field performance in recent years entire history, this footy club song is truly uninspiring and unremarkable.
There is nothing really “wrong” with this song per se. It ticks all the boxes off a football club anthem: pompousness, horns, general confidence — but something just doesn’t click.
It’s like an enjoyable date with someone who’s ‘good on paper’, but you’re getting no spark. A metaphor for many Gold Coast sporting teams in general, actually.
14. WESTERN BULLDOGS
“WE COME OUT SNARLING, BULLDOGS THROUGH AND THROUGH”
After going broke and narrowly avoiding a merger with cross-town rivals Fitzroy, the Western Bulldogs went through a bit of a brand refresh in the late 90s.
They decided to embrace the wider Western Suburbs of Melbourne as opposed to just working-class Footscray. It went for a bold name change (The Footscray Bulldogs became Western Bulldogs), a slight change of their Guernsey to include their beloved Bulldog mascot and, of course, the lyrics of their team song was amended to reflect the club’s new overall identity.
The older version is arguably better; with unforgettable canine/coming-of-age-related lyrics such as these:
“See these pups turn into men
to lead our premiership quest
and the day is getting closer
when the dogs rise up in the west.”
However, the current song still holds its own and they continue to really own their club’s name/mascot the ‘mighty Bulldog’:
“Bulldogs bite and Bulldogs roar,
We give our very best”
13. ESSENDON BOMBERS
“SEE THE BOMBERS FLY UP, UP TO WIN THE PREMIERSHIP FLAG”
Established circa-1870, Essendon Football Club has been around long before “Bombers” (as in, planes that drop actual bombs) were engineered.
As such, the club has previously been known by nicknames like “The Same Olds”, “The Essedonians”, “The Dons” (which they are still known as in some circles today) and the considerably less gallant, “The Sash Wearers”. In the patriotic craze of WWII, Essendon decided to call themselves “Bombers” and the name stuck.
The song tells the story of a bomber flying up to win a premiership flag — which if you think about for more than five seconds, doesn’t make logistic sense, as a plane would have to be flying dangerously low to the terra firma to capture a flag. However, this song does have great horn sections and the right amount of vigor and self-praise. Not too bad.
12. PORT ADELAIDE POWER
“WE’VE GOT THE POWER TO WIN, THE POWER TO RULE, COM’ON! PORT ADELAIDE AGGRESSION”
As most AFL fans would no doubt be aware, Port Adelaide Football Club had a cosmetic makeover/rebrand to be able to join the AFL in the late-90s, as they were (and still are in the SANFL competition) The Port Adelaide Magpies.
Of course with the Collingwood Magpies already cemented in the competition, there couldn’t possibly be two teams with the “Magpie” moniker in the AFL. So they had a re-birth as Port Adelaide “Power”… What that represents exactly, I’m not sure. Lightning? A Power station? Your everyday household power outlet? An extension cord? Let’s just hope, in this political climate, that they are running on clean energy and not coal.
AFL fans might not be aware, however, that the original Port Adelaide Magpies song was a complete rip-off of the Sydney Swans theme almost word-for-word (or did the Swans rip Port Adelaide off, with Port Adelaide being the older club? It’s a real Magpie-Egg situation). They came up with this number which sounds very much like a military marching tune you would hear on ANZAC Day.
It does the trick, it’s not the best theme, but it’s definitely not the worst either. When Ken Hinkley’s men are belting it out after a hard-fought win, it really comes into its own.
11. MELBOURNE DEMONS
“EVERY HEART BEATS TRUE FOR THE RED AND THE BLUE”
“Grand Old Flag” — a remake from an American patriotic song about, you guessed it, old glory itself (‘MERICA!!), this is a really nice footy song with many regional clubs throughout the country having some variation of it as their own club song.
The Dees are having more on-field success these days, so we are hearing this one more often than we had been in the dark days of the late 2000s.
There’s a soft spot for these silver-spooned ones down at the Melbourne Football Club when you hear this. Certainly, extra points for them for sampling “Auld Ang Sine” at the end of the song. That’s gangsta … in a middle and upper-class way.
10. NORTH MELBOURNE KANGAROOS
“JOIN IN THE CHORUS, AND SING IT ONE AND ALL”
It’s been a long time since the glory days in the 1990s when North Melbourne were top of the ladder and winning flags.
However, they still maintain a great song; a nice and cheerful sound, to the tune of traditional Scottish song “Wee Deoch an Doris”.
“North Melbourne will be premiers, just you wait and see”. Basically, North are saying that they will be premiers again, one day. Perhaps not this year, nor the next. There’s no specific deadline on that statement. And nobody can say for sure that they’re never going to win the premiership ever again, could they? Unless you’re Nostradamus. I’m pretty sure he’s not an AFL fan.
And this is the song’s strength. There are no hidden meanings or euphemisms in these lyrics. They are straight to the point – “The Roos are on the ball”. Yes you are North Melbourne!
9. ST KILDA SAINTS
“OH HOW I LOVE TO BE AT ST KILDA”
Get on the 86 Tram! Head south to the beach! Luna Park! Acland Street! Prince of Wales hotel ahoy!
The popular and very well-known song “When The Saints Go Marching In” will have you wishing you were in St Kilda as the lyrics strongly suggest you should be. Great song — not just for football but in a general sense (nothing gets people going like repetition).
There are literally hundreds of teams around the world named “Saints” with this as their club song. The St George Illawarra Dragons in the NRL have their own version. It’s a catchy tune that will have you tapping your feet and humming along.
Interestingly, this song was originally an African-American Christian hymn, and perhaps most famously recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1938. It’s original version was a little-less ‘wanting to be in St Kilda’ and a little-more about the apocalypse in of the Book of Revelations in the New Testament. However, Saints fans would be forgiven if they believed the apocalypse was coming after some of the poor performances they’ve dished out over the years, or if they’ve stumbled onto Fitzroy Street, St Kilda after midnight.
St Kilda have only won 1 premiership in their entire VFL/AFL history, and have won the most wooden spoons, that’s a whopping 27 for those playing at home.
8. GEELONG CATS
“WE PLAY THE GAME AS IT SHOULD BE PLAYED, AT HOME OR FAR AWAY”
Often heard sung, but never really analysed, the second oldest club in the AFL has probably the oldest sounding song. It certainly wouldn’t have been out of place being played on the deck on the Titanic as it went down to cheer up anxious passengers. The sly trombone solo halfway through is the coupe da grace. Great stuff.
Much like North Melbourne, extra points for its very business and straight-to-the-point lyrics “We are Geelong, we’re always on the ball”. Good for you Geelong! You keep doing that!
7. SYDNEY SWANS
“SHAKE DOWN THE THUNDER FROM THE SKY”
What a cool football song. And boy — do the Sydney Swans need it.
Similar to Freo, the Swans have been criticised over the years of having something of an identity crisis. Are they Swans? Are they Bloods? What’s a ‘Blood’, anyway? Indeed, the graceful, beautiful bird that is the Swan seems a far cry away from their nickname of ‘The Bloods’, which evokes somewhat of a savage outlook. One thing’s for sure: The fans, many of whom come from the posh suburbs of Sydney, are a lot closer to Swans than Bloods.
The original tune (pre-1961) for club was an adaptation of “When it’s Springtime in the Rockies” by country star Gene Autry. “There was a sense in the Club that we needed a more robust song,” the Swans state on their website. No offence to Gene Autry, but understatement, much?
The search for a serviceable footy tune for the once-upon-a-time South Melbourne and now Sydney Swans was had in earnest. The tune they finally found was adapted from American University Notre Dame’s Victory March – including most of its lyrics.
The “Shake down the thunder from the sky” line stands out, and gets Swans fans pumped to the core to watch their beloved “bloods” in action. Go Buddy!
6. GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY GIANTS
“THERE'S A BIG BIG SOUND FROM THE WEST OF THE TOWN”
The Swans rivals from the Western Suburbs – and the AFL’s newest club — has, perhaps surprisingly, one of best club tunes.
It just feels so much like a football song. The aggressive horns and the invigorating lyrics will have you pumping your fists and feeling like running out for GWS!
Now all they need is a supporter base of more than 500 people to watch their games live and actually sing it.
5. HAWTHORN HAWKS
“WE’RE A HAPPY TEAM AT HAWTHORN”
They are happy and they want to sing about being happy, dammit!
Another AFL Club song that started as an American tune – Hawthorn’s melody originated as the hilariously named “The Yankee Doodle Boy” from the film “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. It stars James Cagney, who performs the song in the film.
It’s great that the Hawks are singing about being happy, because at the end of the day, what else is there in life? Their lyrics also point out that while their dopamine levels are high, the team at Hawthorn are no pushovers – “We play to win”. Also, is that a banjo? Yes it is! Awesome.
Hawthorn aren’t the most liked club around, with their astonishing and unmatched success in the modern era. Also, moments such as the infamous “Line in the Sand” match with their biggest rivals Essendon didn’t exactly endear them to the AFL community. Their club song, however is undeniably likeable. No doubt Jeff Kennett has this track on rotate on his iPod.
4. ADELAIDE CROWS
“WE’RE THE MIGHTY ADELAIDE CROWS”
Ahh yes. Adelaide. Often unfairly characterised for being a place where nothing much really happens, the crow eaters are very protective of South Australia’s capital, and true God do they love their footy.
“We are the pride of South Australia, we are the mighty Adelaide Crows”. The lyrics are so patriotic, it just makes you wish you could be a South Australian to sing the song and feel damn good about being a South Australian.
When the Crows’ faithful hear this, the well-heeled mob just wants to head up to a snug cabin in the Barossa, charge their crystal Chardonnay glasses and toast the original South Australian team in the AFL in merriment (before those cross-town ruffians the Power showed up). Also, great guitar solo in this one. Jimi Hendrix nod his head in respect.
Fun fact – the original Crows club song in 1991 actually was more about their sponsor Toyota than the club itself – dubbed “Here We Go, Camry Crows”. Players actually sung these lyrics: Gonna tread on toes. Here we go, Here we go Camry Crows. If our friends from Adelaide hadn’t smartened up in 1994 and actually gotten themselves a real club song, there is no question the original shameless advertising jingle would be dead last on this list.
3. RICHMOND TIGERS
“YELLOW AND BLACK!”
Originally from a tune called, “Row Row Row” from the 1912 season of US variety show The Ziegfeld Follies, even a non-Richmond supporter has to admit that this club song is right on the money as far as proud football songs go.
Lots of energy, easy to belt out, good rhyming throughout the song (‘grin’ ‘skin’ and ‘win’). When the Richmond faithful get up, open their mouths wide and scream “YELLOW AND BLACK” at the top of their lungs after a win, it’s something to behold. There are about 15 teeth between the whole Tigers cheer squad.
I’m still making sense of where or what “Tigerland” actually is. Is it the suburb Richmond itself? Following the decisive and swift gentrification of Richmond in the last 15-years, one could go there if they wanted to make an extra wanky Melbourne style coffee order and not get side-eyed by everyone in the café. Decaf, soy latte with an extra shot and cream with my croissant, please! Maybe it’s a mythical place with actual Tigers running around everywhere, frolicking gayly on the countryside? Is it a place entirely made up of, um, *cough* shall we say our friends in the Richmond supporter base? In any event, I’ll stay away from there. Thanks.
2. CARLTON BLUES
“WE ARE THE OLD, DARK, NAVY BLUES”
What a lazy tune (in a good way). In many ways, it’s the exact opposite of most AFL songs in energy, but that’s exactly why it works.
The horns in this song are spectacular and the whole feel of the song very much represents the “we are better than you” attitude of the Blues.
Plus, the lyrics are very on point: “We are the navy Blues, we are the old dark navy Blues” — I mean, you can’t argue with that for accuracy. Also the line “We’ll keep our ends up”, how positive!
Next time you’re at a Blues match, make sure you catch the Carlton supporters warm up the song:
Da da dat da daaaa
Da da dat da daaaa
Da da dat da daaaa
It’s very inspiring, regardless of your allegiance. You can’t say that the Carlton fans don’t rally behind this tune. Now, if they could just start winning regularly again, the Blues faithful will really have the motivation to belt out this ditty.
Regardless of your feelings toward the Carlton Football Club, Sticks Kernahan famously said it best from a Blues point of view:
I think everyone could gain something by listening to the perspicacious philosopher that is Stephen Scott Kernahan.
1. COLLINGWOOD MAGPIES
“THE PREMIERSHIPS A CAKEWALK”
“Good Old Collingwood Forever” is probably the most well-known AFL club song – opposing teams/supporters have often heard the Magpie faithful belt out this song at one point or another.
Interestingly, it’s the only song to give a nod to its supporter base “See the barrackers a shouting, like good old barrackers should”, which you would think is partly the reason why it’s so passionately sung after a win.
It’s the most complete club tune. The song was adapted from the USA army marching song “Goodbye Dolly Gray” which accounts for its infectious, driving, big band feel.
Controversially, the line of the song “Oh, the premierships a cakewalk” was changed to “oh there is just one team we favour” in the mid-1980s when Collingwood were undergoing a long premiership drought and had the propensity to choke in big finals games (known as “The Colliwobbles”). It was saving face via songwriting. However, this version never caught on among the Collingwood faithful and was reverted back to the original cakewalk version after Collingwood was victorious in the 1990 AFL Grand Final. Whatever your feelings about the Collingwood Football Club – this is a truly great football song.
Adam Manovic is a Goreng Goreng/Latji Latji man, father, producer, and host of 'The Podcast We Had To Have'. Lifelong supporter of the Old Pivotonians - he writes, tweets and podcasts about AFL, sport, pop culture and politics. Follow Adam @AdamManovic