How football became the new rock’n’roll

In their grotesque autobiography The Dirt, LA metal band Motley Crue tore up every moral known to man.

Groupies were molested nightly; spiralling booze, heroin and cocaine addictions led to individual breakdowns, spells in rehab and frequent overdoses.

Meanwhile, Hollywood girlfriends were betrayed with such regularity that the band resorted to rubbing their unwashed "parts" with meat – the process apparently ideal for disguising “the smell of p*ssy.”

This was imperative: drummer Tommy Lee gleefully recalled sleeping with one girl who could spray her come 40 feet across a room.

Yet anyone detailing football’s sordid back story might just discover a greater catalogue of rock’n’roll misdemeanour.

In the past 50 years, the tabloids have reported dogging, drug busts, prostitution, trysts with the mafia, murder, kidnapping, counterfeiting and group sex on a scale not witnessed since Led Zeppelin’s Starship last scorched the JFK tarmac.

In half a century of headlines, footballers have taken on rock’n’roll’s most despicable at their own game (not to mention their very punk attitude towards public spitting). However, given the merging of football and music in the latter half of the 20th century, this behaviour comes as no great surprise.

Modern players, with their multi-million pound contracts, glamorous girlfriends and fancy cars, now carry the swagger of a marauding rock star, despite their clean-living athleticism.

Laughable attempts at pop stardom (Glenn Hoddle, Chris Waddle, Gazza, Andrew Cole) have dented the charts, Japanese girls have pursued David Beckham through Tokyo streets, while Roy Evans’ pretty-boy Liverpool team (plus Robbie Fowler) were even nicknamed The Spice Boys in the mid-’90s.

Fowler, McManaman and Redknapp sport 'those suits' 

Meanwhile rock stars, in thrall to the off-the-cuff creativity and drama of the game, have made desperate attempts to associate themselves with football teams and players.

Elton John bought Watford FC in 1976 and later tried to sign Vinnie Jones; Harvey from So Solid Crew played for AFC Wimbledon, and Rod Stewart constructed an 11-a-side pitch at his California home.

“We’ve got the only team with our own showers and a bar,” he once said. “I wash the kit... well, kind of. I get my personal assistant to do it. It’s beautiful. I’m trying to get Vinnie Jones to play for us too.”

Rock’n’roll and The Beautiful Game: a marriage made in heaven. But which matchmaker hitched these two unlikely bedfellows?

“Just play the way the ball bounces / And bounce the way the ball plays / Cos you won’t have long in the limelight / No you won’t have many days / Georgie, Georgie they call you the Belfast Boy.” Belfast Boy, Don Fardon, 1970

Football’s tryst with musical hedonism began in 1963. London to be precise, where the Swinging Sixties was in full sway. A generation hardened by war and financial hardship watched in horror as sexually-liberated teenage girls gobbled down The Pill.

National Service had been scrapped, life was affordable, and a desire for shiny technology and modernism reached a grand peak. Meanwhile, in Liverpool, the Beatles were recording their first number one album Please, Please Me, kicking a revolution to the head and shaping the decade’s remaining years.  

It’s worth mentioning these historical facts because, within a spectacular cultural shift, the world began viewing celebrity and football with very different eyes.

Televisions – available in most homes – presented fame as a realistic opportunity for the ordinary Joe Bloggs. Now, everybody could live the life of the pop star. Even if you kicked a leather ball around a boggy park for a living.

“Whatever field they worked in,” claims former music mogul, Simon Napier-Bell, “everyone wanted to make it the way the Beatles had. Suddenly there were opportunities for anyone with energy and flair who could look at things in a new way. The Beatles had got everybody chasing success.”

Televised games and Jimmy Hill’s abolition of the maximum wage had transformed football, and George Best had energy and flair in abundance. A few hours up the M1 from Carnaby Street, sexuality, sideburns and a hedonistic streak had positioned Best alongside a score of British bands.

Like Please, Please Me’s arrival at Number One, Best’s Manchester United debut made an immediate impact. Almost overnight he was a football and cultural phenomenon.

Two years later, his clubbing and womanising was in full swing. By 1966, after a 5-1 thrashing of Benfica in the European Cup quarter-finals, Portuguese newspaper A Bola had dubbed him El Beatle and Best was iconic in the same way as John, Paul, George and Ringo.

The papers even nicknamed him The Fifth Beatle as girls, drinks and parties followed harder and faster than before.

“In six years, he has become a cult for youth, a new folk hero, a living James Dean who is a rebel with a cause,” wrote The Times.

A new era had began. Best’s actions – on and off the pitch – turned on a host of kids more in tune with the hit parade than the football results. Suddenly, footballers were cool.

“I was a Best worshipper,” says Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall, a United supporter. “He captured the imagination. He was the first footballing pop star. We looked up to him as kids, not just for his footballing skills but for his whole personality. He had pop star qualities as well as the hair, the fast cars, the women. He was a hero to us.”

Players, with one eye on the pop media, became aware of their own glamour potential. And from then on in, English footballers began embracing rock’n’roll iconography and hedonism, opening clothes boutiques on the Kings Road and sashaying around nightclub dance floors with glamorous blondes, rock star admirers and fashion models.

'Fifth Beatle' Best shows off his boutique 

Chelsea’s Peter Osgood even scored with sex siren Raquel Welch, leaving club chairman Brian Mears to admit: “Osgood epitomised Swinging London as much as David Bailey or Paul McCartney.”

When Best left London nightclub Tramps one evening, he was followed from the door by the same Beatle and wife, Linda. “Just as they were leaving,” said Best, “Linda came up behind me and whispered, ‘You know we love you, don’t you?’ It was fantastic.” 

Football and music had always been entwined. Old church standards had been adapted for the terraces for as long as the game had been a public event. Yet their lyrics had never referenced danger or controversy.

By the ’70s, the terraces roared with LSD-inspired Beatles songs. Elsewhere, the media mashed sport and sex together, introducing a public audience to live games and a role call of glamorous players eager for attention.

“Footballers and rock stars were similar because they became folk heroes,” says Greg Gilbert, singer with The Delays, a top 20 band in their own right.

Gilbert had his own football career shattered when, in a fit of pique, he threw a shirt at his youth team coach at Portsmouth. “Footballers can do things that are instinctive and exciting, things that most of us can’t and it’s the same with bands. Everybody watches them and talks about them in the pub or the playground. And the legend of different players gets passed down to generations just like albums.”

Both Best and the Beatles derailed in the ’70s, but a host of characters filled their vacuum, each one blessed with flair, skill and a reckless attitude to authority. As a swathe of rock bands (and later punk) leapt from the radio, football provided its own anti heroes: Charlie George, Peter Storey and Stan Bowles.

“Bowles was the greatest,” says one-time Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, a QPR fan. “He was a bit of a villain and I suppose he was a rock’n’roll character, but that’s why I admired him, because he had that streak in him that wanted to cause trouble.”

In playgrounds up and down the country, cigarette cards of Frank Worthington became as thrilling as a new single by The Clash or The Jam.

Girls were excited too – for every footballer cut with an anarchic streak to appease the boys, a pin-up was made available for bubblegum magazines. From Kevin Keegan to David Beckham, the game threw up its own pop stars: squeaky-clean poster fodder for teenage girls and cooing grannies.

Meanwhile, as the Government’s introduction of career advisers in schools took hold, teachers sought vocational aspiration within their students. Usually, they were bombarded with two answers:

a) “Sir, I want to be a rock star.” b) “I want to play for England.”

Anyone looking for psychological clues to these two career choices need only search their own brain. Successful players and bands are often graced with financial security, glamorous lifestyles, pin-up girlfriends, admiring peers and, above all, hero worship on an obscene scale.

Which hormone-fuelled male hasn’t craved all of the above at one time or another?

Then of course there’s the actual “doing” of both. It doesn’t get much better than playing football with your mates, winning the local league or scoring an important goal at any level.

Likewise, sitting around listening to records, making an unholy, neighbour-baiting racket on a drum kit or crowd surfing at a festival is another world of joy. Imagine doing all of that and being paid for it too.

“The buzzes of football and music are very similar, because the very best bands and footballers are doing something creative that other people can’t,” says Greg Gilbert.

“It’s all about showmanship. The greatest players play with a smile on their face because there is a joy in what they’re doing. It’s not a considered motion. But the experience they both share is the feeling of walking a tightrope - whether you’re playing live at a gig or playing football in front of 40,000 people there’s that worry that you could fall off either side.

"But if you pull it off, do a great show or play well and come through the other side, there’s no greater feeling.

“Live, both share a spontaneity which can’t be described,” continues Gilbert. “Which is why it’s unfair to have a go at players for not being insightful during post match interviews. It’s like asking Noel Gallagher to talk the fans through an improvised guitar solo after a show.”

This adrenaline rush often causes the overambitious to stab at both vocations. Rod Stewart (Brentford), Badly Drawn Boy (Manchester United), Manic Street Preacher’s Nicky Wire (Wales U16s), Julio Iglesias (Real Madrid), Luciano Pavarotti (Lepanto) and Take That’s Mark Owen (Manchester United) all spent time under the tutelage of football clubs.

Sadly the closest Shakin’ Stevens and Mick Hucknall got was an appearance in Viz’s Billy The Fish cartoon strip.

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Meanwhile several pros have started their own rock bands, including Alexei Lalas (The Gypsies), Christian Dailly (South Playground) and one-time Nottingham Forest striker, Paul McGregor (Merc).

Of the two, most agree that football presents the greater pressures.

“When you’re doing a gig, you haven’t got thousands of people screaming at you,” says Echo And The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch, Liverpool fan and writer of England’s 1998 World Cup single, Top Of The World.

“You don’t have people telling you you’re shite. Yelling at you at if hit a wrong note or f*ck up. Not normally anyway. I could never play footy in front of all those people.”

Thursday: Watch out! Footballers' records

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