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 quite 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. Before we get to that, students of Arsenal history may be aware that the 1939 film The Arsenal Stadium Mystery features a game between Arsenal and the fictional Trojans amateur team where Arsenal are leading at half time. The commentator, EVH Emmett (playing himself), says, “The score at half time is Arsenal 1, Trojans 0,” to which then-manager George Allison, sitting next to him as co-commentator, replies: “And that’s just how we like it!” (You can watch the whole film on YouTube, and the comment comes about 13 minutes in.) Some have cited this as evidence that “One-nil to the Arsenal” has been in common use that long, but that’s not really feasible. No doubt it was occasionally used in conversation, commentary and newspaper headlines, but crowds at football didn’t do a lot of synchronised chanting in those days, and by the time the film came out World War 2 had started, which cancelled competitive football until 1946. And although any game with goals is going to be 1-0 at some point, as a final result 1-0 was not particularly common in the 1930s and 1940s, when matches were often higher scoring and more one-sided due to dodgy pitches and the lack of substitutes. Besides all that, there’s the tune itself, which although based on an original arrangement from 1680, was not well-known until the 1970s.
So back to more modern times. The tune of the chant 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 Pet Shop Boys’ use of Soviet-style imagery in the video coupled with the message of the title caught the imagination of many across Europe in those times of Perestroika and the Berlin Wall falling, and it became a huge hit.
The common view amongst Arsenal fans is that it was first sung as ‘One-nil to the Arsenal’ at the European Cup Winners’ Cup 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. By all accounts 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. The PSG fans were already singing ‘Allez, Paris Saint-Germain’ to the same tune, and no doubt the stadium DJ often played it precisely because the PSG fans sang 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.
However, the second leg of the semi-final back at Highbury and the final in Copenhagen both did finish 1-0 to the Arsenal, so by the time we left Denmark it was firmly embedded in Gooner minds.
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 enough evidence in the collective consciousness of Arsenal fans to be 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 believe it or not 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, and may also have adopted it long before 1994.
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 chants 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.
I should also say that since writing this piece two commenters have expressed the view that ‘One-nil to the Arsenal’ was sung at the CWC Quarter Final home leg against Torino a few weeks earlier- see the comments below. Actual proof is obviously hard to come by. Either way, I’d be amazed if in the 15 years after the song was first released West Brom hadn’t tried several variations before we got near it. Now I don’t have hard proof that West Brom fans were singing this before 1994, so if you know any West Brom fans ask them what they think.
It’s quite possible that if the semi-final 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.
For the 340-year history (yes, 340 years!) of the tune itself rather than just Arsenal’s use of it, there’s an article here.
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28 thoughts on “Where Did The Chant 1-0 to the Arsenal Come From?”
Hi there, the 1st time i came across this ditty in 93-94 last came of the season v portsmouth at fratton park 10,000 ALBION fans in full voice sound fantastic…..COYB
I think the idea goes back a bit further. Check “The Arsenal Stadium Mystery” 1939. In the scene Arsenal V Corinthians, George Allison as a touchline pundit has the following line: “It’s one-nil to The Arsenal and that’s just the way we like it!”
Pretty good….I like that…of course it was all bollox and Arsenal usually won 4-0 in them days….:-)
What a fantastic post Phill
Well done mate, superb bit of Arsenal 7 sports history
Definitely PSG away in 94. The PSG fans were repeatedly singing ‘Allez Paris Saint Germain’ and when Wrighty scored we responded with ‘One Nil to The Arsenal’.
I started the chant in Paris.
It was me.
I think you’ll find I started it. I’m Sparticus.
We definitely sang it for the first time against PSG in the ’94 semi, but the PSG fans were signing it first and we made up our own version of whatever words they had to it. (Can’t believe it is 18 years ago…………..)
It was the Parc des Princes semi in 94. We were 1-0 up, they played the PSB tune, perhaps because the PSG (lol) fans did sing to it, but it was instantly converted to the now famous AFC version and the rest is history!
Phil – I raise you one. I first heard it sung in the steps down the North Bank after the 1-0 home win over Torino in the CWC previous round & it was then more widespread for the PSG matches.
Definitely the Torino game, shortly after the big man nodded in….
I started it at the Parc des Princes in response to the boisterous Boulogne Boys. Only seemed right as I composed the original tune for for the Pet Shop Boys some years earlier.Seriously, that was definitely the first time. The post from the Baggies fan about them singing it on the last day of the season should confirm we brought it to England.
Seriously, you say? Am I really supposed to take anything in that comment seriously?
The PSG home game was the first time it was sung across all of the stands of Highbury, but it was absolutely first sung by Gooners at the Torino home game by a minority in the North Bank. The reason I know that I’m not confusing the games is because I was at the Torino game with friends but unable to make it to the PSG game because I was at University (and had to watch it on ITV – *shudder*). Having checked with friends who were at the game with me, they seem to think it was sung after Adams’ goal; personally, I only recall it being sung on the steps out of the North Bank immediately after the game. The PSG theory is obviously the majority view because the song was first heard by the majority at that game, but it’s incorrect. All such chants tend to start off in a small pocket of supporters and then catch on. However, i’m also pretty sure that the song was being sung in Italy before it was picked up by Gooners. Phil – if you want to test my credibility on this, feel free to e-mail me!!!
Not sure how I would test your credibility, Chris! I’ve added a note to the post, but where is the evidence either way? Difficult after 18 years.
it was me started it off second leg v psg in west stand highbury at the time channel 4 used to show Italian football and fans sang to tune of go west it might have been sang at first leg in paris and it started of ” will win cause we arsenal ” then we won second leg 1 nil at gatwicke on day of final 6 in the morning every one in bar singing 1 nil to the arsenal and it lasted all day in Copenhagen as well non stop brilliant day 🙂
You say you started it ‘second leg v PSG’ then you say ‘it might have been sang at first leg in Paris’, so I am slightly confused.
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The Village people sung YMCA not The Pet Shop Boys.
First time I’ve posted here, just occurred to me:
In ‘True Grit’ Frank McLintock mentions our famous song being sung during the 70-71 Double season.
So … was that sung to a different tune? Or did the Village People borrow the tune from some predecessor of theirs (since they only formed in 1977, according to wikipedia?)
Not to stray too far off-topic but there’s a TED talk that discusses the tradition of ‘recycling’ of music, for example Bob Dylan’s songs were mostly reworkings of known folk melodies, and the well-known intro to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ is actually identical to the bridge of a song by a band (whose name escapes me) that Led Zeppelin toured with and opened for when they were still an unknown band.
Basically, there’s nothing new under the sun.
Anyway, just thought I’d add some random info to your investigation.
Thanks for your comment. I’m not aware of the Village People copying the song’s tune, and as far as I can find there’s never been a copyright dispute on it. I wasn’t aware either of McLintock’s claim and I’ve never seen it claimed elsewhere, so it’s possible his memory is playing tricks on him, or perhaps it was similar words to a different tune.
I was not at the Torino game but I stand by that it originated at the Parc de Prince. As mentioned before, the Boulogne Boys were singing the tune to “Allez, Paris St Germaine”.
Being one nil up at half time and sitting next to the giant netting that separated us from them, we began singing (and pointing) at them. The reason I believe it started here is because the vast majority of Gooners sang an embryonic version.
“One nil” (‘to the Arsenal’ was almost silent.
There were pockets of supporters also singing the second line, but it wasn’t until the return leg when Campbell scored before I took my fecking seat!!!!
“One nil, to the Arsenal” was fertilised in Paris. But was properly born after Super Kev’s goal.
I definitely remember it being born at half time in the Parc des Prince. As you originally stated they played the song at half time and we all just started singing. We continued it when back at home at Highbury. Initially we sang it to the full tune, changing the intonation with each line as the song does. This evolved to the now common same time each time.
A non Arsenal friend of mine reckons the chant originates back in the 70s, but I find that hard to believe
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