Everyone knows that Arsenal fans have been singing “One-Nil to the Arsenal” since George Graham made the scoreline popular when he tried to bore us to death in the latter part of his tenure as Arsenal boss. And we’ve sung it ever since, mostly ironically for a few years, but more recently sometimes actually in celebration of being ahead against Sunderland or someone similar.
But where did we get the ditty from? I contend that we ‘borrowed’ it from West Brom.
The tune is of course ‘Go West’, originally a single by the Village People in 1979 and sandwiched between their bigger hits, YMCA and In The Navy. It was revived in 1992 for some sort of charity gig by the Pet Shop Boys, who released it as a single in 1993.
The common view amongst Arsenal fans is that it was first sung as ‘One-nil to the Arsenal’ at the European Cup Winners’ Cup 1994 semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes on March 29, 1994. Ian Wright had put Arsenal 1-0 up after 35 minutes, and we went into the break with this slender lead. Some say the Pet Shop Boys version of Go West was played at half time in the stadium, causing a spontaneous thought from some Arsenal fan to use the tune. Others say that the PSG fans were singing ‘Allez, Paris Saint-Germain’ to the same tune, and that was the inspiration. Both may be true – the stadium DJ may have played it precisely because the PSG fans were prone to sing it anyway, and not just because Europeans lap up cheesy disco pop. As it happened, the beautiful David Ginola, with his flowing locks and absence of dandruff, scored an equaliser only five minutes into the second half, cutting short the Village People revival in the Arsenal section of the crowd.
Wikipedia contends that it was first sung by Arsenal fans at the final in Copenhagen; Wikipedia also contends that it is an original Arsenal chant. I don’t believe either of those is true.
There is certainly enough evidence in the collective consciousness of Arsenal fans to be fairly certain that we did sing it at that Paris semi-final. However, that doesn’t mean we invented it or that that was necessarily the first time Arsenal fans used it. Don’t forget the song had been around for 15 years by then, and football fans are always looking for new things to sing – particularly in those days of terraces, when you had to turn up early to get a good place and thus often spent an hour singing before the match had even started.And there’s one club that Go West is perfect for: West Bromwich Albion. You can make a chant of ‘Go West (pause) Bromwich Albion’ and it fits perfectly with the tune and rhythm. I believe West Brom fans were doing this long before the Pet Shop Boys decided to do their cover version. West Brom fans of course refer to their club as ‘The Albion’, and it’s only a short step from the original chant to ‘One-nil to the Albion’, or even, if they were lucky, two-nil, three-nil or four-nil. In fact any score below seven scans perfectly well. Brighton fans – another club known to its supporters as ‘the Albion’ – also use it, but I’ve no idea when they adopted it.
So I contend that some Arsenal fans had heard the West Brom version, possibly the Brighton version too (or instead), probably long before 1994, but definitely at some point before that Paris semi-final. Hearing the song on the tannoy and/or the tune from the PSG fans, coupled with the apposite scoreline meant that someone in the Arsenal end put two and two together – or one and nil in this case – and the Arsenal version was sung loud and proud.
It’s quite possible that if the second leg and the final had not finished one-nil to the Arsenal, that we’d all have forgotten about this particular song and moved on. But they did, and the scoreline seemed to become ever more common as George Graham began fielding almost a full team of centre-backs plus Ian Wright, so we got a fairly steady stream of reminders.
Now I don’t have hard proof that West Brom fans were singing this before 1994, but when time travel is invented it will be one of the first things I check. Unless of course someone can come up with proof to save me the trouble. So if you know any West Brom fans ask them what they think.
I wonder if anyone will have the cheek to come along and say that they were the person who started the chant in Paris, and it was of course all their idea.
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Next time: what the hell does ‘Ooh to, ooh to be, ooh to be a – goonah!’ mean?
Note: 21 October – Since writing the above, two commenters have expressed the view that ‘One-nil to the Arsenal’ was sung at the CWC Quarter Final home leg against Torino. Actual proof is obviously hard to come by. Either way, I’d be amazed if in the 15 years after the song was released West Brom hadn’t tried several variations before we got near it.