Musical Mistakes #01 – Football Anthems

As we fast approach the big England v Wales game in the UK, I have a confession to make. I am now the proud owner of a copy of the latest Manic Street Preachers single, “Together Stronger (C’Mon Wales)”, which is the Welsh national team’s anthem for the Euro 2016 football tournament currently making headlines for all the wrong reasons across Europe. For those outside Europe, it might not be obvious how wrong this is for a Englishman, especially when England have been drawn in the same group as Wales. Big rivals, never played each other in a major tournament before, must win match for both.

Hear me out, I have mitigating circumstances. Firstly, there was a signed copy available on the Manics’ website. Secondly, there’s an exclusive remix of “A Design For Life” as the b-side. Thirdly, it’s actually a very good song, especially for a football anthem. That said, there is something distinctly uncool about owning a football anthem, especially one for a rival team, but it’s something I’ll have to learn to live with.

This doesn’t quite compare to something similar that happened to me in 1996. As a newly-discovered supporter of Manchester United, I distinctly remember being stood in the big Woolworths in Burnley, pocket money in hand, staring at two potential musical purchases. It was always a tough decision – I got £2 a week and so I usually only had the ability to buy one single a week at the most. I had to get the decision right to ensure I had something enriching to listen to for the next week or so.

The first option was the official FA Cup Final single released by the Manchester United squad. Its name? “Move Move Move (The Red Tribe)”. It was utter tripe, but had the sole benefit of being the song from the team I supported.

Sat right next to this abomination was the FA Cup Final single released by the Liverpool squad. In hindsight, this was also utter tripe, though marginally less tripy than United’s effort. It was titled “Pass and Move (It’s The Liverpool Groove)”. Bracketed song titles were very popular back in the mid-90s, as were rapping footballers

I faced a tough decision, but it was one I found a way out of. I couldn’t afford both on CD single so I bought Liverpool on CD single and United on cassette. The utter shame. Two terrible songs entering my music collection, plus a betrayal of my team to go with it.

So maybe this Wales incident won’t be looked back on with such embarrassment. I guess much of that will depend on the result on Thursday afternoon.

Burnley v Manchester United (Unknown director, 1902)

This is a truly historic film artefact, badly damaged though it is: the very earliest footage of Manchester United, shot months after they changed their name from Newton Heath. The frenetic action shows United (in dark tops) apparently on the back foot against near-neighbours Burnley, although the home team ultimately lost 2-0. The result helps explain why the film was never advertised in Burnley. [1]

Watch Burnley v Manchester United from 6th December 1902

This is really interesting for me. I have been a Manchester United fan for as long as I remember, though I grew up in neighbouring Burnley where this film was recorded. I class Burnley as my second team, which generally means I want them to win in all but two weekends of the season.

The ground still stands in the same spot to this day at Turf Moor on Harry Potts Way, though it has obviously undergone a lot of developments. In this video you can see the single-tiered Brunshaw Road end (now the Bob Lord stand), to which a second tier was added a few years later. The ground looks fairly sparse, and a bit of research reveals that the attendance that day was around 4000.

There’s clearly a huge difference between the way the game is played today and how it was 113 years ago. Immediately the attire is completely different, with most wearing their shorts way higher up than their bellies. The pace of the game is much slower, probably due to the thicker clothing, longer grass, heavier ball and general lack of fitness of the players (note Bulldog cigarettes advertised above one of the stands). On the plus side, there are no free-kicks given for soft fouls, no diving, nobody shouting at the referees and no shirt advertising.

So what does it show? Is the game better or worse today? Well, it is certainly different. This is a fantastic early artefact of the game. There is earlier footage available – the earliest of which is thought to be Blackburn Rovers v West Bromwich Albion from 1898. It’s also only 1 minute and 35 seconds long, so you might as well watch it.

[1] From the BFI Player page for the video.

Fußball, Wie Noch Nie / Football as Never Before (Hellmuth Costard, 1971)

In 2004, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, the much-celebrated documentary following footballer Zinedene Zidane throughout a 90-minute match, was released. The film featured a cracking soundtrack from Scottish band Mogwai and was overlaid with a one-on-one interview with the man himself. It was eye-opening and served as a fantastic snapshot of one of the greatest sportsmen of the modern era, providing an intriguing insight into a man many consider to be a genius.

33 years prior to this, however, there was made a now-long-forgotten German film called Fußball, Wie Noch Nie. The premise is so similar to Zidane that it really undermines what I thought at the time was a unique concept. In this film, we follow footballer George Best over a 90-minute match against Coventry City, which took place on 12th September 1970. There is no soundtrack and no interview overlaid, just Best doing what he did best – playing football.

George Best was at the back-end of the peak of his career when this film was released.

George Best was at the back-end of the peak of his career when this film was released.

Of course, it wasn’t the only thing he did well. For a full picture of the footballing legend you’ve got to include women, drinking and drugs in that list. As a Manchester United fan it can be frustrating that nowadays this overshadows what was a fantastic career, even though it was cut tragically short through his alcoholism (he essentially hit decline at the age of 26 in 1972 and spent the next decade never quite achieving the dizzy heights he’d already reached in the early parts of his career, playing in Scotland, Ireland, USA and Australia before retiring). This documentary serves an excellent purpose in that it gives us a chance to remind ourselves just how good he was on a game-by-game basis, and was taken during the back-end of the peak of his career: the 1970-71 season finished with Best as top-scorer and United finishing a respectable 8th; his team-mates included Brian Kidd, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and Alan Gowling; Sir Matt Busby was eventually back in charge (though not in time for this game); memories of the European Cup victory were still fresh in the mind of the players and the fans. Manchester United were in transition, but for Best this season would prove to be one of his last memorable ones.

In case you’re wondering (spoiler alert), the game finishes 2-0 to Manchester United, with Best scoring one of the goals. Charlton scored the other. It perhaps wasn’t the most interesting game to select for this subject, but it’s nice to see a United victory and you get to experience what it was like to be in Old Trafford in the early 1970s.

It is by all accounts an experimental film. The half-time whistle goes and we are treated to a bizarre experience of staring directly into Best’s eyes whilst some hypnotic visuals serve as a backdrop. I suppose the aim is to challenge the viewer to try to imagine what goes through a player’s mind during the half-time interval, but it certainly doesn’t feel like that. Essentially, aside from this half-time segment, the film is more of an artefact than anything else.

It’s not particularly easy to get hold of. I had to import my copy from the German Amazon store, though as it’s PAL it will work perfectly well on your UK DVD players. Was it worth the effort? Well, I’m still undecided. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but I got a level of enjoyment out of it. For fans of both foreign, experimental cinema and Manchester United then I’d recommend it. Otherwise, you might be better suited to one of the highlight videos on YouTube.

Fussball, Wie Noch Nie is available from Amazon UK, though it will be cheaper to get from Amazon DE via import. No Blu-ray is available.