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Page last updated at 08:33 GMT, Wednesday, 16 June 2010 09:33 UK

Who invented the Mexican Wave?

Fans do the wave in the Ghana-Serbia match
There has already been waving at the World Cup

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News

The World Cup has seen its fair share of Mexican Waves, but where did this crowd phenomenon start and how do you actually start one?

Perhaps the strangest thing about sitting in a stadium with a 90,000 capacity is how a crowd the equivalent of a small city can occasionally act in unison.

The Mexican Wave is one such occasion. You look to your right and see the wave approaching, accompanied by a crescendo. When it hits you, you jump up and throw your hands in the air, making whatever noise you feel apposite.

You have taken your part in the wave, and so it continues.

UK: Mexican Wave
US: The Wave
Mexico: La Ola

The only variation in the routine is if the wave hits some sort of VIP box, and breaks down as the dignitaries refuse to take part. Booing usually follows and the wave may restart on the far side of the VIPs.

This pattern is repeated in stadiums for different sports across the world.

But where did this pattern start?

Mainstream outing

The first thing is that there is a dearth of evidence that the Mexican Wave originated in Mexico. There is indeed far more evidence that it started in the United States, where it is simply known as The Wave.

Chelsy Davy, Prince Harry and Prince William
Some VIPs do keep the wave going

Digging into wave history, the names of two claimants come up again and again.

The first is a professional cheerleader "Krazy" George Henderson, who says he gave the wave its first mainstream outing on 15 October 1981 at a major league baseball clash between the Oakland A's and the New York Yankees.

"The Oakland A's had already lost two games away. In the third inning I thought I would try this thing that no-one had seen before. I found three sections and started explaining what I wanted."

When the first couple of wave attempts broke down, Krazy George encouraged the most enthusiastic sections of the crowd to engage in a chorus of boos.

By the third attempt the wave had gone around the whole stadium, by the fourth he had managed a continuous wave.

"The place was going nuts," Krazy George notes.

Rival claimant

The other main claimant is Robb Weller, who led the wave at the University of Washington's Husky Stadium in Seattle on 31 October 1981.

That that was two weeks after Krazy George's debut does not stop the claim.

Minimum of 25 needed to start wave
Clockwise in northern hemisphere
May be counter-clockwise in southern hemisphere
Speed of wave = reaction time of 0.1 second x seat width
Source: Tamas Vicsek

"Robb Weller had returned that day and was reprising what he had done as cheerleader here [much earlier]," explains Jeff Bechthold, director of athletic communications at the University of Washington.

How does Krazy George take the suggestion that it wasn't he who started the wave?

"I was doing it in smaller venues before [1981]," he says. "I had already done it in high school games and minor league hockey games."

There are other claimants. Suggestions it started in Mexico in the 1960s, in Canada during the 1970s or at the Indy 500 road race in 1973. The latter claim, at least, can be disproved.

Donald Davidson, historian of the Indy 500, was there and would have remembered it.

Jumping trigger

What is not in dispute is that it got a large measure of publicity at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics before really taking off at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico and thus being cemented in football fans' minds as the Mexican Wave.

Krazy George
This man claims to be its inventor

The wave has even been the subject of a scientific study. In 2002 when Tamas Vicsek, at the Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary, led a group of wave researchers.

He noticed two things about what might seem to some to be an example of simultaneous crowd spontaneity. The first is that it can be triggered by as few as 25 people acting in concert.

"This is provided by people who try to trigger the wave, they know each other and they synchronise their jumping up," he says.

"We noted if the game is too exciting on its own, and they are watching the game a lot, then there would be no wave usually. It has to be initiated, it never spontaneously occurs."

The second point is that the waves, in the northern hemisphere at least, go clockwise.

Road theory

Author Gavin Pretor-Pinney, author of The Wavewatcher's Companion, is currently running an experiment to attempt to prove the assertion that in the southern hemisphere they go counter-clockwise.

He's not totally sure what the reason could be.

Fans at the MCG
Australian cricket tried to ban waves due to the throwing of liquids

"It might be something to do with the side of the road people drive on."

But it doesn't need a scientist to realise that the Mexican Wave is done to relieve boredom.

If England are 1-1 with Spain in the last minutes of the World Cup final, there will be no wave. If they are 5-0 up in a friendly against Azerbaijan, it's wave time.

Many feel the wave might be a bit hackneyed these days.

"The Mexican Wave is a little bit old hat," says Chris Hunt, author of World Cup Stories and The Compact Book Of The World Cup.

"I think when a game is flagging and nothing is really happening on the pitch, fans these days feel it's a way to get value for money out of their expensively purchased match tickets."

Even the wave inventors may be bored by it.

Krazy George rarely does it anymore, and it's even rarer at the University of Washington, says Mr Bechtold.

"They haven't done it for years."

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Speed of wave = 0.1 seconds x seat width? Must be some new definition of speed unknown to physics. Seat width divided by 0.1 seconds, now that makes sense.
John Purser, Barnstaple UK

I remember the first use of "the wave" at the University of Washington in 1981 - I was there. There was a lot of discussion on campus about how to get the wave going. The cheerleaders set up the event in a quite organized way but it only took a couple of tries for it to take hold.
Stu Hillman, Bellac, France

I'm not sure about the waves always going clockwise. I remember being at Lords during a test match and a series of waves went anti-clockwise, complete with the requisite boos as it passed with no effect through the MCC members in the pavilion. The wave started with the Barmy Army regulars in the mound stand, across the Eldrich and Compton stands and then onto the Grandstand. One theory could be that this is due to the unique Lords environment where the most merry section is anti-clockwise from the posh seats. I'm not sure it would be possible to get a clockwise wave going with only the Tavern stand between the Army and the pavilion it would never gain enough momentum.
Jim Cumming, Princes Risborough

I have helped start a Mexican wave with literally half a dozen people. It took us only three attempts to get it to go the whole way round the MEN Arena. Incidentally, it went anti-clockwise.
Gem, Leeds

I remember doing the wave at Milwaukee Brewers games when I was four in 1984. I was too short to really participate so my dad would lift me up in the air over his head when the wave came around.
John, Washington, DC

The wave does run counter-clockwise in Australia. I've been to many a cricket match at the MCG (seated in the members' area) and watched fans in the lowest level seating on the opposite side of the ground get together to launch a wave. It usually takes one or two goes for them to get enough attention from the people around them and in the section to their right, but then, off it goes - counter-clockwise. The wave always breaks when it hits the members (to the boos of the rest of the crowd) - but the timing remains. The few members who do jump up (or simply raise their arms a bit) do so in perfect time with the wave's pace and it always picks up again on the other side. Waves often circulate three, four or even five times - or until the batsman hits the ball (whichever comes first).
Barbara Reeve, Canberra, Australia (currently Cambridge University)

Didn't the Russians get in there first at the opening ceremony of the 1980 Olympics? They created effects by asking the spectators to lift up different coloured cards. Not quite waving but the principle was the same.
Ketan, Auckland, New Zealand

I observed a Mexican wave in the bull ring in Bogota, Colombia, at a concert of the ranchero singer Vicente Fernandez in 1991. He turned to address different sections of the audience as he sang, and the audience in front of him rose up in response. In so doing, he created a continuous wave circling the arena - clockwise, as I recall.
Nicholas Ostler, Bath, UK

I was at an outdoor, semi-circular concert venue crowd some years ago waiting for the first performers to come on. There'd been a huge delay, and eventually one bored punter got up in front of the audience and began running from one side of the stage to the other, waving as he went. The audience reciprocated, "bouncing" the wave back and forth as it hit each side of the tiered seating. More fun than the gig.
H, Coventry

At the England v Barbarians match at Twickenham last month, we had a clockwise and a counter-clockwise wave running simultaneously. I don't believe we had a 50/50 mix of Northern and Southern hemisphere supporters.
Gavin Thomas, London

My favourite experience of doing a wave was prior to a Prince concert in the Wembley Arena around 1990. There were waves going back and forth around the horse-shoe shaped stand and also from the front of the stage, across the floor of the arena, up to the top of the centre of the stand where we were sitting and back down to the stage. The concert was great.
Maureen, Moscow

Glastonbury 2008 - Crowded House. Neil Finn instigated a back-to-front crowd wave. Worked very well even with people standing up already as there was probably 40,000 watching.
Richard Want, Kirkby Stephen

There are claims that the wave was created in the early 1960s, in Monterrey, Mexico, during a football match between Tigres UANL and CF Monterrey Rayados. During the half time, the players were taking longer than expected to return to the field, the crowd grew anxious, and the organizers were trying to entertain the crowd and throwing match balls as presents. People were getting more and more creative with their cheer, and thus created "la ola" (the wave), which after a few attempts made its way all the way around the stadium.
Erik, Norway

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