You can’t think of Rod Stewart as anything other than a singer. In fact, the last thing you’d imagine him doing is plying his trade as a bit-part player in a struggling Nationwide League side.
But in his teens, when he wasn’t busy listening to Sam Cooke albums, Stewart was planning a career which didn’t involve blondes, recording contracts and Ronnie Wood.
One can only wonder why Brentford FC seemed like an attractive proposition, but the London-raised Scot went there for a week-long trial during his teens on the encouragement of his dad.
“I was on trial there around about the same time I was getting into music,” says Stewart, casting his expert eyes over the women in the bar of a west London hotel.
“I was about 16, but my head wasn’t really into it at the time. I went there for a week and I think I only did it for my dad, because he had three sons and he was desperate for one of them to be a footballer. I wasn’t really dedicated to it and I think I love it more now than I did then, which is strange.”
The club themselves claim they have no record of a young Rod Stewart gracing their training ground. Not that he’s bothered. Stewart is convinced he didn’t have the ability to make the grade as a full-time footballer.
“I was never really that good as a player,” he says. “I didn’t really think I was going to be a professional player because I could tackle and pass the ball but I could never take anyone on. I could never run at a full-back, but then I suppose David Beckham can’t either.
"I'VE HAD THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS"
“Looking back on it now I would have rather done well in music than in football,” he says, taking another swig from a glass of white wine. “I’ve played with professional footballers at Hampden Park in exhibition games.
"I’ve played with my heroes – like Kenny Dalglish and Denis Law – and I’ve played at Wembley six times, which is more than a lot of professionals. I’ve had the best of both worlds really.
"I’ve played with all the great players in all the great stadiums without having to put in the dedicated training or make the sacrifices in my lifestyle.”
Making a change to his lifestyle would almost certainly inconvenience Rod Stewart. Take this interview, for instance.We are sitting in a luxurious West End hotel, enjoying the smiles of passing women who are turning to look (at Stewart, not FFT) as they walk into a cocktail party.
FFT has already met his supermodel girlfriend, Penny; according to Stewart, she's “a fantastic lap dancer.”
After the FourFourTwo interview (part of his promotional schedule for his new album Human), he’s off to the Ritz to meet Ronnie Wood for dinner. Nobody would want to give this up for a life of regimented diets, double training and endless criticism from fans and the media. Not even a diehard Celtic and Scotland fan.
He laughs when I put this to him. “Yeah I know, but I still love my football,” he says. “I live in California now and I get all the games on TV, live at seven in the morning. They’re not always Celtic games, but they’re always Scottish Premier League matches. I have to get up early on a Saturday and Sunday to watch the games but that doesn’t bother me because I have to get up to play for my own team anyway, so it gives me a bit of incentive.
"I WASH THE TEAM'S KIT... SORT OF"
“I’m in a really good league out there. It’s a good standard of play and we’ve got a great bunch of guys in the team and a great ground. In fact, we’re the only team that has its own bar and showers. We’re like the Manchester United of our division because I set them up with kits and facilities. We had a Celtic kit one week and Man United the next and then a Leeds strip. We’ve got so many shirts it’s unbelievable.
“Vin�nie Jones is out there now and the team he plays for is a load of crap,” he says. “We keep telling him he should sign for us but he won’t for some reason. It’s a purely amateur league and all that and I wash the kit. Well sort of. I get my personal assistant to do it. The shirts are collected after the game and within an hour they’re washed and ironed and back in the bag. It’s beautiful. You don’t often get that at Hackney Marshes.”
Stewart has supported Celtic since 1971, when, after Maggie May had topped both the US and UK charts, he was invited to have dinner with Kenny Dalglish, who had just signed for the club.?
Dalglish gave Stewart a couple of complimentary tickets for the next game. Stewart had grown up in north London and would often watch Arsenal, but only when his dad took him and his brothers to watch England play Scotland were his football passions roused.
“Since I can remember I was always a Scotland fan,” he says. “When I was a kid me and my brothers grew up in the Archway Road in north London. We would have pictures of Scottish footballers up on the walls, but I couldn’t really work out what all the excitement was about when he talked about football.
"There were pictures of George Young and Jim Baxter on the wall and as a kid I found that really confusing. Suddenly it clicked when I went to see the first England-Scotland match. Scotland lost 1-0 and it was when Billy Wright got his 100th cap and I remember the passion being fantastic. Those annual England-Scotland games were great. I used to look forward to them every year. I really miss them now.
"ENGLAND FANS HAVE REDISCOVERED THEIR ENGLISHNESS"
“The Scots loved it more than the England fans in those days. I think it would be different now, because the England fans have got hold of their Englishness again. They seem to be a bit more passionate about their country these days. They never used to.
"Now they seem to be really aware of the Englishness and you see more and more St George’s flags at the grounds at the moment. I go all the time. The last one obviously was the Euro 2000 game at Wembley when we won 1-0 and that was fantastic for us, because although we didn’t qualify, we managed to put one over the English and that was the most important thing.”
Unlike most celebrity fans, Stewart prefers not to use his status to secure extra privileges when supporting the national team. There are no free tickets, no meet-and-greets with the players or management and no organised singalongs with the squad before big games.
“I don’t really mix with the Scottish players when I see them play. I try to keep my distance. I’ve trained with them when they were getting ready for Euro 96 and we went training in the States. I don’t want to be hanging round dressing rooms. I’m a fan and I want to go and see the games and go to the pub with my brothers and my mates.
“I haven’t missed an England-Scotland match for years. The only one I missed was when I went into tax exile in 1975 and I couldn’t get into Great Britain. So I flew into Ireland to watch it on the TV and my parents came to Ireland because I wasn’t allowed to go over and see them. I think we lost 5-1 and Keegan got three that day. It wasn’t really worth it, I suppose.”
Worth it or not, the lengths Stewart will go to see the Tartan Army congregate whenever Scotland play is indicative of his passion for football. Sadly he can't mix with the fans too often and he’s all too aware of the consequences of walking into a pub full of rowdy Scotland fans.
"IT'S A GOOD P*SS-UP"
“I love travelling with the Tartan Army,” says Stewart. “They’re a credit to the country and it’s always a good laugh. Obviously I have to keep a low profile otherwise I don’t get left alone, but when I do see the fans they’re always a great bunch of people. They have their own �newsletters and they treat the games as a big day out.
“They want to see Scotland win obviously, but it’s a good p*ss-up for them. They’re great spokesmen for the country. I’m really proud of them but I can’t mix with them because once they see me it’s all over. I remember in the World Cup in France, they saw me on this coach and they just went mad. They were all singing at me and I get quite moved when I see it because they take over a town and they’re in the square singing and playing the bagpipes. It’s fantastic.
“But we should have been in Euro 2000,” he continues. “I don’t think we would have got very far because we didn’t have the players. Craig Brown has done a wonderful job with what he’s got, but it’s not as if there’s a flood of young players coming through. It would have been great to have had the Tartan Army out there.”
It takes quite a lot to move Stewart. But even though he is in the upper echelons of celebrity, he still finds there’s something a little special about meeting his football heroes.
“Somebody asked me yesterday when I was genuinely humbled or spellbound by somebody in football,” he says. “And I’ve met the Queen and a load of film stars and that hasn’t fazed me at all. But when they had a gathering of the Lisbon Lions and they were all there that moved me. We went to a game with them on the Parkhead pitch and I was absolutely speechless. To sit in the dressing room with them was a fantastic experience.”He smiles.
“It would nice to think that some of those players who had achieved so much enjoyed what I did for a career. That would be really humbling.”
From the May 2001 issue of FourFourTwo.