A Short History of Football and Music: the 1970s

Posted by on Oct 7, 2014 in Football and Music | 4 Comments
A Short History of Football and Music: the 1970s
Image available under Creative Commons (c) Heinrich Klaffs

Over the space of four posts this week, I am going to attempt to pen a brief history of how football and music have interacted over the past four and a half decades.

Firstly though, you’re probably asking why football and music? Why not football and gardening or football and the re-enactment of civil war battles?

I’ll leave any lengthy debate as to whether football is an art to a later date while admitting it’s a discussion worth having – even if the horror at such a suggestion etched over the faces over non-lovers of the round ball always makes it a testy one. But you’ll often hear it asserted that a Cristiano Ronaldo shimmy recalls the virtuosity of a Pablo Picasso, that the vicissitudes and skulduggery of a Premier League season resemble the epic drama of the Godfather trilogy or that a Neil Warnock-Wally Downes face-off has an element of music hall or even Shakespearian bawdry. That football’s breathtaking moments are for the most part impulsive and unplanned rather than staged takes nothing away from their impact or the argument that there can be something very much of the artistic about them.

So, football is certainly comparable to music as a branch of the entertainment industry — activities which we use shovels of our spare time to indulge in – and both are pursuits that many of us see as interlinked — a previous three part series on this blog delved into the recent history of fan culture and music gained regular mentions within this (Parts One, Two and Three are at the links).

Before I plunge into the world of bellbottoms and beer soaked satin sofas, some caveats. It’s not my intention to pick apart the world of terrace chants (so memorably summarised in tomes such as the legendary Dicks Out!) while this will be an overwhelmingly British view of the how football and music have crossed paths. Lastly, it will be very much a subjective take – I won’t pretend that this will be comprehensive or exhaustive.

Initially, the two industries held each other very much at arm’s length but I’ll chart how alternative music and football dovetailed gradually in the 1980s before perhaps becoming too cosy and often nauseating bedfellows in the nineties, leading to the generally renewed distance of the past decade or so.

So to take the Seventies initially, the musical world in the UK can pretty much be divided into Before and After Punk. The early Seventies excesses of progressive rock was one outgrowth of the hippie movement and the competitiveness of an increasingly professionalised game were a universe away from peace and love. The worlds of Canadian songster Neil Young and Neil Young of Manchester City will have rarely intersected.

But Charlie George as supplicant on the 1971 Wembley Turf after scoring for Arsenal in the FA Cup Final of that year provides an image to evoke the rockers of the time — long-haired, sweaty and rebellious — as elements of the wider culture, soccer and music would begin to collide.

Long before the glitz of the Premier League, parallels could be drawn — the onset of colour television brought all the cultural signifiers of the time into our living rooms – three day weeks, strikes, power cuts, space hoppers and the harsh lighting of the Top of the Pops studio forming a heady mix while it was a sixties survivor who perhaps most obviously mixed the two interests.

I’ve written a piece on Rod Stewart’s fanaticism for soccer for In Bed With Maradona. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has as London an accent as there is but became famous for his fanatical display of affection for Celtic FC and Scotland — smashing his record company’s expenses budget with madcap dashes to far flung corners of Europe as well as the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

Stewart was a more than handy youth footballer, enjoying a spell as an apprentice at Brentford and taking part in countless celebrity events. For all his fame, I’m sure the former Faces man will have wished he had followed through with a career in football. We certainly do.

Alongside Rod, there is another dinosaur of the decade — Elton John had to wait until 1984 to see his beloved Watford grace Wembley but his chairmanship of the club launched its spectacular rise under Graham Taylor. Having been disdained by the more ethereal members of the flower power generation, football came back into favour as the music and the personalities became more lumpen and less fashionable. Stewart and John’s contemporaries included Wolverhampton’s Slade — a band who made a whole career out of terrace chants as lyrics.

So in terms of credibility, this is a low bar, one adjusted further downwards by teeny boppers The Bay City Rollers and their tendency to sport tartan scarves — those flares never seemed suitable for a kick about while they queasily recalled the yobbery that saw Rangers fans run amok after the Cup Winners Cup Final in 1972.

Punk is said to have swept away all this nonsense although the bank balances of the old guard presumably remained undamaged and the violence for the most part remained undimmed. The Sex Pistols may have started on the King’s Road but paid little attention to sport given their art school roots — who would admit to the same interests as Elton? Ditto The Clash, also steeped in West London lore.

The aggression of the less reputable end of the movement did find a mirror in football hooliganism and some of the more earthy habits of the day — spitting, screaming and a lot of alcohol — did enjoy crossover appeal — but Alan Sunderland’s haircut as he pounced to win Arsenal another FA Cup in 1979 showed the lack of influence these newcomers had. We had to wait another decade and a half for Lee Clark to take to the field sporting an actual crew cut.

Many of the skinhead football fans of the latter period would have been hard pressed to name a decent record — although the urban blight described by The Specials a year into the new decade will have resonated with fans making their way through abandoned terrace streets to crumbling stadia.

But the Focus feature in magazine Shoot revealed footballers to be equally insensitive to prog and punk — instead seeking entertainment across the Atlantic in the shape of disco and soul — to this day, the list of musicians on the roster at the Madejski Stadium’s Jazz Cafà© includes The Stylistics. Footballers became renowned for their inexplicable liking for Alexander O’Neal and the king of them all, Luther Vandross, although the heyday of both was to come during the next decade.

Nigel Lawson, Gary Davies and others would tarnish that ten year period as one of the worst we have lived through — but football and music were eventually to come together as part of a subculture I shall explore tomorrow.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 50 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.


  1. Ben
    October 7, 2014

    As far as punk goes, Sham 69 are definitely worth a mention – took their name from partially erased graffiti about Walton & Hersham FC, wrote the terrace anthems in a similar if more yobbish vein to Slade (can’t believe their first album was produced by The Velvet Underground’s John Cale!), attracted an audience from across the political spectrum but most of whom were up for a ruck, and in 2006 ended up getting to #10 with a re-recording of ‘Hurry Up Harry’ (called ‘Hurry Up England’) as an unofficial World Cup song. Blur’s Graham Coxon was involved – you’d have thought he’d have had the good sense to give the whole thing a wide berth given Alex James’ participation in ‘Vindaloo’ in 1998…

    Anyway, delighted to see this series kick off – very much looking forward to the remaining installments.

    • Lanterne Rouge
      October 7, 2014

      One winces for Coxon – his seemingly lofty disdain for Blur and the rest of Blur would surely leave him wanting to evict that memory from his mind.

  2. Frank Heaven
    October 7, 2014

    It’s been said that the Scottish punk scene was partly inspired by the Tartan Army pitch invasion at Wembley in May ‘77. Would-be Scottish punks, impressed by the look and sound of the Sex Pistols and the Clash, were horrified to see thousands of their countrymen smashing the Wembley goal posts while dressed as Bay City Rollers fans. From their outrage, emerged the likes of Skids, The Exploited, The Rezillos, and others. Supposedly.

    • Lanterne Rouge
      October 7, 2014

      A good but likely story I reckon!


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