A Short History of Football and Music: 2000 to the Present
With football cock of the walk as the new millennium dawned, the extended love-in with music and other elements of popular culture continued to drag on through the early years of the decade. Soccer AM remained as popular as ever, Doves’ anthem Pounding soundtracked Saturday lunchtime’s On The Ball presented by Gabby Yorath, Sham 69 enlisted Blur guitarist Graham Coxon on a reworking of one of their most famous hits, producing the subtle Hurry Up England, and those chancers Kasabian took the stage for a gig in Paris sporting the national team’s new replica shirt.
But such antics were to cool gradually as what Michael Moruzzi has coined, the ‘mid-90s club’ lost its allure. Chris Evans and Frank Skinner ran out of ideas, the former after one too many tantrums; the runts of the indie music litter scurried back whence they came and Oasis released one disastrous album after another. Football continued to thrive but its 2008 peak, when two English clubs, Manchester United and Chelsea, locked horns in a Moscow Champions League Final can also be seen as a point when we all lost interest – 120 tedious minutes paving the way for Barcelona to ease past both in subsequent years.
Key to these changes was the increasing popularity of the internet and heightened television coverage. No longer beholden to the whims of five television channels and the Radio 1 playlist, we were suddenly free to wallow in our own particular peccadillos. One could now blithely ignore the charts and concentrate on enjoying forgotten albums from the past such as The Housemartins’ London 0 Hull 4 and clips of long lost Simod Cup Finals.
The result – the so-called ‘long tail’ effect – led to an increasingly variegated cultural scene with various musical movements coexisting alongside one another with no need to ever intersect. Hence, fans of dubstep, emo, grime and other styles of music could retreat into their own little world, headphones on, any visual accompaniment usually coming in the shape of video games rather than a televised Lancashire derby between Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic.
Communities were now forged online over huge distances so the idea of a cultural commons became ever more elusive – outside the extraordinarily lowest common denominator world of Reality TV that is. Marketers, to give them their due, were quick to cotton on to this– the internet allowing for more direct and less expensive publicity and blurring the distinction between mainstream and alternative interests.
Unlike in the eighties, pursuits that would have been dismissed as ‘offensive’ or ‘weird’ were correctly identified as an opportunity to make money – so wearing black, dying your hair and sporting tattoos were seen as lifestyle choices, cunningly severed from anything truly subversive or political by the industry set up to service them. More widely, England games came to be televised on the big screen at Glastonbury and my trip to the 2006 World Cup in Germany saw me subjected to a veritable onslaught of cheesy Europop.
These ‘communal experiences’ often took place in football stadia themselves – witness the Manic Street Preachers’ heavily publicized shows at the Millennium Stadium following on from those of Oasis at Manchester City’s old Maine Road ground – the world of football was now literally impinging on the world of music. The links between the game and music were still omnipresent – but it would be hard to identify a common theme between them.
So, in no particular order, Port Vale fan and Oasis baiter Robbie Williams seemingly organised thousands of charity football matches while releasing Sing When You’re Winning with a football-themed cover, the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army was bellowed out by German fans as Costa Rica were defeated on the opening day of the 2006 Weltmeisterschaft , Millwall enlisted their supporters to record their Cup Final anthem, Dion Dublin and Eighties hero Pat Nevin made appearances on BBC 6 Music’s Roundtable and lower league stalwarts such as Gareth Ainsworth formed bands.
Most bizarrely of all, Dublin invented his own musical instrument, Joey Barton professed a love of The Smiths (even going so far as to meet Morrissey at Glastonbury), One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson signed for Doncaster Rovers, later attempting to buy the club, and Mohamed Al-Fayed erected a statue to Michael Jackson outside Craven Cottage. Yes – that Michael Jackson, not the former Preston North End player and Shrewsbury Town manager.
In perhaps the oddest intersection of football and music in the Noughties, The Fall’s Mark E Smith found himself reading out the classified results in 2004, followed by some very awkward banter with Ray Stubbs, due to the fact that the band’s ‘Theme from Sparta FC’ was used for the BBC’s Final Score.
Such a pot pourri of oddities highlights the perceived awkwardness of marrying football and music – to the extent that the blessed taking down of the Jackson statue was celebrated almost as loudly as the toppling of Saddam Hussain’s in downtown Baghdad. As Jeremy Allen of The Guardian wrote:
…football and music, the uneasiest of bedfellows, should never – and I mean never – ever meet again. Finally, in 2013, this symbolic gesture, this moment of clarity, this new broom sweeping away all the haplessness and idiocy that came before it! Now, perhaps, we can put to an end once and for all the idea that pop and the beautiful game can live together harmoniously. History is on our side.
That amusing verdict was quoted in a fascinating interview with singer Gareth of indie band Los Campesinos!, a football nut and director of his local team Welton Rovers FC. Writer of such songs as ‘Every Defeat A Divorce (Three Lions) ‘ and ‘Portrait of the Trequartista as a Young Man’ reveals an uncharacteristically genuine obsession with the round ball for a band very much associated with the ‘twee’ end of the musical spectrum. Los Campesinos!’ latest album even features the line, ‘we connected like a Yeboah volley’ on the song ‘Glue Me’.
In the piece, Gareth muses on how he shied away from admitting to his liking for football at the time of the release of the band’s first LP, welcoming the fact that Sky cannot show every Premier League game live and muses over the notion of the football hipster. The idea was that football wasn’t a cool thing for a self-aware indie musician to admit to liking – a bit of a sordid shameful secret and a potential hangover from what happened around Britpop and Euro 96.When arguing for the commonalities between football and music, he has this to say:
When I’m looking for a metaphor or something, it makes sense. And it surprises me, because so much music is about love, sex, death, and basically love and death is all pop music, and there are few things in life that capture those same caricatures of those ideas and feelings as football. You get the elation and the depression of football, so for me it totally makes complete sense as a filter through which to run things
Optimistically, Gareth argues that there has been a ‘re-intellectualisation of football’, via the continued prominence of When Saturday Comes and The Blizzard. Grassroots football is the ground on which a new common culture linking soccer and music can be forged – something akin to that purveyed by Half Man Half Biscuit, Tackhead and The Wedding Present before the Lovejoys of this world grabbed it by the scruff of the neck.
So we have the ever admirable Mogwai providing the soundtrack to the critically acclaimed movie Zidane , footballers who are passionate about music at all levels such as Jay Tabb, Matty Lawrence and Leighton Baines (via the latter’s friendship with Miles Kane), and a shared love of grime on the part of former Plymouth Argyle teammates Bradley Wright-Phillips and Yannick Bolasie. Music and football can absolutely occupy the same space and are all the better for it.
But the last word has to go to a man very much in the news – Mr. Roy Keane:
It might seem strange but you find out about characters when you look to see who’s in charge of the music. A young lad might want to put on the latest sound; an older player might say: ‘I’m the senior player’ and put himself in charge. But I noticed none of the players [at Sunderland] were in charge of the music and this was a concern for me. A member of staff was in charge. I was looking at him thinking: ‘I hope someone nails him here.’ The last song before the players went on to the pitch was ‘Dancing Queen’ by Abba. What really worried me was that none of the players – not one – said: ‘Get that shit off.’ They were going out to play a match, men versus men, testosterone levels were high. You’ve got to hit people at pace. Fuckin’ ‘Dancing Queen.’ It worried me. I didn’t have as many leaders as I thought.
Thanks to Ben Woolhead and Terry Clague for invaluable assistance on this series of posts