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Swindon 1 - 3 Leyton Orient

Quite what the professional (ahem) activities of Karren Brady had to do with the anticipated proceedings of an away match in the West country remain a mystery to me even now. Nonetheless, defamatory speculations on this particular theme, resounding to the tune of the Hallelujah Chorus, comprised the central substance of the prologue to Swindon vs. Leyton Orient, which I attended, in great earnest, earlier this month.

Once the action centre stage kicked off, the accompaniment subsided into the popular and versatile refrain most famously exampled by the 1998 classic Vindaloo: "Ori-urrrgh ... Ori-urrrgh ... Ori-urgh, Ori-urgh, Ori-urrrgh ... Ori-urrrgh ... Ori-urrrgh ... Ori-urgh, Ori-urgh, Ori-urrrgh". I must confess I'm not entirely certain of the spelling.

There followed a relatively uneventful twenty minutes or so, but for some mildly rankled recitative between a polite young lady spectator who wished to be seated, and a row of youths in front of her who preferred to stand and thus obstruct her view. Reluctantly, they settled on their red fold-out chairs -- excepting one courageous young vocalist, who launched into a bold rendition of "Stand up...for the Orient...Stand up...for the Orient" (à la Petshop Boys, of course) as a last-ditch attempt to stir the entire away stand up onto their feet. But the cold, and hitherto lack of motivating spectacle, tempered the enthusiasm of the other supporters; his transpired a lonely, plaintive aria.

And then...a gooooaaal! To the opposition. A faintly disapproving hum began to emanate from certain quarters inclined to dispute the on-side status of the scoring party, but before this could crescendo...another goooooaaal! From the O's David Mooney who, according to a cheery chorus of "Walking in a Mooney Wonderland", was formerly lacking in footballing skill, "but now he's alright".

The rapidity with which the tables had turned kindled a frenzied and emotional atmosphere; anything was possible. Every trajectory and destination of the ball was narrated in melodious oooohs and aaaahs until, at the fortieth minute, oohhhhhhwhahhhaaayy!!! Moses Odubajo -- a one-man Seven Nation Army if the musical reception of his goal success is anything to go by.

The East Londoners had the lead, and were emboldened by it. "Top of the league, we're top of the league...[in spite of Mr. Boris Johnson's efforts to confound us by denying us the Olympic Stadium]...we're top of the league". In the ecstasy of the moment, they lacked consensus in their celebration -- some were volubly elated by the increasing possibilities of an end-of-season promotion, but most remained content to glory in the decreased danger of eventual demotion: "Nine points from safety ... we're only nine points from safety ... nine points from saaaafety", to the old Cuban classic 'Guantanamera', charmingly contrasted with a bit of The Gap Band "We ... are ... staying up -- say, we are staying up".

The interval followed shortly; various charitable and promotional activities transpired on the pitch, whilst the fans relieved and refreshed themselves and rested weary vocal cords. But not for long -- those instruments were soon straining to their utmost once again: Odubajo augmented Orient's lead within a minute of the second half, effecting a reprise of the medley which closed the first.

All the while the away stand chimed harmoniously jubilant, the rest of the ground was rattling discordant. The strain of tense exasperation embodied itself in a man and rushed onto the pitch -- a shocking, unforeseen dramatic twist. He threw three punches at the Orient goalie before being restrained and eventually arrested. The target of the outburst was unharmed and play eventually resumed, but the crowd had somewhat changed their tune. Guantanamera became "Town full of scumbags...", interspersed with various vulgar, Wagner-esque insinuations about the domestic arrangements of the home team's supporters.

The game trailed off; the less resilient Swindon fans departed early; the less merciful Orient fans drew loud attention to the fact with repeated renditions of "Is there a fire drill? Is there a fire drill?" as per Verdi's La donna è mobile. And soon it was all over. Orient had won, and put themselves at the top of League One. One young man had given himself a lot to answer for. I had neither frozen nor, apparently, contracted food poisoning from the football ground burger which hunger and ill-preparedness had compelled me to consume. And a good, rousing "sing" had been had by all.

After the post-match analysis and drinks I went home, went to bed, slept, woke up and went to church. "Now it's time to worship the Lord in song", the leader said -- the favoured phrase for diligently signalling that singing is not the only nor the most important form of Christian worship. But still, it does seem to play quite a central and noisy role on a Sunday morning. And many Christians, like many sports fanatics, do seem to rather enjoy an excuse to belt out a chorus or two. Reality is, singing is rather fun, and widely acknowledged to be good for you:
Singing has physical benefits because it is an aerobic activity that increases oxygenation in the blood stream and exercises major muscle groups in the upper body, even when sitting.   Singing has psychological benefits because of its normally positive effect in reducing stress levels through the action of the endocrine system which is linked to our sense of emotional well-being. Psychological benefits are also evident when people sing together as well as alone because of the increased sense of community, belonging and shared endeavour. (Professor Graham Welch, Chair of Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London)
The skeptic might argue that this is really a sizeable component of what church reduces to: a bunch of people giving themselves a sense of well-being and community by exercising their vocal cords. In Huxley's Brave New World church has been replaced with compulsory participation in a fortnightly 'community sing' -- a ritualistic, orgiastic singing ceremony carefully engineered to simulate religious ecstasy and expectation and to stimulate a sense of belonging, adherence and conformity. As if I wasn't generally uncomfortable enough in church, this parody has made me just that little bit more so, particularly when "the music group are on excellent form".

Don't get me wrong; I am not disputing music as a gift from God, a beautiful and joyous thing to be used for His glory -- "Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting". (Psalm 147:1) I love a good sing myself, especially when the words are rich and truth-filled and worth getting excited about -- something by Wesley, perhaps, or good old Graham Kendrick. But the emotional power of music in its own right, and, I guess, some negative personal experiences of seeing music used (usually inadvertently) to manipulate or to bypass rational thought, makes me anxious to emphasise the importance of loving God with our minds as well as our heart, soul and strength (cf Mark 12:30); I want my singing to flow from a life of worship and thoughtful coherence, not to become a quick-fix Sunday morning substitute for that life...
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:16-17)