by carl wilson

World in Motion:
And Did Those Feet...? (Part 2)


This is the continuation of Zoilus assistant Chris Randle's guest post on soccer and music. Part 1 appeared yesterday. Carl is in St. Louis, MO, at Twangfest, and probably out of Internet range most of the time. He returns on Monday.

Even spectators at games have a similar outlet. I remember visiting my dad’s side of the family of England, going to my first game in person, and marveling at how inventive and elaborate some of the chants were. Some are just simple war chants – “you’re going home in a fucking ambulance!” for example. Or venerable silly jingles like “who ate all the pies?”, addressed towards any hefty members of the crowd.

But others are much more complicated, pop songs with the lyrics slyly altered or spontaneous original creations, coming together on the run. In the 1990s Manchester United were loved/hated for their star Eric Cantona, who altered his uniform for purposes of fashion, talked about arcane philosophy in media appearances and bicycle-kicked a fan spouting xenophobic abuse at him during the game. The team’s fans, who loved him, began singing a chant that exulted in his effete/crazy Frenchness and verve: “ooh aah Cantona, say ooh aah Cantona…”

Some will balk at calling this music, because it’s too simple or too crude or whatever, but to me those aspects are integral: this is the oldest form of music there is, innate and primeval, the descendant of campfire songs and tribal chants that predated civilization.

Fans will sometimes adopt existing songs in their entirety too, the most famous example probably being Liverpool, who took the old Rodgers & Hammerstein standard You’ll Never Walk Alone as their own after local band Gerry and the Pacemakers covered it in the 60s. That song became unexpectedly poignant following the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, when almost 100 Liverpool fans were crushed to death due to inept crowd control, fenced-in security that treated them like animals in the fear that they were hooligans; the song was defiantly sung in chapels and on stadium terraces for weeks. That event also spurred widespread reform of the game in England, due to a government inquiry that recommended all-seated stadiums instead of the cheaper but more dangerous standing-room terraces. Hooliganism also began to get stamped out, and suddenly the game was much more family-friendly and many, many times more lucrative: essentially, gentrification.

Some of the old fan culture remained. Interestingly, English soccer has been greatly influenced by zines in the past couple decades, much like music; seemingly every club has at least a regular makeshift pamphlet someone sells at games. There were also nationwide zines, the most important of those being When Saturday Comes, which pioneered an absurd, irreverent approach to the league (articles about bald players, for example, or endearingly woeful players who’d become cult heroes, or a curious ongoing obsession with Pat Nevin, sometimes called “an intellectual footballer” because, uh, he wrote on politics and was into The Fall and Joy Division?) and provided the sole wide-ranging platform for fans to express their views directly.

This attitude towards soccer – playful and nostalgic – was adopted by more and more people alongside the gentrification of the game in the '90s, dovetailing perfectly with that era’s wave of British bands. As a cultural moment it was a perfect match: irony and nostalgia for apolitical touchstones of Old England (albeit from an everything-is-shiny-new millenarian perspective) were encoded in Britpop’s DNA.

One of Super Furry Animals’ first singles, The Man Don’t Give A Fuck, was inspired by a relatively obscure former Cardiff City player named Robin Friday, who played during the 60s and 70s when players began to resemble the same era’s musicians: shaggy, mercurial hedonists. He astonished all observers with his genius for the game but, well, didn’t much care, sleeping around and consuming truly heroic amounts of booze and drugs; Friday smuggled heroin along for his honeymoon and once pretended to be an undercover cop in Trafalgar Square so he could swipe a guy’s acid. His life was the rockstar myth to the hilt, burning out firefly-quick before he was 40. SFA saw the convergence, and used a famous photo of Friday flicking the V-sign at a keeper he’d just humiliated as their cover.

Like New Order before them, another band – the Lightning Seeds – were asked to contribute an official song for the ’96 European Championship, which was being hosted by England and sending the nation into a frenzy. Working with a pair of comedians, they came up with Three Lions, a huge #1 hit. It perfectly summoned up the emotions of wistful longing and shy hope that are ultimately fundamental to almost all soccer songs in England, official or otherwise, which come from both the nation’s unsure post-imperial purpose and the agonizing failures of its team after the sole triumph in the ’66 Cup: “Three Lions on a shirt/Jules Rimet [the World Cup trophy] still gleaming/Thirty years of hurt/Never stopped me dreaming”. True to form, that year’s tournament saw England reach the semi-finals before suffering yet another tragic/heroic “oh-so-near” on penalties to old rival Germany.

Blur’s bassist Alex James, Damien Hirst and comedian Keith Allen (father of Lily) created a similarly popular unofficial anthem for the ’98 World Cup with their group Fat Les: Vindaloo, a celebration of mundane, lighthearted fans’ customs, like drinking lager, eating curries and going on exotic summer holidays only to end up watching England games at the bar (eventually followed by Who Invented Fish n’ Chips?, a wonderfully inane list of all the pointless things Englishmen allegedly invented).

Those songs represent modern Britain well enough but it’s their second release Jerusalem, a recording of the famous hymn based on Blake’s “And did those feet in ancient time,” that really evokes the World Cup for me, and, pretension be damned, perhaps the state of the world in general. It’s a poem, a song that’s complex to the point of contradiction, so amorphous it’s been adopted by practically every position on the political spectrum, about a person vowing to build a finer world with all their will – albeit with the inconvenient caveat that taking the first verses literally leads one to think the guy’s crazy (“uh, no, I don’t think Jesus hung out in England a couple millennia ago”). The narrator is clearly concentrating on his/her own homeland – the mythical folk-England of emerald hills and rolling pastures, that fabled golden prize the nations’ best, despite their struggles, have never quite recaptured. Yet at the same time, he or she aims to create a new Jerusalem, an example for the entire world to follow towards paradise.

Nationalist and internationalist, radical and conservative, willful and deluded, cherishing both nature and modernity, staring like Janus backwards and forwards through history: This is the fitting anthem for our world and its Cup, both unsure of what they want to be yet intent that it will make everything better. Hope, excited anxiety and that mystical attachment one has to incongruous things, inexplicable people - that’s music, and that’s soccer.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, June 06 at 7:19 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)



Brian Eno's discography lists a track called Goal Goal Goal, which I understand is the James song Low Low Low (from the "Laid" album), with different lyrics, created for the 1994 World Cup competition.

Posted by Dave on June 12, 2006 10:24 PM



I couldn't believe how political SFAs were when I saw them.
It's one of the reasons why I ♥ them.

Posted by knitgirl on June 9, 2006 8:47 PM



Robin Friday played for READING FC my home town club before cardiff.I was nine when i first saw him play and still after all the years he is the most rock n roll footballer ever.

Posted by kenny on June 9, 2006 8:26 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson