Not to be confused with Billy Boy.
"Billy Boys", also titled "The Billy Boys", is a loyalist song from Glasgow, sung to the tune of "Marching Through Georgia." It originated in the 1930s as the signature song of one of the Glasgow razor gangs led by Billy Fullerton and later became viewed to reflect the long running sectarian divide in the city. It is associated in particular with Rangers football club.
"Billy Boys" originated in the 1920s as the signature tune of the Brigton Boys, also called The Billy Boys of Brigton Cross, who were a Protestant street gang in Glasgow led by Billy Fullerton. The gang often clashed with Catholic gangs such as the Norman Conks. Fullerton was a former member of the British Fascists, and was awarded a medal for strike-breaking during the 1926 General Strike. The song's geographic roots relate to Bridgeton Cross in Bridgeton, an area of Glasgow historically associated with the city's Protestant population, and with Scottish unionism. Brigton is the Scots form of Bridgeton. The "Billy Boys" song was often sung loudly when the gang performed it. They regularly sang it when they marched through primarily Catholic areas of Glasgow on Catholic holy days. This often led to the Brigton Boys being attacked by members of the Norman Conks as a result. Despite being primarily based in Glasgow, in the 1930s the Brigton Boys were invited to march in Belfast and sang "Billy Boys" while they were there as part of The Twelfth celebrations.
The Brigton Boys and their youth wing, the Derry Boys, started to attend football matches in the late '20s and early '30s. During this time, they attended Rangers matches and Rangers fans started to sing the "Billy Boys" song as part of a perceived affiliation with the Brigton Boys. Despite Percy Stillton, the Chief Constable of Glasgow, eradicating the razor gangs in Glasgow and most young Protestants joining the Orange Order instead of the remaining gangs, Rangers fans still sang the "Billy Boys" in tribute to Fullerton as he still remained a visible presence in Glasgow's Protestant community after the gangs had disbanded. The Orange Order then adopted the "Billy Boys" song and changed the lyrics to be played on Orange walks with the references to Billy being altered to refer to King William III of England, Scotland and Ireland when played by the Orange Order.
Even after Fullerton's death, Rangers fans continued to sing "Billy Boys" to commemorate Fullerton and the Brigton Boys. In later years the song became considered sectarian against Catholics, despite it was initially created as a song against Irish republicanism. In 1999, the Scotland national football team manager Craig Brown was filmed singing "Billy Boys" and faced calls to step down from his position in charge of the Scotland national football team. However the Scottish Football Association gave him their backing.
The song was at the centre of a controversy surrounding "ninety-minute bigots", an expression allegedly coined by former Rangers chairman Sir David Murray: "Ninety-minute Bigots do not hold beliefs but nonetheless sing songs at football matches which are sectarian, simply to join in with the rest of the crowd." Rangers have adopted several measures to tackle this behaviour including attempts to bring older Rangers songs back into popular use, with Murray speaking out against the singing of the "Billy Boys" on many occasions. In 2006, Rangers were charged by UEFA for discriminatory chanting over the singing of "Billy Boys" during a UEFA Champions League game against Villarreal. Rangers were found not guilty due to "Billy Boys" having been sung for years without the Scottish Football Association or the Scottish government intervening against it and ruled that it was tolerated as a social and historic song. However after an appeal where they were warned, the Rangers were ordered by UEFA to make a public announcement at all home games, prohibiting the singing of the song despite UEFA admitting they were unable to do anything about it because it was a Scottish social issue. In 2011, "Billy Boys" was included in a list of chants that had been banned from Scottish football grounds as part of new legislation from the Scottish government. It was specifically banned because of the "Up to our knees in Fenian blood" line in it. It was banned because it was decided by the Scottish government that "Fenian" in the context of the song meant Roman Catholics and was sectarian despite Rangers fans stating that it meant Irish republicans or fans of their Old Firm rivals, Celtic.
Despite the ban, "Billy Boys" has still been sung at Rangers matches, including their match against Queen's Park at Hampden Park. It is sometimes sung without the "Fenian" line but has also been sung in its original form since 2006. Other Scottish football clubs, among them Heart of Midlothian and Kilmarnock, use versions of "Billy Boys" adapted to support their own clubs.
The "Billy Boys" song has also been used in Northern Ireland, which may have arisen as a result of the Brigton Boys' march in Belfast. It is often used by supporters of Belfast club Linfield due to historic links with Rangers as "Blues Brothers". The song was sung in 2013 by supporters of the Northern Ireland national football team during their match against Luxembourg at Stade Josy Barthel in protest against the Northern Irish national anthem, God Save the Queen not being played at the Irish Cup final. In April 2014, the Irish Football Association introduced punishments for "any ... song or chant that is undeniably sectarian or offensive". Linfield advised their supporters that this included all variations of "Billy Boys" including the "Marching Through Georgia" tune. The Irish Football Association based their decision on the precedent from the UEFA decision regarding "Billy Boys" and Rangers in 2006. However, there was doubt expressed by fans as to how they would enforce the ban on the "Marching Through Georgia" tune if it was used in a song other than "Billy Boys".
We are the Billy Boys
You'll know us by our noise
We're up to our knees in Fenian blood
Surrender or you'll die
For we are
The Brigton Derry Boys
An alternative Rangers specific version was later written.
We are the Rangers Boys
You'll know us by our noise
We'll give anything to see our team
At Ibrox or away
For we are
The Glasgow Rangers Boys