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by Phil Shoenfelt
|Written for a Czech newspaper.
What do I know about football? Not a hell of a lot. I mean, I know how to play it, and I enjoyed playing it when I was a kid, but Iâ€™ve never been a follower of any particular team. This is very strange for someone who was born and grew up in England, where the sport is something like the national religion. Sorry, but thatâ€™s the fact of the matter. The closest I ever got to being a supporter was when I used to live around the corner from the Manchester City ground in Maine Road. All that meant for me, however, was inconvenience and disruption when thousands of fans would descend upon the neighbourhood almost every Saturday afternoon.
No, my own obsession is that other great hobby of the English working classes, Rock & Roll music. Many UK rock bands do manage to successfully combine the two interests. In fact itâ€™s almost essential nowadays for any self-respecting English band to support one of the big clubs. Think of Oasis, for example. Or Blur. Pulp, too. Particularly since the advent of "Brit-Pop" itâ€™s been mandatory for rock musicians to mention their favourite team in any interview they do. Sometimes this interest is genuine, sometimes itâ€™s a calculated thing to prove that the musician is "one of the lads". And, of course, to curry favour with the supporters of Chelsea, Manchester United, or whoever.
Even before Brit-Pop, football was being mentioned in rock songs. Mark E. Smith from legendary Mancunian post-punk band The Fall wrote a great song called "Kicker Conspiracy". And another one called "AC Sparta" about the Prague team. But donâ€™t expect anything in the words about football. Mark is more concerned with "Paranoic Realism" than with the noble sport itself. And that horrible off-shoot of punk rock known as "Oi" music was really just football terrace chants yelled out over a three chord thrash. That, for me, was where everything started to go wrong. Even worse was when bands started to dress like footballers, cutting their hair short and dressing in designer sportswear. Some of them even named themselves after a football team.
I guess Iâ€™m just an old-fashioned guy. I like that period when rock music stood in opposition to all things outdoor and healthy, and raised the banner for sex, drugs, and teenage rebellion. I mean, can you imagine Jimi Hendrix putting on a pair of boots and going for a kickabout? Or The New York Dolls? Or Keith Richard? (Maybe Mick Jagger would, with his conversion to healthy living in the 1980â€™s, but never Keith.) My idea of heaven is a small rock club packed to the gills with sweating female bodies gyrating madly. Not to be among 50,000 shouting, drunken, tribal guys at some bloody football match!
Phil Shoenfelt, Prague, 1/04/06