“Football is Music” according to Italian multi-instrumentalist Eros Ramazzotti who, when he isn’t collaborating on genre-bending projects with the likes of Andrea Boccelli, Joe Cocker and Cher, can be found singing compositions of another kind at Juventus’ Allianz Stadium. It’s difficult to disagree with the four-time World Music Award winner when considering the artistry of some of the game’s greats. Football, in its purest form, is about maintaining the right tempo, using players as instruments and building to the perfect crescendo. There’s a reason clips of Brazil’s 1970 squad are accompanied by the samba music native to the homeland of Pele, Jairzinho and Tostao; why Baggio and Puccini are such natural companions. Diego Maradona used to waltz past defenders, George Best was the Fifth Beatle, and Jurgen Klopp introduced Heavy Metal Football to the Premier League. Music and Football go together like Hoddle & Waddle, Chas & Dave, or bootcut jeans and Rugby Union.
The foundations of this unorthodox partnership stem from the end of the nineteenth century, when Edward Elgar composed He Banged the Leather for Goal in tribute to Wolves striker Billy Malpass. Elgar was an avid supporter of the West Midlands side, and would cycle more than forty miles from his home in Malvern to watch Malpass play at Molineux, and his composition is considered the first ever terrace song. Since then, songs and chants at football grounds across the world have become an intrisnic part of the matchday experience. From universal ditties such as Who’s the bastard in the black?, to the adoption of pop and folk songs, such as You’ll Never Walk Alone, every football ground across the world has its own musical insignia.
It was this enduring meeting of cultures that inspired the creation of official football songs. Ahead of the 1962 World Cup in Chile, jazz combo Los Ramblers created an official anthem in the shape of rock and roll romp El Rock del Mundial. From then on, FIFA commissioned an official anthem every four years, from Lonnie Donegan’s World Cup Willie, to Polina Gagarina’s Komanda 2018, providing each tournament with its own cultural signpost. Not ones to miss out on a trick, competing nations quickly latched on to the idea, and the England team hit number one in the charts with their debut single Back Home in 1970. Club songs soon followed, and the tradition of teams releasing a single for the FA Cup final began a year later with Arsenal’s Good Old Arsenal, though this largely cringeworthy custom came to an end in 2008, when English football suddenly stopped having a sense of humour.
Whilst Ossie’s Dream and The Anfield Rap both charted highly, football’s relationship with the music industry itself was little more than a novelty throughout the 70s and 80s. The watershed moment for both came in 1990, initiated by New Order’s involvement in England’s run to the World Cup semi-final. World In Motion, penned by the Manchester band and featuring that unforgettable John Barnes rap, was completely different to any football-related song that had been heard before. Naturally, it sat comfortably beside the music that revellers would hear in the legendary Hacienda of a weekend, and the two cultures would soon find themselves inextricably linked. Hooliganism in the game was on the wane, and with Paul Gascoigne’s emotional exit from Italia 90, football’s tough, impenetrable exterior cracked. At the same time, the BBC’s use of Nessun Dorma on its coverage of the tournament offered the unfolding scenes an air of gravitas. For the first time, football itself was spoken of in the same terms as art.
By the time Britpop had emerged in the mid-90s, led by Manchester City devotees Oasis, English football had become big business thanks to the inauguration of the Premier League. Footballers were the new rock stars, and Eric Cantona, with his obtuse philosophising and popped collar, became as iconic as Liam Gallagher throwing the Vs. Bands began to wear football shirts in their music videos, and footballers began to appear on the album sleeves of records. Robin Friday, Reading’s infamous mercurial playboy, was featured on the cover of the Super Furry Animals’ single The Man Don’t Give a Fuck, while in the video for El Scorcho, Weezer guitarist Brian Bell chose to wear the Kappa Barcelona shirt made famous by Romario and Hristo Stoichkov.
At the same time, bands were discovering the commercial benefits of sponsoring football kits, with 80s ska outfit and extra-strength lager enthusiasts Bad Manners splashing their name across the shirts of Margate FC, a trick repeated by The Libertines this season. Other musicians took a more modest approach, such as Pulp’s sponsorship of Sheffield FC Girls Under-14s.
With the death of Britpop and lad culture in the late-nineties, the relationship between football and music became less visible, despite England’s most famous footballer marrying a member of pop’s biggest selling girl band. Into the 21st century there were occasional glimpses of the crossover in mainstream culture, most notably Mogwai’s soundtracking of Zidane, A 21st Century Portrait, but the ubiquity of football in music had largely ebbed away. That was until the age of social media and the birth of snackable content gave rise to fresh and innovative graphic design. Eventually the venn diagram was bound to fall on those twin interests of football and music once again, and Penarello’s Beautiful Games series, in which footballers past and present are depicted on old-school vinyl covers, set the ball rolling in 2014. In 2016/17, West Bromwich Albion dabbled with the use of classic album sleeves as match programme covers, but its Leek Town’s take on that combination that has caught this imagination this season.
The Staffordshire-based club, who ply their trade in the Evo-Stik Northen Premier League, gained attention for their Non-League Day poster based on the cover for The Stone Roses debut album, having previously been featured on BBC Newsbeat and Radio X. The artist behind the Blues’ eye-catching promotional material is Paul Buxton, a lifelong Leek Town supporter and Technical Author for a construction equipment manufacturer. Whilst it’s Paul’s graphic design skills that have seen the retween button go into overdrive on the club’s twitter account, he modestly concedes that, creatively, it’s a joint venture, “Most of the ideas come from club chairman Jon Eeles. His musical knowledge is far greater than mine and he’s always suggesting new ideas, which I’ll work on one by one ready for each home match.”
Since Buxton’s involvement in Town’s marketing material, the club’s profile has dramatically increased and, while the designer is happy to acknowledge his part in Leek’s newfound fame, he admits he can’t take all the credit for the recent the increase in matchday attendances, “They’ve definitely played a part in increasing awareness of our home games, however there are more contributing factors to the increase. There was a buzz around the town when Neil Baker came back as manager due to the success he brought in his previous spell in charge in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and the team has recently been challenging for promotion and football that is generally pleasing on the eye, so there’s plenty of reasons for the bigger home gates.”
Having followed the Blues for thirty years, Buxton understands the struggle that non-league sides face to remain enticing to supporters beneath the glitz and glamour of the professional leagues. With that in mind, he admits he’d never expected his football/music crossover to prove so popular, “I never imagined that the posters would create the buzz that they have done. I had hoped they may entice the odd person to come and watch a game every now and again but the positive reaction the club is getting from both football fans and music fans is amazing. In the world of the Premier League and Champions League it’s hard for Non-League clubs to survive and get noticed, so to get the Leek Town name out there in a positive fashion to so many people is fantastic. The posters also provide the theme for the matchday playlist at each home match, so it has been good seeing the response from people towards this too. I’m sure there are people who have been tempted to visit Harrison Park just for this reason too.”
Paul’s work gained a wider audience thanks to Bands FC, the brainchild of Mark Liptrott and Nick Fraser. Since joining Twitter in June, Bands FC have ammassed over 40,000 followers, exhibited at the National Football Museum in Manchester and Ben Sherman in New York, and have a further five exhibitions planned across the UK. The idea behind the project is staggeringly simple – bands as football teams/football teams as bands, with some of the music world’s great and good being gifted their own crests based on some of the football world’s most historic clubs. Besides their exhibitions, Fraser and Liptrott have already made in-roads in building relationships with the subjects of their work, teaming up with Frightened Rabbit to create a limited edition pin-badge based on the Hearts crest in tribute to Scott Hutchison, with all proceeds going to charity. The work has also proven popular with Daft Punk and The Flaming Lips, who’ve given their own seal of approval to Bands FC’s designs. Speaking to The Drum, Fraser explained why football and music are so inextricably linked, and how that inspired such a popular project “There’s a loyalty to bands and teams that doesn’t exist in many other worlds. We all spend a lot of time at gigs and matches and talking about football and records. They already played a major part in our worlds – before they joined forces and took over completely.”
Paul Buxton had his own taste of stardom following the increased attention that Bands FC had afforded his work, “We received an acknowledgement from Pulp drummer Nick Banks towards the ‘Different Class’ poster that we did. I’d love to know what other bands think of the covers!”.
Through their work, both Leek Town and Bands FC have reignited the relationship between the beautiful game and the food of love. At a time where divisions are drawn across political lines, the beauty of art can provide a much-needed distraction. For Paul Buxton, therein lies the real reason the two are such perfect bedfellows. “The foundations of football were with the working class – work hard all week and use football at the weekend as a way of escaping all that. I think there are parallels with music too. It’s a way of escaping, enjoying the moment and losing yourself in your own little world.”
Thanks to Paul Buxton for taking the time to speak to us for this article. Paul’s work for Leek Town can be found here.