In WSC 291, May 2011 Ian Plenderleith got the feeling all the best goals have already been scored and all the best songs have already been written
When you hit middle age, it’s almost impossible not to fall into the trap of yearning for the days when things were different. Not necessarily better, just different. When nearly every house had just one telephone and one TV. When you played football in the same field every day with the other kids in the village using cowpats for goalposts (really). When a new album by the Jam was not just a new album by the Jam, but a significant event in your life that you looked forward to for weeks in advance. When a live football match on television was something very special that happened no more than a handful of times per year.
And now, the thought of turning on the television or the computer at the weekend leaves you feeling jaded. With the right line-up of channels, you could watch any one of several dozen games from a variety of leagues. In 1977, only the FA Cup final, the European Cup final and England v Scotland seemed important – they must have been, because they were on live. The whole family watched and everyone you knew would be talking about the games at school. But maybe a 45-year-old fan’s diminished enthusiasm is too easily blamed on saturation coverage. The explanation could be more simple: I’m no longer young enough to truly enjoy watching football.
Let ’s go back to the Jam. This past Christmas I received a “deluxe edition” of Sound Affects. After opening it, and being suitably thrilled, I realised it was exactly 30 years since I’d received the same gift for Christmas, on vinyl. I still have it. Why did I want to receive almost exactly the same gift three decades later? Why didn’t I ask for something by a new and groundbreaking band? Because I’m too old to think there are any more new and groundbreaking bands. I’ve heard it all before. No new release, no matter how dazzling, could affect a 45-year-old man in the same way that Sound Affects shaped the views and tastes of an adolescent.
LPs, like live football matches, enjoyed a scarcity value. They were expensive, and had to be handled with care. Now I go to a website where songs cost around six pence from a catalogue of three mill ion. You indiscriminately buy dozens of albums at a time, which then get lost somewhere inside your iPod. You don’t go to work and loudly debate whether Paul Weller is an insufferable, self-appointed working-class hero or the genius voice of a generation. Although you may have his latest solo album that you listened to once, and then promptly forgot you even owned..
If I list my favourite ever albums, the others that spring to mind include London Calling, Out of the Blue, Entertainment!, Kilimanjaro, Power, Corruption & Lies, Band on the Run and Parallel Lines. If I list my favourite ever games, they’d be Liverpool v Borussia Mönchengladbach (1977), Spurs v Man City (1981 Cup final replay), Lincoln v Rotherham (1975, key promotion match) and Brazil v Italy (1982). Not because those albums and games are necessarily better than anything produced or played since, but because they happened at a time of my life before I was distracted by mundane responsibilities, when football and music seemed to matter more. As they should have.
Thanks to the nostalgic deception engineered by time’s cruel and dogged determination to move on an exclusively forward path, we spend our middle years in a futile quest to experience anew the intensity of youth. That is what still compels us to watch games, and to continue searching for the latest great band. Yet when Newcastle come back from 4-0 down against Arsenal to tie 4-4 with a cracking late goal, it’s good, but it’s not great, because there will be another game on in half an hour. Besides, you’ve got to go shopping and pay the bills and take the kids out. Once you’ve finished all that, the message board thread discussing that game’s thrills has slipped half way down the page.
In youth, when we were susceptible to new and exciting emotions, life still seemed long enough to embrace, say, the possibility of Scotland as world champions, or a good FA Cup run for Lincoln City. The lingering memory of early kicks and wide-eyed optimism still delude us into watching games and buying music made by (and aimed at) people 20 years younger. We are like smokers desperately huffing on a dying cigarette, hoping to experience the same hit from the last drag as we did from the first. But in truth we know, there will be no more really glorious moments. Or if there are, we may be too old to really care. Ian Plenderleith
Illustration by Tim Bradford