July 02, 2020
It’s been sung at Twickenham since at least the mid-60s but it’s now time to respect the spirit behind its undeniable power
Complicated history of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot needs to be taught and honoured | Andy Bull
Even back before it became a flashpoint in the culture wars, there were all sorts of stories about why, how and when the Twickenham crowd took to singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. For a long time it was supposed to have started as a spontaneous celebration of Chris Oti’s hat-trick against Ireland in 1988. Then a researcher turned up footage of fans singing it at the Middlesex Sevens in 1987, when Martin Offiah was playing for Rosslyn Park. Which fits, since his nickname was “Chariots” Offiah. In the past few weeks that seems to have become something like the official history. But the truth is not so neat.
Take this, from an article written by Ivor Turnbull published in Tatler on 26 November 1966: “One of the more agreeable vocal traditions of the West Park bar at Twickenham has disappeared as the result of the authorities’ decision to split the old 30-yards-long bar into something like a cell block. The West Bar was always the gathering place for the most determinedly cheerful supporters after a big game and it accounts for a fair proportion of the 20,000 pints that are consumed after an international.
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