Why do Bristol Rovers sing Goodnight Irene?

There are different accounts as to how the song became the fans’ favourite at the Old Eastvile Stadium. The only idea everyone seems to agree with is that it all started out in the 1950s, a decade before “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was ever heard at Anfield and 30 years before “Blue Moon” began by Manchester City fans.

One match day in November 1950, the Plymouth Argyle team arrived at the Eastvile Stadium in style-they had an accordion player, and his work was to belt out songs from the sidelines before the game started. Among the songs played that day was Goodnight Irene by Huddie William Ledbetter, who went by the moniker Lead Belly.

Argyle drew the first blood in the first half of the match, and their fans sang out the song to taunt the home crowd. In a crazy spell that lasted all of 8 minutes in the second half, The Gas scored three goals, prompting Gasheads to shoot down the Argyle fans with their own creation, ‘Goodnight Argyle’.

In an FA quarter-final against Newcastle, Joe Stafford’s rendition reverberated around the stadium, with the rival fans even joining in for good measure. The popularity of the Goodnight Irene theme surged on among Gasheads, which was quickly taken up as the club’s anthem. The rest, as they say, is history.

Lead Belly died in 1949. A year later, an American band by the name ‘The Weavers’ recorded their own version of the song, which went on to chart at number one on the billboard best-seller list. The song would stay up there for 25 weeks.

In The Weaver’s version, some parts of the original song had been left out, but the structure remained essentially the same. Time magazine said that this version was ‘prettied up’ and ‘dehydrated’.

The second recording went on to garner a lot of critical acclaim and commercial success, spawning dozens of splinter versions. Post-1950, different renditions were recorded by musicians such as Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra and Little Richard.

The specific origins of “Irene” are unclear. Lead Belly was singing a version of the song from as early as 1908, which he claimed to have learned from his uncles Terell and Bob. An 1886 song by Gussie L. Davis has several lyrical and structural similarities to the latter song; however, no information on its melody has survived. Some evidence suggests the 1886 song was itself based on an even earlier song which has not survived. Regardless of where he first heard it, by the 1930s Lead Belly had made the song his own, modifying the rhythm and rewriting most of the verses.

Asked your mother for you
She told me that you was too young
I wish, dear Lord, that I’d never seen your face
I’m sorry you ever was born.

Irene good night Irene good night
Good night Irene Good night Irene
I’ll get you in my dreams

Sometimes I live in the country,
Sometimes I live in town.
Sometimes I haves a great notion
To jump into the river and drown.

Irene good night Irene good night
Good night Irene Good night Irene
I’ll get you in my dreams

Stop ramblin’ and stop gamblin’
Quit staying out late at night
Go home to your wife and your family
Stay down by the fireside bright

Irene good night Irene good night
Good night Irene Good night Irene
I’ll get you in my dreams

I loves Irene, God knows I do
Love her till the sea runs dry
If Irene turns her back on me
I’m gonna take morphine and die