We have all been Billy Murphy for a good 10 days.
At the checkout, the bar, the jacks, the queue for the printer.
Do de do, do de do, do de do, do de do, do de do, do de do, do de da da da da da da.
Billy’s magnificent rendition of The Frank and Walters’ ‘After All’ while hijacking a bus in The Young Offenders season finale caught the national mood better than any Grand Slam.
A couple of days after it was first broadcast on RTÉ, the humming continued around the land and the Franks copped the buzz.
“‘After All’ has had over 29,000 Spotify streams since Thursday! Looking forward to that 25c in royalties,” they tweeted.
They’ve probably made a fiver out of it since — and maybe another ton from reaching number three in the iTunes chart — a quarter of a century after they sung it on Top of the Pops. When Top of the Pops stood shoulder to shoulder with Wembley in a lot of small boys’ dreams.
A footballer or a musician. Plan A and B. But in which order? Small boys like Neymar still consider the big question from time to time, with little regard for the practicalities. “If I wasn’t a footballer I would have been a musician,” said Neymar a couple of years ago, “although I don’t reckon I would have been any good because I can’t sing or play an instrument.”
That needn’t be any hindrance, as we know, but have the two careers got parity of esteem any more in young dreams? Now that Top of the Pops is dead, and music magazines are dead, and the album is dead, and the single is dead, and music videos are dead, and the old-fashioned notion of getting a few bob for the music you make is more or less dead.
While football remains convinced that money will let it live forever.
When the Franks released ‘After All’, the Premiership was about to launch and commercial savvy still meant having most sizes of your kit available in the club shop.
Maybe the two grand old careers stayed neck and neck until 2001, when the iPod landed, and then Napster let the digital genie out of the bottle.
The Premier League has since monetised every inch of itself as relentlessly as music has been demonetised.
While football has worked out a high price for everything, the song has been set free. Stripped of context, unmoored from its creator’s vision by algorithms that decide if it should show up on a morning run playlist or among a bunch of tracks to sing in the shower.
All the artist can do is hope it comes back home to them one day. That enough people check who sang that one. Then they can dream that the five most popular songs on their online calling cards make a strong enough hand to shift a few tickets and t-shirts.
Because we’re still listening. Even footballers, through their giant headphones. Though the Premier League clubs don’t tend to have official music partners, alongside their bedding partners and snack partners and gambling partners and logistics partners, which must tell us something.
And Per Mertesacker just let us into a secret.
The giant headphones “aren’t so much cool accessories as protection from the outside world”.
Big Per’s extraordinary interview in Spiegel is just one man’s testimony but its central theme is that we are stripping footballers of humanity, maybe as swiftly as we are songs.
“You’re always just the player and never the person behind the jersey.”
Around the time the Franks had to get day jobs, football got serious for Per, with a call-up to the Hannover 96 first team.
He quickly knew “that it is no longer in any way about having fun and that you have to deliver, with no ifs, ands, or buts, even if you’re injured.”
From there, Per felt the fear and did it anyway. A fear that came in floods of puke and diarrhoea before games.
“This constant horror scenario of making a mistake that would lead to a goal. At the World Cup, that was inhuman.”
Per got to know the great shame in a torrent of booing. He came to regard as “vultures” the journalists who turned up in packs after defeat.
But he towed the sponsors’ line, ‘bought in’ to the ‘culture’. He learned “the people have a right to you.”
And that there is no such thing as a calling card if a youngster from Nottingham Forest is haring away.
“Ultimately, no person is interested in whether you played well the last 10 games. The current game is the only one that matters.”
Per was fearful he’d be accused of whining, which is exactly what happened. He accepts the “bundles of money” as fair price for “his youth, his privacy, his freedom”.
The “dark side of the dream” Spiegel called it. Even if Per says it was worth it, overall, for the memories, of winning the World Cup and of Wembley. Though we’ll never know how he’d have coped in Luke Shaw’s shoes, with Jose Mourinho as his boss.
The Franks lived the dream too and are thankful.
“You write hundreds of songs over the years and there’s an element of luck with some of them and they ring true and they have a life beyond their release, and that’s one of those songs,” drummer Ashley Keating told The Journal this week.
It’s still a fine dream, to write a song that connects us at the checkout, the bar or the printer.
And reminds us of the central message of The Young Offenders: That like Billy Murphy, Per Mertesacker, and Luke Shaw, whatever we do or whatever we have, we are all humans who deserve to dream.
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