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.
It all started in the carnival town of Mainz - and where else could such a jolly ditty have sprung from? 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.
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.
Indeed, 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 presuming that the Humba was in fact the German national anthem, such was its upbeat, foot-stamping rhythm, and very German essence.
Spain, in particular, had its fair share of the Humba last season. 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.
With its worldwide popularity, on the strength of the Bundesliga, and its adoption by die Nationalmannschaft, the modest Humba, brought into being for a local carnival and adopted by Mainz fans to serenade their heroes, could perhaps make its debut on the biggest stage of all next summer. And maybe, just maybe, its unforgettable strains will be heard in Rio de Janeiro, the ultimate carnival capital, on July 13th 2014 after the World Cup final. That will have been quite a journey.