“Who are ya?” seems a popular chant or taunt with English football fans, both on and off the stands. Is it a fair assessment that it means to diminish the opposition as unknown and insignificant?

What are the guidelines to its usage? I understand why it is being chanted when the opposition is announced before the match, but I’ve also heard it being used when someone on the opposing team stumbles, or makes egregious error, or otherwise fails conspicuously. Is there specific reason for this, or it was somehow adopted just because it is neat chant? Can it be used against officials? Can it be used against unpopular management (e.g. if the coach or club president present at the game is announced) or players (that had angered the supporters’ community) of own club?

Where did it come from? Is it used by football fans only, widely used across different sports, or it varies? Was this used somewhere outside of football/sport context? Is there any date to its origination or when it started to be used profusely?

  • I'd not suggest anybody offer guidelines to chanting football fans. "I say, isn't it out of bounds to worry the refer---" splorch
    – MetaEd
    Jun 27, 2013 at 4:06
  • @MετάEd, who are ya?!
    – theUg
    Jun 27, 2013 at 5:08
  • 1
    Strangely enough, the same expression in modern Greek is used to signify respect or that someone has impressed you. You lifted the car? Wow, who are you? Anyway, according to this it seems to have come into use just before or during the 2nd world war.
    – terdon
    Jun 27, 2013 at 19:19
  • @terdon Have a look at the references in the Ngram - most are erroneous OCR scans of "who are vagrants".
    – Greybeard
    Feb 5 at 16:56
  • @Greybeard that seems to be the case for a few of the very few matches found before the 40s, which were not relevant to the point I made in 2013 about the phrase becoming more popular after the second world war.
    – terdon
    Feb 5 at 17:00

2 Answers 2


Oh no, this one is much older. The phrase "who are you" used in an insulting or demeaning manner can be found in Charles Mackay's 'Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds' (published between 1841/1852). In particular in a chapter on 'Popular Follies of Great Cities' he details popular phrases in London that were shouted by the mob (ie the lower orders) in the street and at any and all occassion to great hilarity ( of the mob, not the person shouted at). Dated examples included "quoz" , "what a shocking bad hat" and " Hookey Walker", and a couple that stand out as still in use (at least in some situations) : "does your mother know you're out" and "who are you" ( which when pronounced with a cockney accent becomes Oo are ya!). Of who are you "every alley resounded with it, every highway was musical with it" ..... "Every newcomer into an alehouse tap-room was asked unceremoniously, "who are you?" And if he looked foolish, scratched his head and did not know what to reply, shouts of boisterous merriment resounded on every side".

Well I speculate that the phrase was preserved in unseemly drinking establishments and places where the London mob held sway, since at least the first half of the 19th century.

  • Also often found in variants like "who the fuck are you?" which emphasises inconsequentiality.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 5 at 17:02

"Who are ya?" is a rhetorical question asking the other, lowly team to justify their presence at a match or level they don't deserve to play at. It's a mark of lack of repect to the other team. Yes, it's a fair assessment that it means to diminish the opposition as unknown and insignificant.

The top Urban Dictionary definition gives guidance on usage:

who are you?

A rhetorical question, generally in the form of an insulting chant, accompanied by finger-pointing; meant as abuse to a single person or team performing in front of a crowd, by indicating that they are unknown and insignificant.

Abuse is aimed at two groups:
1) An unknown competitor, whose relative anonymity is highlighted even further.
2) Paradoxically, a well-known competitor whose high credibility and status is undermined in an act of defiance by pretending to regard the competitor as unknown or insignificant.

Abuse is aimed in two ways:
1) When the competitor is announced.
2) When the competitor is performing badly.

The phrase is often used in sport, particularly at football matches in the UK.

"Who are you?" is usually pronounced "Who are ya?!", with emphasis on the word "are".

1) Liverpool (big football club) v Grimsby (small football club):

Announcer : "On to the pitch comes...Grimsby"
Liverpool fans : "Who are ya?! Who are ya?! Who are ya?!..."

2) Leyton Orient (small football club) v Chelsea (big football club)

The Chelsea player, Didier Drogba, misses a clear chance of scoring a goal and falls over badly, clutching his knee in agony.

Leyton Orient fans : "Who are ya?! Who are ya?! Who are ya?!..."

by JezGex Nov 16, 2007

It dates to at least the 1990s, as documented in rec.sports.soccer in 1995 and 1996.

  • I was aware of the UD definition, and I know it garnered fair share of votes, but I wanted some confirmation from more reliable sources to corroborate, because some stuff that appears there at times is nothing short of abominable.
    – theUg
    Jun 27, 2013 at 13:59
  • @theUg In such cases, you must include the sources you already referred to so as to avoid answerers redoing the work for you. See previous questions for an idea.
    – Kris
    Jun 27, 2013 at 14:44
  • 1
    I remember the old days, when 'Leyton Orient, Leyton Orient, are you City in disguise?' (etc) was the inspired put-down chanted at Old Trafford. It left United fans wide open, though; Liverpool fans, watching their team winning at Old Trafford, came up with 'Man United, Man United, , are you City in disguise?' //// It just doesn't work nowadays. Feb 5 at 15:52

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