Every self-respecting German fan has it in their repertoire, and it is beginning to make its way worldwide. But where did the tradition of the Humba, so ubiquitous across Bundesliga grounds, come from? And just why is it so popular?

The Humba is yet another example of the famed fan-player interaction in the German game. After big victories, along with saluting the crowd and thanking them for their support, a cult hero or favourite player leads the massed ranks of replica shirts in song, usually through a microphone or loudspeaker. That song is the Humba.

Humble beginnings

It all started in the carnival town of Mainz. The song was written in 1964 by a local composer called Ernst Neger, a man who had his finger on the city’s pulse in producing a string of local ballads. He could not have ever imagined the worldwide appeal, though, of the then-humble, provincial Humba.

The simple lyrics (“Give me an H, Give me a U, Give me an M, Give me a B, Give me an A”) were adopted in the mid 1990s by fans of 1. FSV Mainz 05. The song was taken on with fervour by SV Werder Bremen, and thereafter found its way around Bundesliga grounds far and wide, with the word Humba sometimes being replaced by Uufta.

Podolski's adoption

However, the Humba’s big break beyond the Bundesliga came after it was brought to worldwide attention by another son of the Karneval, albeit Cologne’s version, Lukas Podolski. He led the Germany fans in song after his side’s UEFA European Championship quarter-final victory in 2008 over Portugal. Indeed, he and his team-mates had adopted it after their 2-1 win at Wembley in 2007. “What could be better for Mainz fans than Germany taking the Humba to Wembley?” asked Mainz President Harald Sturz in an interview with 11FREUNDE magazine.

The recent success of Bundesliga sides in European competition has brought the chant to a continental audience, and in some cases even worldwide. There were reports that development workers in some African countries had heard children assuming that the Humba was in fact the German national anthem, such was its upbeat, foot-stamping rhythm, and very German essence.

Bundesliga abroad

Spain, in particular, had its fair share of the Humba in 2013. Borussia Dortmund fans took the chant to Malaga for their UEFA Champions League quarter-final, and then to their semi-final in Madrid. FC Bayern München took their take on the tradition to Turin and Barcelona, before both sides converged on Wembley, ready to host the Humba again.

And with Germany's national team now having also adopted the Humba as its own, the tradition is set to keep expanding across the globe. Quite a journey from its humble beginnings in Mainz.