Rob Chapman looks back to a time when admitting to being a keen football fan was just about the most uncool thing you could do
Much has been made of the fact that during the Rolling Stones’ Wembley concert of July 1990, many fans appeared to be paying more attention to the England v Germany World Cup semi- final commentary on the radio than they were to Mick and Keef’s rock and roll posturing.
This event has been cited by many as evidence of a new social bonding between music and football. Like much else that has been said about football by people who have never stood on the terraces but have read Fever Pitch, this is bollocks. Music and football have frequently intruded into each other’s arenas over the years. The relationship hasn’t always been harmonious.
During the sixties, football and music seemed to inhabit different galaxies. We’ve all seen that grainy old footage of the Kop singing She Loves You, but Liverpool’s psychedelic period never really took off, did it? If there had been a 1967 muso-footy zeitgeist I wouldn’t have noticed anyway, as I was busy bracing myself for the onset of puberty and paper rounds.
I suppose I could pretend that we all used to stand at Luton’s Oak Road End in the late 60s and sing Tommy Roe’s Dizzy every time Bruce French sold a dummy, but in fact all that really happened during the entire decade was George Best opened a boutique and Peter Marinello appeared on Top of the Pops.
Leyton Orient fans did not chant Radha Krishna Temple lyrics, the Football League Review did not carry adverts for army surplus greatcoats, and Bert Millichip did not convince himself that he could fly whilst listening to Donovan and Jeff Beck performing Goo Goo Barabajagal.
My own experience of the soccer and rock crossover thingy began on 18th July 1970. Thanks to a series of unlikely liaisons between the GLC (ask yer Cockney Dad) and Blackhill Enterprises (ask yer hippie uncle), the hedonistically inclined were allowed to sit in Hyde Park of a Saturday afternoon, watch loads of bands, and engage in all the leisure pursuits you would expect of a generation which had discovered that it required far less effort to listen to a Chicago Transit Authority album that was dedicated to the revolution than it did to actually have a revolution. Which is how my provincial posse of weekend hippie fourth formers found ourselves on the train King’s Cross bound to see Pink Floyd performing that LP that had the cow on the cover. We’d read the Underground press, we knew how to use terms like rip off and crash pad (although not in the same sentence, obviously). We knew the rules. And fourth formers rule number one was “Be self-consciously cool at all times”. Which is why my mate Colin’s decision to bring along his copy of Scorcher and Score (complete with 1970-71 League tables supplement) was not a good idea.
While the rest of us concentrated on loon pant deportment and pronouncing Blodwyn Pig correctly, Colin filled in his projected League positions for the forthcoming campaign. Colin was a Palace supporter, and he took what little midsummer’s pleasure that was afforded him by slotting his sad little Palace tag into the top of Division One and parading it around the train.
Colin was au fait with the concept of Fantasy Football before you were born, believe me. “We’re going to be the team of the seventies,” he would crow, offering his sad Scorcher and Score league charts as evidence. “It’s a great catchphrase Colin, but it’ll never catch on,” we’d reply and return to reading our Melody Makers.
Hyde Park was full of other people just like us, all trying hard to look cool and just looking miserable instead. From an aerial view we looked like the dawning of the new Aquarian age. Close up we just looked like Hartlepool supporters. England had just been Bonettied out of the World Cup and Ted Heath had just become Prime Minister. In fact on the very day of the Pink Floyd concert, Kenny Everett was sacked from Radio One for making cheeky comments about the Transport Minister’s wife. But what did we care. We had seen the Third Ear Band and Roy Harper.
The other Hyde Park event of that year took place in September, by which time of course the football season was back in full swing. It was a rain sodden affair, punctuated occasionally with the music of John Sebastian, Eric Burdon and War, and Canned Heat. What I remember most is all the transistors pushed close to ears at 4.40, a ritual I saw re-enacted at almost every pop event I attended in the early seventies. You could be in the middle of a field catching pneumonia and watching the obligatory hippie chick disrobing for the Sunday Mirror photographer, but for some of us terrace deserters the guilt was all too much. We still required our fix of Sports Report.
In reciprocal spirit, someone at Radio One had the bright idea of moving John Peel’s Top Gear from Sunday evenings to Saturday afternoon, thus making further cultural collisions inevitable. For a while I tried for the best of both worlds, but this experiment came to a sorry end when a mate of mine kicked my transistor radio across the terraces. I remember the precise moment. It was when Peel said: “And now here’s another number from that Incredible String Band session.” It’s ironic, given Peel’s own football fervour, but regular exposure to Top Gear was the undoing of my dual allegiance – well that and Spurs’ disgraceful treatment of Bill Nicholson.
I temporarily joined the missing millions when the realisation kicked in that listening to Beefheart or Gong in the comfort of my crash pad was less of a rip off (and far less risky) than King’s Cross station on a Saturday evening when Spurs had just played Leeds. Sure, I continued to scan the League tables and watch the Cup Final, but only in the same academic way that a non-music-obsessive scans the pop charts just to see what’s number one.
NME journo Nick Kent claimed in an interview in 1974 that music and sport didn’t mix. The good or bad at games dichotomy. The good lived and breathed Ralgex. The bad bought Gibson copies. And, as I found myself, a discussion about the relative merits of Neil Young LPs and Don Revie’s England necessitated two entirely different sets of friends. Oh yes, the chattering classes may bask in the reflected prole glory of the people’s game now, but not in the seventies they didn’t. No evidence of the intelligentsia slumming it down the North Bank in those days. Too busy sitting at home studying their Roger Dean LP covers.
Punk rock saved me from all that. Punk football took a bit longer, of course. A Johnny Thunders/Sex Pistols gig at Bristol Poly in 1978 was trashed by rampaging Rovers fans after a pre-season ‘friendly’ against City had resulted in a 6-0 drubbing, but I don’t suppose that counts. I only truly returned to the fold when Wimbledon won the FA Cup. The bloated prog rock Anfield orthodoxy, the visual equivalent of Tales from Topographic Oceans, cheekily torn apart by the psycho punky one-chord wonders from the south London tower blocks. Well that’s my analogy and I’m sticking to it. Since then, of course, it’s all been E for England and enough footy dance crossovers to keep your average Cultural Studies department in work until Forest win the Cup.
From WSC 110 April 1996. What was happening this month