Is there an equivalent in English or American sports culture of the sarcastic song that originated among Italian football supporters, that they sing to the losing opposition team? It's like this:

[Milanista/Interista] non ti preoccupare, l'importante è partecipare

which can be roughly translated to:

Don't worry, the important thing is to participate

Any ideas?

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    @BillFranke I think the point is that said Italian supporters don't have that attitude either, so they're stating it sarcastically. – Jon Hanna Jan 31 '13 at 14:57
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    Yes, they are definitely stating it sarcastically. – 719016 Jan 31 '13 at 15:02
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    @Jon: I understand mockery & sarcasm quite well, thank you. My point was that mockery & sarcasm are too intellectually high level for most US sports fans. In a nation so obsessed with winning that coaches pay players to disable star players on other teams just to win a game, the culture has already receded to the level of the Romans cheering for the starving lions mauling & killing the hapless Xians in the Colosseum. But this is true of all "sports enthusiasts" [snort]. – user21497 Jan 31 '13 at 23:50
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    @BillFranke - I also am a SF Giants fan living in Los Angeles, and that incident is one reason I don't go to games anymore (besides the fact that the Giants always seem to lose when I'm watching). However, as horrible as that and the "bounty" system are, we have not (so far as I'm aware) had anything like Heysel Stadium or Hillsborough. I'm not trying to justify the American approach to sport, but I don't think you can fairly say that we're more unhealthily obsessed with winning than any other sporting nation. Intense competition + big money = bad behavior, worldwide. – MT_Head Feb 5 '13 at 19:02
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    @theUg: As a European, I must object. From what I have heard, hooliganism is far worse in Europe than in America. In addition, game-fixing schemes are HUGE here. Everything is corrupt through and through. All FIFA "officials" have been bribed. It is on the news regularly. And just a week ago, a huge fixing scheme was uncovered by Europol or Interpol, involving sports "officials", players, referees, thousands of people all over Europe. It stinks. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Feb 11 '13 at 21:49

11 Answers 11


It's targeted at an single player, rather than the team, but British terraces often ring out with...

Why was he born so beautiful?
Why was he born at all?
He’s no fucking use to anyone
He’s no fucking use at all.

...which as this link indicates, was sufficiently well-known to be referenced by an MP back in 1928. It's particularly likely if a player misses an easy shot at goal - in the case of a penalty, sometimes with supporters on both sides laying in to the hapless player who missed.

Obviously it's easily adapted to the pluralised Why Were They Born So Beautiful?, so that's not uncommon either.

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    Rhyming "at all" with "at all"- genius! – Urbycoz Jan 31 '13 at 14:13
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    @Urbycoz: Perhaps that's why it's survived so long - not too difficult to remember the words! – FumbleFingers Jan 31 '13 at 14:16

In the US, it's fairly common to hear Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye played on the loudspeakers or chanted at the losing team. The US sports culture has less singing in general than the Europeans, though - so it's not like it's ubiquitous.


I don't know of any chant that makes that particular barbed reference to the "winning isn't everything" idea.

However, the general practice of sarcastic chants is very well known throughout Britain and Ireland.

"You're not singing any more!" for example remarks on the lack of more positive singing and chanting that will happen when your team is doing badly, and you've given up hope".

Some target particular players of another team, or even of your own team if you aren't happy with them, e.g. "He's bald! He's shit! He gets a game when no-one's fit! Pascal Cygan, Pascal Cygan!"

Some such can be repurposed easily. While a particular goal-keeper was the first target of:

Who ate all the pies?

Who ate all the pies?

You fat bastard,

You fat bastard,

You ate all the pies!

It can work for anyone whose fitness is waning.

Of course the players and supporters aren't the only target:

Who's your father, who's your father?

Who's your father, referee?

You don't have one,

'cos you're a bastard,

You're a bastard, referee!

In the days when terrace violence was more common, some would make outright threats like "You're going home in a bleedin' ambulance" or turning Liverpool's anthem "You'll never walk alone" into "You'll never walk again". (Targeting such threats specifically against Liverpool became something even many football hooligans considered beyond the pale after the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 fans died, and violence among fans generally declined since then).

Many others I won't quote, for being extremely racist or homophobic, related to incidents where individual players where accused of rape or sexual assault, had some sort of relationship with people involved in organised crime, were dating a celebrity, had had an affair with a celebrity, had broken up with a celebrity, had been diagnosed as scizophrenic, had been diagnosed with cancer, and otherwise just aren't very nice.

But the one I can think of that best matches yours sarcastically offering a pleasantry, is a variant on "you're not singing anymore" that sarcastically offers to do so for them. Simply:

Shall we sing,

Shall we sing,

Shall we sing a song for you?

  • It should be noted that "Athenry's in Galway!" relates to a sometimes fatally violent "ethno-political conflict in Northern Ireland". So may be offensive to some. – donothingsuccessfully Jan 31 '13 at 19:48
  • @donothingsuccessfully well strictly as something set in 1840s Connacht, the song is not about the Troubles. The singing of it in at Scottish soccer matches is often related to attitudes about the Troubles, in which the chanted reply is hence a refutation of their making such a link. The singing of it at Irish rugby matches is more to do with it being a that it's a popular Irish song (if impassioned with a degree of nationalist zeal) in which the chant is more to do with some regions having a stronger claim than others. Either way, Pete St. John, the writer, hates its sport event popularity. – Jon Hanna Jan 31 '13 at 23:57
  • Fair enough, I didn't know about the Irish rugby context and in fact just surmised it was a sectarian chant. In the west of Scotland "Athenry's in Galway" would be read as sharing a similar sentiment as "the famine's over, go home". Given that, I felt that part of your comment needed more of a "potentially offensive" warning. – donothingsuccessfully Feb 1 '13 at 6:20
  • @donothingsuccessfully I'd have heard it in the other context more often (and not being into sport I'd only know of any of these second hand, though they certainly can stick on the mind), but having grown up in the North I'm all too aware of the references many chants in Scottish football make to the political situation there. So I'm cutting that piece as having a sectarian interpretation that puts it in the same category of the homophobic and racist chants I deliberately left out as too offensive even for a post about insults. – Jon Hanna Feb 1 '13 at 9:37
  • I'm sorry that I managed to find the worst possible interpretation of your example. I've lived too long in Glasgow. – donothingsuccessfully Feb 1 '13 at 17:51

There really isn't anything in America that is so mocking a put-down of the other team. There are some obvious taunts such as the one Marcus pointed out, but normally the chants are of the "We are good" (see "We are the champions" by Queen) rather than the "You are bad" variety.


There's an English (or at least Am.E) saying:

It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game.

It's not meant to be sarcastic, but rather to emphasize good sportsmanship, dedication, and effort. You could say it sarcastically to the losing side and they'd probably get your meaning. Be careful, though: most people would think you to be a very ungracious winner if you said that.


The best way to hear this sort of thing in US sports is to attend a college basketball or football game and sit where you can see and hear the band. The musicians are not allowed to perform during actual play, so they divert their creativity into ensemble taunts, usually entertaining and occasionally witty, of a character forbidden to the official cheerleaders.

  • Are there any particular examples of lyrics that you can give? – Mitch Jan 31 '13 at 14:21
  • @Mitch I can't recall any offhand ... I'll write my son. – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 31 '13 at 14:23
  • These tend to vary wildly from school to school as well. – Marcus_33 Jan 31 '13 at 14:39

I believe the origin of the song lies in the unofficial Olympic motto “The most important thing is not to win but to take part!” (which would be translated in Italian as “L’importante non è vincere, ma partecipare”, according to Wikipedia). That motto originated in 1908 when American Bishop of Pennsylvania giving sermon in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral related, incidentally, to an Italian marathon runner Pietri Dorando who was first to cross the finish line, but did not win.

The effort took its toll and with only two kilometres to go, Pietri began to feel the effects of extreme fatigue and dehydration. When he entered the stadium, he took the wrong path and when umpires redirected him, he fell down for the first time. He got up with their help, in front of 75,000 spectators.

He fell four more times, and each time the umpires helped him up. In the end, though totally exhausted, he managed to finish the race in first place. Of his total time of 2h 54min 46s, ten minutes were needed for that last 350 metres.

The runner who came in second, Jonny Hayes (ironically, American), lodged a complaint about the help that Dorado received on the finish line for which latter was disqualified. And so the pastor referred to Dorando as he did to emphasise that it is the effort invested by an athlete that matters most. But who knows, mayhaps he, being American, already then gloated over poor Italian’s misfortune.

Regardless of the intent of the good pastor, Dorando’s fame proved much more lasting than that of Hayes’ (American also subsequently lost two special races against Pietri organized in the wake of this event). Arthur Conan Doyle was right when he proclaimed on the pages of Daily Mail:

The Italian’s great performance can never be effaced from our record of sport, be the decision of the judges what it may.

The sentiment used by the bishop survives to this day. And while I cannot answer specific question about any sort of supporters’ chant, this phrase is used, often sarcastically, by fans and sport reporters the world over.


Though I've never heard it chanted, there's an oft-used English (British English?) idiom used by participants and spectators of any sport. It is used self-mockingly by those who have lost at a game and as a withering put-down by those who have just witnessed or heard of someone losing:

It's the taking part that counts.

What makes it particularly withering is that it's often used on children to let them know that winning isn't everything. It's therefore a patronising barb to inflict on any self-aware adult, especially in polite company.

English football chants can often be funny and often offensive (sometimes, hopefully, both) and I can imagine this line being used but I've never heard it actually sung. Perhaps it's not original or rhythmic enough. Nonetheless, it's nice to see an Italian equivalent and to be aware of some Peninsular sarcasm!


An equivalent American expression is, "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game that counts." So it's like telling your child, "Don't worry about winning or losing. Just go out and play ball" (for the fun or exercise). Not bad advice.


The closest jeering chant I can think of applies to baseball, not football, and I first heard it in the movie Rookie of the Year in 1993.

To tease and distract the other team's pitcher, a main character sings

Pitcher's got a big butt, pitcher's got a big butt!

over and over in a taunting, singsong voice.

TVTropes calls this a "Losing Horn," a term that includes quite a variety of musical responses to a losing team. While this tune does not give rhetoric as solid as the OP's Italian, it's the closest American example.


Singing at American sports events is relatively rare. Yes, we "sing" the Star Spangled Banner when there is not a soloist performing it for us. During the seventh-inning stretch in professional baseball, fans will sometimes sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Beyond those two songs (and perhaps the sing/chant "Here we go, Steelers, here we go," or something similar for fans of a different team), we don't generally sing, let alone sing songs with an ironic or sarcastic edge to them.

I for one would not object if several famous quotations were to be made into sarcastic songs. First, there's the famous quotation, attributed variously to coaches Henry Russell Sanders and Vince Lombardi: "Winning isn't everything. Men, it's the only thing!" (or simply "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing"). Second is Pierre de Coubertin's quotation (he was the founder of the modern Olympics): "The most important thing . . . is not winning but taking part (in the Games)." While not a quotation, there is a third saying/aphorism common in America: "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game." Now that could be crafted into a sarcastic song! Perhaps we could just adapt the words to the tune of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

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