MIIIIIIIIIII – A History Of The Wall Of Sound

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Some call it the Monk Chant, some the Wall of Sound. The simple truth however is that it is a noise without name. It is, the most basic, eerie and intimidating noise heard anywhere in football. What other club’s fans could ever muster such a thing but those of Millwall? Especially on such an establishment jolly as the FA Cup final?

Like the SE London outfit itself, the Monk Chant is unique.

Always one of the most powerful and dramatic moments in football, the Wall of Sound’s impact on the Millwall side can be immense. It’s the kind of sound that rejuvenates tired legs, that urges on ordinary players to perform deeds beyond their skills and that encourages men to dig deep when they need it most. In the modern sanitised world of sport, it is something quite without parallel. Raw and uncompromising, it requires total effort of the fans that make it, and total effort from the players to whom it is directed.

So where and when did this ominous rumble first begin?

Who knows? Like all myths and legends, its origins are lost in the mists if time. The early 70s are when I first heard its bone trembling call. Standing on the old Den’s Halfway Line, a tough culture was created by the hard bitten faces that massed under what little cover was afforded by the roof. This was a place where a jungle atmosphere prevailed. A place where, the merest hint that the visiting team’s mob were in the ground, provoked a frighteningly silent movement toward the old Dog Track End terracing. A movement that always reminded me of being that of a shark through the water. Menacing, purposeful and yet without words. If it frightened me, then God knows what it did to what little away support ever dared enter the Lion’s Den. This was terracing where I once watched a stray away supporter – of Sheffield United I think – take a kicking right in front of me. A shocking sight for a fourteen year old not used to seeing violence on that scale. The dark noise and under current of impending violence of the place created a dangerously heady mixture that, to this day, still creates a primal (there’s that word again) tingle down my neck. A feeling that makes me feel proud, ashamed and excited, all at once. Even now, thirty years later.

And with the terrace culture, came the songs. Rhythmic clapping, zigger zagger and piss taking on a grand scale. Everybody knew about the Millwall aggro. The boot-boys were all part of the experience of football in those, much more materially poorer, yet somehow richer times. In an era of original music both in the pop charts and on the terraces, every club prided itself on the wit and verve of the fans that backed them. The North Bank Highbury, the Stretford End, the Anfield Kop ? All were renowned around the world. One name however stood apart from all of the others. You guessed it? Nobody backed their team quite like the Millwall did. As others have said, one of the main reasons for the record breaking home unbeaten run in the 60s was the combination of the hostile nature of the area, the claustrophobic setting of the stadium and the intimidatory reputation of the fans.

Hand in glove with that reputation, the Monk Chant developed from the crowds gathered on the unforgiving concrete terraces of Cold Blow Lane. On dark 70s floodlit nights playing teams such as West Brom, Wolves or Manchester United, the sense of theatre was heightened by the drawing out of a variety of old time chants. The staccato opening of ‘Come-On-You ?’ was often contrasted with – and for as long as you could manage – ‘Liiiii-onnnnns’. Equally an unofficial contest was often heard as to who could manage the longest and throatiest Millll-wallll around the ground. Originally including the second syllable. One unknown gentleman behind my spot, toward the midway part of the old Halfway Line terrace, always seemed to triumph with quite the lowest, gravelliest and horrible voice I’ve ever heard on that chant. Even though I never saw his face, it was the kind of deep throat call that put a certain image in your mind. Know what I mean? And so it went on.

Devotion to the cause came to be measured by enduring the longest songs possible. Whole halves went by to Millwall sung to the tune of ‘We Are Sailing’ (interestingly not yet ‘no one likes us though’) and – it seemed always in the background – what we now call the Wall of Sound / Monk Chant. It may be my failing memory, but I’m sure that it could on occasion never quite go away for a whole 45 minutes. Especially on the big midweek games.

Into the 80s and the No One Likes Us idea became inextricably – and forever – a ‘Millwall’ thing. At the same time, the fact that nobody liked us was matched by the full flowering of the wall of sound. Whether at home or away, nobody else could match it. As time wore on, so the NOLU / Monk Chant eliminated all other songs in their wake. The club, the team and the supporters became bound together by its power.

Saturday’s second half Cup Final performance outdid any other performance, by any group of fans, at any match that I have ever heard at any match around the world. For sure the semi-final was good, but Cardiff was something special. It really was a message of defiance to the watching world. Amazing.

The mere fact that such a special club as Millwall can exist in the face of their elitist attitudes, bodes well for the health of non Premiership football in general. In essence the Wall of Sound really is Millwall defined. And in turn Millwall really is the Wall of  Sound. The two go together. A unique sound for a unique club. Long may it continue to blast its uncompromising message across an awestruck world.

This Article first appeared in 2009

republished with permission from @CBL_Magazine

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