BY CRAIG STEPHEN
Football and music: three words that evoke memories of players singing out of tune, and Chas and Dave being dug up ahead of a Spurs appearance in the FA Cup final. Or England’s Back Home, the dismal Baddiel and Skinner … the list of cultural criminality goes on and on.
Music has often used football for its ill-gotten gains and, on the other side of the coin, the sport has gotten a piggy back from the industry to promote a forthcoming tournament or boost the bank balance of a striker.
Highlights of this meeting of unlikely bedfellows have been few, but New Order’s World in Motion is probably the best example of this form of the football song.
However, I’ve been rooting about and discovered the beautiful game and the beautiful sound have often mingled coherently in a lovestruck relationship.
The basis for this discovery was an album by The Barmy Army called the English Disease. Released in 1989, it sounds a little dated now, especially with tracks such as England 2, Yugoslavia 0 and a protest song against a plan in the UK to issue all football hooligans, as the then Conservative Government viewed all fans, with ID cards.
The Barmy Army cut and paste interviews and match commentary, using them ad nauseum; expressing their love of West Ham United with snippets of the Hammers theme tune I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, and songs dedicated to Alan Devonshire and Billy Bonds. On a hit-and-miss (the goalpost) album, the strongest moment is Sharp As a Needle, featuring the Anfield Kop in fine voice, a track beloved by the legendary, yet extraordinarily tedious DJ, John Peel.
The Barmy Army’s experimental dub-football crossover came at a time when indie bands in Britain found inspiration from a game which was, at the time, maligned by hooliganism and stadium disasters. In 1987, burgeoning Yorkshire indie-wonders, The Wedding Present, looked at the sport’s glorious past, to name their debut album George Best, adorned with a picture of the Northern Irish maestro at his peak.
I, Ludicrous – graduates of The Fall school of witticism – spewed an imponderable number of football-related songs: Quite Extraordinary (piss-take of commentator/ buffoon David Coleman), and We Stand Around (about hardcore fans braving all the elements and bad players).
During this period of rampant hooliganism, one man stood up to fight the good fight, and lead the charge to rid England of the menace of the “English Disease” once and for all. Unfortunately, that man was Colin Moynihan, a short-arsed little bastard who, somehow, was appointed Minister of Sport.
The Conservative regime seemed to regard the role as no greater than the leader of a community council, and so Moynihan became the champion of British sports. I, Ludicrous penned Moynihan Brings Out The Hooligan In Me, on account of his ignorance of the game and the small matter of this bastion of the sporting spirit, running onto (invading?) the pitch when the Great Britain hockey team won gold at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. Just like a good hooligan would.
Forget that English teams were banned from European club competition on account of their naughty fans, this was when indie music fell in love with football, precisely because of its bad-boy image.
It was a time when The Housemartins named an album Hull 4, London 0; Tackhead wrote about The Game, sampling commentator Brian Moore; and the Proclaimers reminded the world of Scotland’s love of the game with songs about Hibernian FC (Sunshine on Leith and The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues). Hell, I’ve even got a flexi disk, by an obscure Northern Irish band with a song called The Cross, that came with a Coleraine FC fanzine.
More recently, Britain’s favourite lefty, Billy Bragg – a renowned footy fan – issued songs such as God’s Footballer and The Few, the latter describing hooligan firms like the Inter City Crew, who were fully aware that any rampage would never be ignored: “These little John Bullshits know that the press will glorify their feats”.
Bragg famously sang, on a song called Sexuality of all things, that he had, “an uncle who once played, for Red Star Belgrade.”
Ah, yes, Eastern European soccer, the true cult of the sport. And is that a Half Man Half Biscuit song I hear, perhaps I Was A Teenage Armchair Honved Fan, in recognition of Hungarian football, and Subbuteo (a game also referenced by The Undertones in My Perfect Cousin: “He flicked to kick, and I didn’t know”), or demanding a Dukla Prague away kit for Christmas.
Recently, football, despite it’s invasive worldwide profile, hasn’t crossed over into music to the same extent, outside of the flurry of piss-poor singles issued in time for the start of a major tournament, using Sham 69 hits and odious comedians.
My own favourite football-related song, even if the core subject is writer Christy Brown, is the Pogues’ Down All the Days, for the line, “And I’ve never been asked, and I’ve never replied, have I supported the Glasgow Rangers,” which can mean many things to many people.
Or there’s the Super Furry Animals’ The Man Don’t Give A Fuck, an expletive-ridden tale of eccentric Cardiff City player Robin Friday; the Sultans of Ping’s Give Him a Ball and a Yard of Grass (“If God meant the game to be played up there, He would’ve put goalposts in the air.”); an unofficial Scottish 1998 World Cup team-up featuring the divine talents of Primal Scream and Irvine Welsh; tracks entitled Stan Bowles (The Others) and Tony Adams (Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros), although the references to those legends are fairly humdrum while Morrissey put Terry Venables on the cover of 1995’s Dagenham Dave.
And just to prove referencing football in song is not a new fad, Gracie Fields recorded Pass, Shoot, Goal in 1931. Fields was apparently a big Rochdale FC fan and even helped them out financially in rough times. She was way ahead of Elton John in that respect.
I haven’t covered everything, how can I? And there are club/band team-ups that are actually quite good, notably Shane MacGowan and Simple Minds appearing on a charity EP, in tribute to Celtic legend Jimmy Johnstone, plenty of songs by Serious Drinking, or more from I, Ludicrous and Half Man Half Biscuit, and an obscure indie trio from Norwich who issued one single in 1991 and who’s name I haven’t made up yet, blah blah blah, but you get the bloody point.