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Why do the English Sing Swing Low

May 15, 2020 1 min read

Sweet Chariot

How did an African American spiritual song, written by a slave called Wallace Wallis in the mid 19th Century become the most recognized rugby anthem in the world?

As an Englishman living in the Deep South I have been asked this question a thousand times. My answers have varied over the years. Now, thanks to the curator of London World Rugby Museum, we have a definitive answer.

Martin Nwokocha Offiah was given the nickname Chariots by the Chairman of his club, Rosslyn Park because he was very fast. It was a simple play of words with the 1981 David Lean movie Chariots of Fire, which is about two sprinters racing in the 1924 Paris Olympics. Offiah's surname sounded similar to "of fire" when said by many commentators and so it stuck, the song stuck. 

Phil McGowan, curator of the World Rugby Museum in London has found archive footage of the song being sung by Rosslyn Park fans and then by many in the crowd at the Middlesex 7s at Twickenham in 1987 when the mighty cross code champion Martin "Chariots" Offiah played.