90min
Opinion

Don't Take Me Home chant perfectly summed up the euphoria of Wales' Euro 2016

Matt O'Connor-Simpson
The fans were key to Wales' success at Euro 2016
The fans were key to Wales' success at Euro 2016 / PHILIPPE HUGUEN/Getty Images
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"Don't take me home. Please don't take me home. I just don't wanna go to work. I wanna stay here and drink all your beer. Please don't please don't take me home"

Euro 2016 was a great tournament for football chants, particularly those of the English speaking variety.

Fresh off Leicester City's impossible Premier League title triumph, Jamie Vardy's Having a Party, was belted out in various French market squares.

The song that enjoyed the largest mainstream appeal was that timeless classic: Will Grigg's On Fire. Ingeniously dreamt up towards the back end of the the 2015/2016 club campaign by a Wigan Athletic fan, it was soon seized upon by chain nightclub goers across the land.

Having your drink knocked out of your hand by a boozed up bloke chanting: na na na na na na nana nana na na na na became somewhat of a rite of passage and the chant has remained a staple of every 6/10 student night in the years that have followed.

Although birthed in greater Manchester, the song was commandeered by Northern Ireland fans at the tournament. Its most famous rendition came prior to their round of 16 tie against Wales. Thousands of green shirts stood shoulder to shoulder and screeched out their unofficial anthem. It did not matter that Grigg himself could not even get off the bench in the contest, that moment was guaranteed to live long in the memory of football supporters across the globe.

Fans of their opponents that afternoon even joined in. However, Wales' tournament was characterised by another chant, Don't Take Me Home.

As with any football song, its origins are murky. Wales popularised it but some Newcastle United fans claim it was birthed during their UEFA Cup runs of the 2000s. Regardless of how it entered the Welsh army's repertoire, over the course of those few glorious weeks in France fans young and old were seduced by the song.

TOPSHOT-FBL-EURO-2016-MATCH38-WAL-NIR-FANS
Wales fans earned plenty of admirers during the competition / THOMAS SAMSON/Getty Images

To understand its instant popularity you need to appreciate Welsh football's difficult history. Despite producing some incredible players down the years - such as Ryan Giggs, Neville Southall and Ian Rush - prior to Euro 2016 they had not reached a major tournament since a side led by the mercurial John Charles competed at the 1958 World Cup.

Throughout these lean 50+ years the Welsh travelling support had to endure some horrifying lows. During the period they went within one game of qualifying for no less than eight tournaments. Therefore, when they eventually got over the line in October 2015, it was greeted as if they had won the World Cup.

They did not qualify emphatically, scoring just 11 goals in 10 matches and losing 2-0 in Bosnia-Herzegovina the night that their place in the tournament was confirmed, but the country didn't care. In fact, the hardened few who made the trip to the Balkans even belted out an early rendition Don't Take Me Home in celebration.

The folklore of the chant did not properly begin to be written until Wales' group opener against Slovakia, though. Things could not have started better with Gareth Bale whipping in a wicked free kick inside 10 minutes. For a group of players largely starved of the pressure of the top level, having their talisman produce such a moment so early on in the competition injected a seed of belief that they would nurture in a bountiful forest.

They would go on to win the Slovakia game 2-1 thanks to a last minute strike from Hal Robson-Kanu.

Ellis James was one of the fans in attendance in Bordeaux and he recently wrote in the Guardian: "A common refrain as 24,000 of us walked to the ground in Bordeaux for the first game against Slovakia was: 'I’d just like to see us score a goal. Just one. I’ll be happy after we’ve sung the anthem, but I’d just love to see a goal.' When you are from a country big enough to produce a John Charles but small enough to make him play alongside someone from the Third Division (South), being there is what counts."

This perfectly sums up why Don't Take Me Home was so beloved by Wales fans throughout the tournament. After waiting for so long, this was their moment - why on Earth would they want it to end?

The euphoria of the Slovakia victory helped them get over a last minute defeat to England in their next fixture and propelled them to a dreamlike 3-0 thrashing of Russia. This result meant Wales were through, and more important their fans weren't going home.

Gareth Bale
Bale's free kick was one of the moments of the tournament / Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Next came the battle of the super-chants against Northern Ireland in the round of 16, a game in which a Gareth McAuley own goal gave Wales a 1-0 win. This set up a meeting with Belgium, in what would be one of the greatest days in Welsh sporting history.

As if responding to their fans' plees to be permitted extra drinking time, each and every red shirt put in an extraordinary display as the Dragons recorded a famous 3-1 victory.

With that Wales' were rewarded for all of those years of hurt with a semi-final appearance against Portugal. This time it would be too much for Chris Coleman's brave charges with Don't Take Me Home revealing its versatility as a chant at full time.

Previously used a rabble raising ballad, the song took on a more solemn flavour. The thousands of supporters departing the Principality Stadium fanzone after Wales' exit was confirmed resembled a prison chain-gang. They filed out of the arena softly singing their battle cry, knowing that after the summer of the lives they would finally "have to go to work" the next day.

It did not matter, though. Wales were never supposed to get this far anyway. Euro 2016 was the perfect tonic to the decades of anguish and the cathartic joy it created was beautifully captured in the fans' go-to chant.

Like every football song, Don't Take Me Home has been lovingly ripped off hundreds of times since that tournament. However, it will never mean more than it did for the Red Army that travelled to France five years ago.


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