Soul survivors

Footballers appearing on Desert Island Discs is a fairly rare occurance. Paul Brown examines what the lucky few chose

WSC is not alone celebrating a big anniversary this year. Desert Island Discs, the enduring radio fixture in which celebrity castaways get to choose eight favourite records, plus a book and a luxury item, is building up to its 70th birthday.

First broadcast during the Second World War, DID has clocked up more than 2,800 editions, but has only occasionally embraced football. Sportsmen such as Denis Compton, Stirling Moss and Fred Perry were all guests in the show’s formative years, but a footballer didn’t appear until August 1960, when Spurs skipper Danny Blanchflower joined original host Roy Plomley on the aural island.

Rock and roll was everywhere, but Blanchflower had no truck for the hit parade, ignoring the popular likes of Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard in favour of Al Jolson and violinist Max Jaffa. His top pick – the “castaway’s favourite” – was Caterina Valente’s version of Spanish-flavoured standard The Breeze and I from 1950.

Blanchflower also picked Judy Garland’s Over the Rainbow – a longstanding DID favourite. Asked to pick a book, he plumped for The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell, a complex 884-page war romance. His luxury item was rather more obvious, and subsequently chosen by numerous other football figures – golf clubs and balls.

Liverpool manager Bill Shankly was invited onto the show in April 1965, and of course he picked Gerry and the Pacemakers’ version of You’ll Never Walk Alone. In 1967, Kenneth Wolstenholme chose a version of the same song by Judy Garland – the tragic star being an apparent favourite among football folk.

Even Jack Charlton picked Judy Garland. Kicking off his eclectic 1972 selection with the stirring theme from How the West Was Won, Big Jack also went for Frank Sinatra, Roger Miller, a brass band number, a Verdi opera, a recording of the 1966 World Cup final commentary and finally – his castaway’s favourite – Land of Hope and Glory. Charlton came back for a second appearance in 1996, following his stint as Ireland manager, duly picking the Dubliners, the Fureys and Christy Moore.

In 1982, with DID more than 40 years old and Plomley still in the presenter’s chair, Trevor Brooking became only the third footballer to appear on the show. And at first glance it appeared the West Ham man had impeccable taste. Few music aficionados could grumble at the selection of The Tracks of My Tears by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Jackie Wilson’s Higher and Higher, or How Sweet It Is by Junior Walker and the Allstars, and Brooking was the only football figure to choose the Beatles. But then he went and spoilt everything by picking What Kind of Fool by Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb – as his castaway’s favourite, no less.

Four years on, Mexico 86 prompted an invite from new host Michael Parkinson for Bobby Robson, who picked Frank Sinatra’s Try a Little Tenderness as his castaway’s favourite, and perhaps indicated his hopes for the tournament with I Dream a Dream. The England manager’s book was Roget’s Thesaurus. Robson came back as Sir Bobby in 2004, and again picked Frank Sinatra – this time in a posthumous duet with Robbie Williams on It Was a Very Good Year.

For Italia 90, England skipper Gary Lineker was in the hot seat. His selections, offered to Sue Lawley, were as vanilla as might be expected. Simply Red, Dire Straits, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, U2, and Elton John (obviously Candle in the Wind) were all present and correct. Lineker didn’t pick the Match of the Day theme tune, instead plumping for Booker T and the MGs’ Soul Limbo – the theme from Test Match Special. For this footballer it all seemed to be about cricket – Lineker’s book was Wisden and his luxury item was a “bowling machine”, presumably to pitch balls for him to bat away with a bit of whittled palm tree.

There was a full 20-year gap before a footballer next turned up on DID. In the intervening years Des Lynam picked Nessun Dorma, and fans such as John Peel, Tom Stoppard and Ken Loach all made football related selections – the latter choosing as his luxury item a radio for the football results.

Then, in June 2010, Tony Adams joined Kirsty Young to offer a fairly eccentric selection including Earth, Wind and Fire’s soul funk, a relatively obscure Jam album track, some Chet Baker jazz, a bit of Neil Diamond, Squeeze’s Black Coffee in Bed and Good Old Arsenal by the 1971 FA Cup squad. Adams’s favourite track was Always Look on the Bright Side of Life and the fact that he also chose to be shipwrecked with the Alcoholics Anonymous book perhaps indicates where he was coming from. Finally, for his luxury item Adams picked something no other footballer thought to choose – a football.

From WSC 296 October 2011