This is something I have just written for a music fanzine to go alongside a night I help with at Manchester’s very own Star and Garter. I thought I may as well pop it up on here for anyone else to read as well – David.
In the last issue of When Saturday Comes, the magazine that is perhaps the footballing equivalent to Private Eye, one particular piece caught my attention.
The Performing Rights Society have published a chart of the most popular football songs played on the nation’s jukeboxes, with the ‘respectables’ such as Pavarotti’s ‘Nessum Dorma’ and New Order’s ‘World in Motion’ riding high alongside monstrosities such as the other Keith Allen inspired football song, ‘Vindaloo’, and DJ Otzi’s ‘Hey Baby (Unofficial World Cup Remix)’.
The chart led to an unflattering judgment from the writer, David Stubbs: “There is nothing wrong with football. Nothing wrong with song. However, like ice cream and gravy, the two should never be conjoined.”
This is a deflating and rather misguided view. The ‘indie football song’, from the 80s to the present-day, has given critiques of the game and offered an education for the uninitiated; has presented opportunities for social comment, and perhaps the most important thing of all, chances to chuckle to yourself while listening to them on the bus.
One example is The Fall’s ‘Kicker Conspiracy’, released by Rough Trade in 1983 and signalling a poppier side to their sound, as well as sporting a sleeve of a violent fan directing his foot to someone else’s knee.
It was written when violence in the terraces was rife, and still holds an eerie degree of insight, with Mark E. Smith’s warning of “FANS! Remember! You are abroad!” failing to be acknowledged. Two years later at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, rioting Liverpool fans charged at Juventus fans before the kick-off of the 1985 European Cup final, forcing a wall to collapse, and causing mass panic.
Thirty-nine people were killed through being crushed by the collapsing wall or by being trampled upon in the impending stampede, and English sides were banned from European competitions for five years. It later transpired, however, that the inadequacies of the stadium and the authorities could also have been partly to blame.
The song also contains your usual Smithisms, particularly with the line “J. Hill’s satanic reign!”, which again contains a huge amount of insight on Smith’s part. His belief – as documented in his recent autobiography Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith – that he can see into the future and be a “bringer of bad news”, may not be as far-fetched as once thought.
“J. Hill” is of course Jimmy Hill, the former head of the Players’ Union who campaigned for uncapped wages (yes, it’s partially his fault that the top players now get £50k+ a week); an early figurehead who envisaged the power television could hold over the game; and overall irritating prick with that huge chin, who David Baddiel and Rob Newman took the piss out of on The Mary Whitehouse Experience.
Birkenhead’s Half Man Half Biscuit are another case of football and song coming together well. A friend of mine recently said that everything she knew about the game came from listening to HMHB – it’s definitely nothing to be ashamed of, since it’s the best education an indie music listening, non-football fan could possibly receive.
HMHB’s most noted football song is ‘All I Want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit’, released in 1986 as a B-side to their debut single, ‘The Trumpton Riots’. It has made the Czech European Cup semi-finalists from 1967 famous to HMHB fans and beyond.
‘All I Want…’ is arguably a song of pre and post-adolescent disappointment, written by the typically dry Nigel Blackwell. The spoilt child with a Scalextric set who thinks he’s better than the other kids; the kid who has an uncle that runs a sports shop who kept a Dukla Prague away kit to one side for him; the sod whose Subbuteo rules you have to abide by before he goes crying to his mum; the git who, years later, is handing out the dole payments.
It makes you laugh because you can empathise being around the spoilt child aged seven or eight, but it makes you angry because the one who’s had it on a plate is making his way in the world.
In a period where nepotism and selfishness were also the results of Thatcherism, this football-based tune has arguably become an example of social comment. Like all HMHB songs, while the esoteric references are there, the meaning of the song doesn’t seem to get lost.
Finally, a song that brings together the blunt edge of The Fall and the dry humour of HMHB is Luke Haines’ ‘Leeds United’ off the self-titled EP released in 2007.
With HMHB-like references to World of Sport, Haines presents football violence as a form of carefree enjoyment and escapism from domesticity against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper, with his of his thirteen victims compared to a single goal: “It’s a 13-0 defeat on the front page of the Post…I was beaten we were gutted I was sick as a parrot…Propping up the bar World Of Sport then fixing the car, you’re on a mission from God, it’s what the weekend’s all about.”
So, while the fusion of football and song can be disastrous, they can also complement each other, like the time bookmaker Fred Done paid out early on bets for Manchester United to win the League in the 1997/98 season… only for Arsenal to end up doing so.