The Roar
The Roar


18 footy theme songs in 18 days: #8 'When the Saints go marching in'

St Kilda players warm up during a St Kilda Saints training session at Linen House Oval in Melbourne.
Roar Pro
20th September, 2013

For me it was a very close call between this and the song that will probably make #7, so I’ve gone with the club that changed more than two or three words in the entire song.

The original was written in 1937 as a gospel tune by Virgil Oliver Stamps, with lyrics by Luther G. Presley, and soon became a jazz standard.

Such a phenomenally popular jazz standard, and receiving such relentless admiration from music-lovers, that the venerated hub of the genre at Preservation Hall in New Orleans had a sign up for decades that required “$1 for requests, $2 for unusual requests, $5 for ‘the Saints’”.

(I’ve heard that the charge for Saints has gone up at least as high as $20 since then.)

It has also had a long history of popularity with sporting clubs, with Southampton in the Premier League, and the St Lois Blues of the NHL being two of the many to take up the tune – although none so craftily alter the lyrics as St Kilda.

The AFL Saints picked up the tune around 1965, after toying briefly with an original tune entitled “We are the Saints, the red-blooded Saints” for a season.

This replaced their earlier take on “I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside”. I guess they had to ditch this last one, as one of the lines runs “although it’s not yet in the bag, we’ve got hopes of winning the flag”.

It seemed to be a good move, as they won their flag two years after dropping the old song. (You can still find a copy of it on YouTube – a 1958 recording by the Talent City Singers. Check it out. It’s jolly.)


There’s not really much else to say about the Saints one. It’s a great tune itself – that fact has been proven across the world – and by hardly touching the lyrics you’re not messing much up.

Plus it’s pretty inspiring to take a song about the apocalypse and use it to motivate football fans, isn’t it? It’s lucky they didn’t keep the other verses, otherwise on the day St Kilda win another premiership the stars will fall from the sky and the moon will run red with blood.

What I love most about the 1972 version that we all know today is that trumpet solo. Maybe it’s because a Dixieland-inspired recording perfectly suited the Dixieland-style that the song is most commonly heard it? Maybe it’s because they were worried that with so little changes the song hardly warranted re-recording so the horn section really step up.

Whatever the motivation, the end result is my favourite of the brass bridge sections from all the club tunes. It’s wild.

Get it out and crank it up again.