I need to make a confession. Since Scotland qualified for the 2021 European Championships by beating Serbia on penalties, “Yes Sir, I can Boogie” by Baccara has become a solid fixture in my Spotify playlist.
It’s a terrible song and it sounds even worse in a Scottish accent but it has stuck after videos emerged of the Scotland squad partying in the dressing room following their historic victory and it got me thinking. How important is music to football?
Well, anybody that has been to see The Courteeners and had a swarm of teenage identikit Stone Island clones ask “What team are you, mate?” will know that football and music go hand in hand. Saying Boro always seems to shut them up.
Despite Tory MPs trying to score cheap points by proclaiming that nobody north of the Watford Gap has any interest in the arts and that their tiny mill town minds simply revolve around their football club, music and the arts provides the rhythm for the heartbeat of fan culture – the songs and chants. Even the most basic of matchday melodies has been adapted from a hit tune or niche record. La Bamba didn’t just appear out of thin air.
The multitude of chants that go in a similar vein to “We’ve got more fans than you” can trace their roots back to “La donna è mobile” from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto, first written in 1851 and since popularised by legendary tenor Luciano Pavarotti. So much for us not having any interest in the arts.
Staying in Italy for a second, the “Allez, Allez, Allez” chant that provided the backdrop to Liverpool’s ascent under Jurgen Klopp was first fashioned from an Italian disco hit called “L’Estate Sta Finendo” by L’Aquila and Napoli fans before being picked up by almost every team in the UK, as seems to be the case when a fanbase pens a terrace banger.
Of course, the most obvious example of football and music merging is during a World Cup year. Every four years, as the buzz for the greatest show on Earth begins to build, England ballads of tournaments gone by soar to the top of the charts.
When 2018 is spoken about in the future it should always be accompanied with the tagline “it’s coming home”. That summer of sun, pints and Southgate’s waistcoats would not have been the same without the constant blaring of the Baddiel and Skinner classic Three Lions.
There’ll be kids growing up now who only really know John Barnes as the World in Motion rapper and although the England side of ’82 went out in the second group stage they’ll live long in the memory thanks to their official World Cup song, the fantastically campy “This Time”. They should really bring back squad anthems for international tournaments. Imagine Jordan Pickford boppin’ about to some New Monkey for the Euros.
However, music and football don’t just come together in the obvious ways of songs being adapted or written for football. Certain tracks can evoke memories of past glories, heartbreaking moments and wrap you up in a comforting blanket of nostalgia.
I’d never willingly listen to a best of U2 album but the chorus of “Beautiful Day” sends me back to the early 2000s and a time when ITV owned the rights to the Premier League highlights with Des Lynam hosting The Premiership on a Saturday night. This was my proper introduction to football outside of being taken to the Boro by my old fella.
It was the era of Va Va Voom, of Theirry Henry and Ruud Van Nistelrooy, newly oil-rich Chelski and the birthplace of a new generation of superstars like Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.
There was iconic kit sponsors like Wolves’s Doritos partnership and Portsmouth’s kits emblazoned with the heart of TY Inc. and there was real characters of the game. They were knobs for the most part but the likes of Roy Keane, Robbie Savage and Paulo Di Canio (him especially) made football so gripping.
It was like a cartoon and if they were the villains then the heroes were artsy, skilful players with exotic names like Jay-Jay Okocha, Tugay, the main man Juninho and to a much lesser extent David Dunn. Honestly, I was obsessed with David Dunn.
If I ever have kids, that first half of the noughties is what I’ll proclaim to be “proper football” to them, even if it wasn’t really as it signalled the introduction of billionaire investment, technology and sky-high wages.
It must of helped my rose-tinted memories of those years that they included the Boro’s first trophy win as we claimed the Carling Cup in 2004. However, it’s not Pigbag that brings me back to those goose-bump inducing glory days but the strains of electric music duo Boogie Pimps.
Their “Somebody to Love” club anthem, which is bookended by the opening monologue from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in which Johnny Depp’s character reels off the litany of illegal substances they have in the boot of the car, was featured on the closing credits of an ITV special commemorating Boro’s cup triumph with highlights of each game and player interviews.
The recording of the programme is still tucked away in the loft with a pile of other VHS tapes, a much treasured heirloom. It’s only in later life that I’ve been able to understand the sample from Hunter S. Thompson’s classic but for years whenever I heard it I though of Mendieta and McClaren, not mescaline.
It isn’t just to the actual action where I travel back to when I hear a particular song that is linked to that time period. The early noughties was the home of Joga Bonito, street football and Nike adverts that were as engrossing as anything happening on the pitch.
“The Cage” was a series of ads which depicted a 3 v 3 tournaments between the world’s elite players, overseen by Eric Cantona, culminating in a final showdown between Theirry Henry’s Triple Espresso team and Ronaldo’s Os Tornados. “The Cage”, a platform for ridiculous skills and gravity defying tricks, was always accompanied by the Junkie XL remix of Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation”.
Nike followed this up with the iconic Portugal v Brazil stadium-wide game of keep ball that was punctuated by Perry Como’s “Papa Loves Mambo”, as players from both sides nutmegged their way around the ground.
This was Brazil in their pomp, reigning World Cup winners and still an almost mystical proposition. At a time when the Harry Potter franchise was going full steam ahead in the cinemas, the Seleção were real life wizards, able to manipulate the ball in time to the samba beat.
This was highlighted in the Joga Bonito campaign as Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo and the rest of the Brazil national team had a pre-match keepy uppy festival in time to the Black Eyed Peas interpretation of the Portuguese bossa nova “Mas, que nada”. No, Mark Page, this doesn’t mean anybody wants to hear the Black Eyed Peas before a Boro match. That might be the only thing I’m not missing about football.
All of these aspects of this infatuation with street football would meet in EA Sports’ original FIFA Street video game. The main mode aptly named “Rule the Street” saw you earn skill bills, the in game currency, through excessive showmanship and winning tournaments to eventually go from a starter squad of Matty Holland and Stan Lazaridis to claim household names like David Beckham and Rivaldo for your side. Still to this day if I ever hear “Stand Up Tall” by Dizzee Rascal, I’ll try and fail miserably to pull off a rainbow flick.
It’s why I find it so funny that politicians want to make such a hubbub about the arts. Football wouldn’t be the same without music. Whether it is pissed up karaoke on the bus home from an awayday with your pals, chants, walkout anthems or a particular tune that reignites an old memory; football and music go hand in hand.
That’s before looking into the various subcultures that were founded or influenced by both football and music. There are thousands of hours worth of content that could be wrote to detail the relationship between football and music; from skinheads to the casual scene, BritPop and the modern day explosion of grime.
Haven’t got time for that today though. I’m off for a boogie to a few certain songs.
Photo Credits: Getty Images
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