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Hymn to the game - our day at Wembley

Myself, Rob, Adam and Harry from the "Footy to Verdi' film will be joining 21 other singers from diverse backgrounds to lead the singing of Abide with Me at the Emirates FA Cup Final on 27th May. The choir has been put together by tenor Sean Ruane's  CHANT Productions on behalf of The FA

Collective singing is something we have all done at one time or another in our lives: at school, church, weddings, funerals, during the national anthem and, of course, at football matches.

Hymns have a special place in the hearts of any nation, perhaps because of religion or just national pride. How many of us name 'Jerusalem' as their school hymn? Indeed, so prevalent is that piece in our society, so all encompassing is it's role as the country's favourite,  I even know a Scottish church in London where it is permitted to be sung at weddings.

Sport and singing are intertwined and have been for many years. Football and rugby fans know this better than most,  and even the most self-effacing singer will belt out a hymn from the terrace because there is something noble and uplifting about the sentiments of many hymns: the glory, the sacrifice. Sports fans are melodramatic souls at heart and we are never afraid to express it vocally in the arenas we occupy, although we wouldn't be found doing it solo to an audience.

It is, of course, my job to encourage people to enjoy singing, mainly as audience members, but I was a keen chorister at school and whilst I don't do it often, when the chance appears I tend to take it. My children used to be horrified at my lusty roar from the back of their Christmas Carol concerts when the congregation were invited to join in. Now, however, as me and my pals from the  Footy to Verdi film face the prospect of singing Abide With Me in front of 90,000 people at Wembley at the Emirates FA Cup Final - and a few hundred millions more on worldwide television - my love of singing will be tested this is no time for reservation or timidity. Furthermore, this is 'Abide with me' the hymn to faith, death and sacrifice that has been the FA Cup hymn for about 90 years. And I, along with 23 others  will lead the nation in its delivery on Cup Final day. The hymn, which does have funereal overtones and thus may be considered an odd choice for the occasion, was nevertheless first introduced as part of a campaign to encourage community singing, so in that respect, its enduring presence at the Cup Final remains apposite.

Now, I can hold a tune, I will be honest, and beyond the mind-boggling audience numbers, two verses of Abide with Me is no huge vocal challenge. Yet I am an amateur and because of my job, frequently find myself singing at events or carol concerts standing next to people who belt out Puccini in opera houses (imagine taking your shirt off next to a young Arnold Schwarzenegger and you get the idea of how that feels). The real purpose of accepting this invitation from Chant Productions to participate in something few - if any - of us have ever done before is to reinforce the belief that singing  is one of life's great, cathartic experiences, one that enriches and fulfils us in ways we hardly realise is possible until we have done it. And as I have been telling Adam, Rob and Harry, it will be an experience we are unlikely to be given  a repeat chance of having. I imagine you think that the 'experience' will be found in the act of standing on Wembley's hallowed turf, or the fact it will be on television etc. Well, I am sure that will bring a thrill too, but I think the real memories will be of how it sounds – and feels -  to be at the centre of 90,000 voices singing a glorious hymn that has found a place in the hearts of a nation. 

The music will be what I remember, the collective experience of the musical roar of those thousands of people, not the urgings and howling of a football crowd in thrall to the match, but one that is in unison, note for note, beat for beat. Hymns are religious, but often their sentiment, whether you have faith or not, is what moves us, and few hymns offer the supplicant admissions of weakness and need, the pleading and humility  of Abide with Me. We can all find relevance in its words, even in a football context and sport evokes the kind of emotional wringing-out we experience when we hear great music. The two belong together. And I, along with my fellow choristers, will be belting it out full tilt when the time comes.


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