Back in 1990, when I’d just started out on the full-time football-writing beat, I happened to find myself in the old FAI headquarters on Merrion Square one evening in the company of various officials, guests and media folk.
Among the gathering was someone I’d last encountered years before when I was covering a different kind of beat, for Hot Press. Amused by my turning up in my customarily dishevelled state among the blazers, he wondered aloud how it was that I’d come to make what clearly seemed to him to be a quantum leap from the world of rock ‘n’ roll to the world of football.
“Oh, you know how it is,” I shrugged, “I just decided to follow the drugs.” I went on to explain that, since once proudly depraved and decadent rockers now seemed entirely preoccupied with either saving themselves through stints in rehab or saving the world through charity gigs and singles, it was clearly to sport that one needed to look to find the new pioneers eager to position themselves at the very cutting edge of pharmaceutical science.
And so, voila, here I was.
My little speech, as I recall, was greeted with what might best be described as a muted chorus of nervous titters in the room, some of those present perhaps fearful that, Hunter S. Thompson-style, I might follow up by dumping a satchel full of Colombian marching powder into a big pile on the old boardroom table, whipping out a six-inch blade and inviting everyone to dive right in.
Which was never going to happen, of course. I mean, have you any idea how expensive that stuff used to be?
The more prosaic truth of the matter is that moving seamlessly between rock ‘n’ roll and football was something I’d been doing without giving it a second thought ever since I’d reached the age of reason. (Allegedly). Just as it was also the most natural thing in the world for the vast majority of my mates growing up in the early 70s would divide their love between Shamrock Rovers and Horslips or Manchester United and Thin Lizzy or, if you were deeply unlucky, West Brom and Uriah Heep.
And, for that matter, the stars we worshipped weren’t immune either.
Years later I’d conduct an interview with Philip Lynott in which this literally card-carrying Man Utd man would insist on referring to the band’s fans as “supporters” before going on to explain, with scrupulous attention to detail, how he regarded the classic Lizzy line-up as akin to an attacking team formation – with Brian Downey, the drummer, as the sweeper advancing from the back and the twin guitars of Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham playing the roles of flying wingers. No prizes for guessing, of course, who the goal-scoring number 9 was.
Another great one we lost, Rory Gallagher, was a big football fan too, hugely knowledgeable about the game. Indeed, the very first time I met him, in 1979, in Hamburg as I recall, his fine idea of taking a break from a recording session was to grab a ball and take to nearby pitch where he indulged enthusiastically in a game of three-and-in with myself and a journalist from the Melody Maker (ask your grandparents).
The succeeding generation of rockers was no different. Since I appear to have developed some name-dropping momentum here — and if you think this is bad, wait until you see the book — I might as well mention that I once briefly shared the Tolka Park pitch with hardcore Sheffield United supporter Joe Elliott of Def Leppard fame, when the singer guested as a potent striker in a charity match for the grand old club, Hot Press Munchengladbach 1891.
I say “briefly” because, well, there were about 5,000 people looking on, which was about 5,000 too many for me, even if they really only were there to see Shels host Leeds in a friendly that was the main attraction on the night.
No matter, not long after I’d come off the bench and managed to complete one successful pass without either falling over the ball or skying it into the stands, I signalled that I needed to be urgently replaced for fear of a sudden recurrence of a severe condition which had long stymied my dreams of making it as a pro.
I don’t want to give away too much personal information about my unfortunate and even embarrassing problem here but, suffice to say, I believe those well-versed in the game refer to it, technically, as “being crap at football”.
For all that, the broad mutual respect between musicians and footballers has generally been best served when they’ve agreed to keep their professional distance as, with a couple of notable exceptions – like ‘Three Lions’ and ‘Put ‘Em Under Pressure’ — innumerable ‘football song’ monstrosities more than adequately testify.
Which is why I figured a line was finally crossed earlier this week when Noel Gallagher criticised Jack Wilshere for smoking and drinking, the Man City supporter telling Talksport: “You think of the great midfielders in the game now, like [David] Silva and the Barcelona players – they’re athletes. They don’t smoke and drink. This lad has been caught twice. That’s what sets him apart and what links him to Gazza. That catches up with you in the end. If you are smoking and drinking, you are not an athlete.”
And, so, yes, it was Liam not Noel coming over all guidance counsellorish and, no, you can’t say that he isn’t right but, still, I can’t help noting that we’ve come to a strange and sorry fork in the road when rock ‘n’ rollers are the ones doling out advice to footballers on the merits of a disciplined lifestyle.
What next? Lemmy on the value of a good night’s sleep? Iggy flogging life insurance? (Oops. Too late!).
At least, by the looks of things, and most improbably, we’ll always have Keef.
The death of Peter O’Sullevan has robbed sports broadcasting of another of its definitive voices. Once upon a time, the Beeb seemed to have ‘em all - O’ Sullevan for horse racing, Maskell for tennis, McClaren for rugby, Wolstenholme for football. Martin Tyler is a superb commentator on Sky but “AguerOOOOH” is never going to be a match for “some people are on the pitch...” All this, and the semi-retired dear old Motty is these days reduced to little more than a cameo role on MOTD.
Which is why we should continue to treasure Peter Alliss, warts and all. The Beeb losing live coverage of the British Open in 2017 is bad enough, but losing Allis to the dictates of political correctness would be even worse. Of course, the unthinking sexism of his remark about Zach Johnson’s wife anticipating a new kitchen was indeed cringe-inducing but, seriously, did Auntie really need to issue an apology? You might as well complain water is wet.
The upside of Alliss’ narrowed world-view is that, whilst also commenting – or musing might be a better word – on the recent Open, he was able to come up with this: “Caddies have got better looking over the years. They used to be dreadful old scruffs. It was suggested years ago Lord Boothby, famous politician, was having an affair with Lady Macmillan, and somebody said, ‘why did you pick her, she’s not the most beautiful thing’, and he said ‘she reminded me of a caddy I used to have at Swinley’.” Look, if it’s all still too much for your delicate sensitivities, just think of him as a character conceived by Wodehouse - and continue to relish him for as long as you can.
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