by carl wilson

World In Motion:
And Did Those Feet....? (Part 1)

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Since Chris Randle, Erella Ganon and Sebastian Cook began helping me out with the Zoilus gig guide, this site has been so much more of a pleasure to run (and the listings have improved immensely). I hope to have the members of this little collective contribute to the rest of the site occasionally, and first up is young Chris Randle, who offers his thoughts on music and soccer to get us in the mood for the opening of the World Cup this weekend. (And also to help me out, since I'm going to be out of the country and not in easy proximity to the Internet until Sunday. Chris's essay runs in two parts, today and tomorrow. Please welcome him.

When it came to the actual contest, England’s World Cup team in 1990 was nothing out of the ordinary for them – a few games of invigorating promise followed by tearful, blaze-of-glory heartbreak. More interesting to wonder what they were listening to in the dressing room. These players, after all, included: John Barnes, featured on a #1 UK single *; Stuart “Psycho” Pearce, an early and fanatical punk devotee who eventually had a label named after him by the Stranglers; and Terry “no nickname required” Butcher, who memorably announced his refusal to listen to U2 with the criticism that they were traitorous "Fenian music."

The medium and the sport are united by this dynamism: Just as a song can be interpreted in wildly different ways, have radically divergent meaning, to (say) an American kid and an elderly Argentine, so does the game. Soccer lacks the staccato bursts of action and pause that exist in most American sports; it’s free-flowing, rarely stopping, more relaxed and graceful. It also relies far less on preprogrammed tactics and formations, the result being that each player has more freedom to use their skills as they will. I love the emphasis on personal expression and beauty here – almost feminine (for lack of a better word) in comparison to the macho army exercises of this continent’s sports, or at least a place with fewer jocks. That’s some of the shared blood, I guess, between these secret cousins, but there’s other parallels between soccer and music I find equally interesting, most of all with the Cup about to get underway; like a smart song gazing outwards, it always has observations about the state of our world.

Back to that dressing room. When the Jamaican-born Barnes rapped haltingly but gamely over New Order’s beats, he embodied both the Cup’s almost naive ideal of cross-cultural understanding and the infusion of “foreign” artists and their music into predominantly white genres, white charts, white mainstreams. The black players, immigrants’ children, who began entering England’s top league in significant numbers in the 1980s were pelted not just with racist bile but actual bananas. Now, though, England’s very national team is cosmopolitan and diverse, and the once-rare foreigners playing in the Premiership are common, a couple teams even having fielded squads made up of them entirely. Knowingly or not, Barnes anticipated the multiculturalism of today’s England, his primitive flow simply an embryo in the course of its evolution.

Of course, the sport can divide at least as well as it unites – just ask the aforementioned Butcher, or even better the legions of England supporters in the 1980s who were fond of chanting, “No surrender to the IRA!" There are many examples of xenophobia and “derby” matches (intense rivalries between teams that are usually in the same city or two very close to each other, invested with all the urgency and insecurity you can imagine) in the sport, but my favourite is the enmity some fans have for innocent styles of play.

In soccer, certain theories of the game have deep ties to specific countries; the Italians were widely known (and disliked) for an ultra-defensive formation called catanaccio, and the Dutch pioneered a theory known as “total football” that stressed maximum fluidity and adaptability, with players taking up and dropping different roles with the flow of the game. This too has improved over the bad old days: until a few decades ago England’s Football Association was basically a bunch of unreconstructed class snobs, who didn’t deign to send their team to the first few World Cups, reasoning that their boys were naturally better than everyone else; they were English, weren’t they? No need to sully their reputations by associating with such a competition (amusing conclusion: when the FA finally relented and entered the 1950 World Cup, England was beaten by the lowly U.S.A., 500-1 to win the Cup, thanks to a fluke goal by a Haitian dishwasher).

Even now, though, there are echoes of the bad old days, like how fans of every nationality unite in declaring that players from various other cultures are diving cheats, not genuine sportsmen of the game; some Englishmen still claim that their nation “invented” soccer, so they’ll always be the one true greatest, nyah. To my ears, this sounds a lot like the anti-pop bias or rockist impulse in music - accusations that one’s targets aren’t “real” in some mystical way coupled with chauvinistic dismissal of other styles. So who cares if Brazil are so skillful it makes one jealous, if they move like a great pop song on the field? Those girly poseurs don’t even play their own instruments!

Optimists will prefer to note the situation surrounding, say, Ivory Coast’s national team, whose first-ever qualification for the Cup seems to have genuinely brought people together in harmony, at least for now, in a country notoriously overflowing with ethnic and political tensions (interesting, but too complicated to go into here, is the uncomfortable fact that most of Ivory Coast’s players live and work in Europe, for European teams, poached in return for sums that would stupefy their average countryman). In all the media coverage this phenomenon has gotten, however, there’s one thing that caught my eye. Ivorians have created a new dance, called the Drogba, based on their star player’s signature jukes and moves; this seems like a very "music" thing to do.

Music and soccer are entwined in many developing countries, two mediums that anyone can express themselves in, no matter how poor. You can make music with only your own body, and you can play soccer with a ball made of rags and goalposts scavenged from a junkyard – and in slums across the world millions of children do. It’s the same spirit behind a group like Konono no. 1, or even some of Toronto’s more conceptual bands: no barriers to participation.

Tomorrow: Part 2: You're Going Home in a Fucking Ambulance.


* That being
New Order’s commentator-sampling World in Motion, undoubtedly the best soccer-related track ever. The beat and chorus are great, the players involved don’t actually embarrass themselves, and the lyrics are mostly so vague and broad that it could be a normal boys-and-girls song by…Madonna, say (they do exhort us to “express yourself!”). Plus: veiled drug reference! “E for England…”

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, June 06 at 6:49 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (8)

 

COMMENTS

Cranberries this seems a little too structured man

Posted by Aj on June 10, 2006 5:21 PM

 

 

I actually realized that I'd mostly forgotten non-English songs about the game after I finished writing it...the whole thing is weighted towards England a bit. I think that's understandable since it's what I grew up immersed in, but still a weakness, yeah.

Posted by chris r. on June 8, 2006 3:04 PM

 

 

New Order's' song is good, but the best soccer related (rock/pop) song ever?

Maybe if you just speak english.

G.

Posted by juepucta on June 8, 2006 11:17 AM

 

 

your comments regarding john barnes are spot on.
i would like to feel that if the unforgettable sight of bananas landing on the pitch close to barnes were to ever occur again during a liverpool vs. everton derby as i witnessed once, or any match for that matter, the commentators would actually condemn it.

when barnes was playing the commentators ignored it. he and other players like the fashanu , laurie cunningham and cyrille regis definitely helped to pave the way. of course, it's hardly perfect yet though.

Posted by Del on June 8, 2006 2:39 AM

 

 

I would be the *last* person to suggest anyone could top Jorge Ben, but you gotta give all thirteen minutes of the Real Sounds' "Tornados vs. Dynamos (3-3)" some consideration. It's a play by play account of a match over a guitar heavy soukous groove. You've got to hear it to believe it, sound effects and all.

Posted by dacks on June 7, 2006 8:16 PM

 

 

Ah, the WC starts on Friday. Can't wait.

Posted by Chris on June 7, 2006 5:58 AM

 

 

Nate beat me to the same comment - "Umbabarauma" is hard to top.

Posted by Eric Z. on June 6, 2006 11:10 PM

 

 

As long as Jorge Ben's "Ponta de Lança Africano (Umbabarauma)" exists, I call that "undoubtedly" into question. Like where you're going with this, though.

Posted by Nate Patrin on June 6, 2006 9:22 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson