My Football with Manchester City fan Johnny Marr: "My first game was Man United vs Chelsea. I didn't enjoy it"

Johnny Marr
(Image credit: Getty Images)

This Johnny Marr interview first appeared in the December 2020 issue of FourFourTwo magazine. Subscribe today and get 13 issues a year delivered straight to your door.

What was the first match that you ever saw live? 

I went to Manchester United-Chelsea, sometime in 1972. Amazingly, I didn’t enjoy it, so I regard my first match as Manchester City-Wolves shortly after that. I much preferred Maine Road to Old Trafford. The latter had this kind of gothic gloom to me, which I might be overstating a bit because I’m a City fan. When I went to see City, the whole day was really exciting. Blue skies, blue kit, blue scarves and blue hats. I just loved everything about it.

Who was your childhood hero and did you ever meet them?

By miles, it was Dennis Tueart. I was already a City fan for a couple of years when he came from Sunderland. He was so dynamic and a very unusual player. He was tenacious, a showman in the right way, and a real winner who played the whole 90 minutes as if his life depended on it. 

Me and Dennis are really close now – he’s a good friend of mine and we often go to City matches together. As a musician, I believe that you are what you play – how you write and how you sing is essentially an illustration of your character. That’s probably the same in football, too. Dennis Tueart was the way he played – a wide-awake, very engaged and enthusiastic guy. He’s still that way. 

What was your finest moment as a player?

It’s got to be my first match for City’s youth team when I was 14 – we beat Bolton. Just putting on the kit and the tracksuit top was brilliant. My interest was always so focused on music that I knew I was never going to make it as a real footballer. 

What do you miss most about going to a match?

I miss the anticipation that everyone has. Generally speaking, when you go to watch a football match, everyone’s in a good mood before kick-off. There’s that frisson of excitement. Seeing the pitch always ties me to that first time I ever saw Maine Road. It’s almost the same – you walk up the steps, see the pitch, and it reminds you of the first time that happened. It’s like being on a road trip and eventually seeing the ocean.

How has watching football changed for you since you were a kid?

Oh man… you’ve got to bear in mind that I started going back in the ’70s. The game has changed almost in every way. 

With all the money generated, it’s more commerce-driven. You wonder if one day the television interest would affect the actual technicalities of the game, like new rules coming in to encourage high-scoring. Then there’s the better pitches, sports technology, the stadiums, social media and podcasts. 

The transfer market is completely insane right now, and we have to look at it given that lower-league clubs are going out of business. In the ’70s and ’80s, rock stars drove the flashiest cars and had the most radical haircuts. These days, if you’re a 12-year-old boy or girl and want to copy someone’s radical haircut and lifestyle, you look at a footballer.

Who from your club’s past would you bring back for the current side?

There’s a few. Mike Summerbee would do a job for us. I’d have Paul Lake and Georgi Kinkladze, too. All City fans miss Pablo Zabaleta running around with an open wound. A bit unhygienic, but you can’t question his commitment. 

What’s your favourite goal you’ve ever seen?

It has to be Sergio Aguero against QPR in 2011/12 when we won the league. You could fill  this entire magazine with the narrative of that game and that goal. I was there. It was f**king transcendent. 

Where’s the best place that you’ve ever watched a game?

The old Wembley Stadium for the England-Germany Euro 96 semi-final. That night was as dramatic and other-worldly as you might think. I was there with Noel Gallagher and several others. It was one of those moments in football where, during the penalty shootout, you’re more or less as one with 100,000 people in the ground. When it was finally over and we’d lost, everyone experienced the same drain – a massive wipeout. 

Which player would you choose as your room-mate?

That’s easy: Fernandinho in a heartbeat. I met him fleetingly when I played two numbers at an event for City. I had my guitar on, and he came over to me and asked to check out the guitar. He’s just got this presence about him of a really cool best mate. 

Where’s the strangest place you’ve ever met a manager or player?

The dressing room at Barrowlands in Glasgow. I played a few numbers with Oasis, then we went off stage and the whole atmosphere was weirdly quiet. The dressing room at Barrowlands has swinging doors, so they swung open and in strolled Celtic manager Martin O’Neill and Neil Lennon [above]. They came into a near silent dressing room, then Martin looked around and said, “Well… that was s**t.” It was a really good joke and broke all the tension. He was funny and snapped everyone out of the strange post-gig vibe. I chatted to him for a quite while that night and found him to be great company. A very charming man. 

What’s the most important piece of memorabilia that you have or wish you still had?

I once ended up swapping a scarf with a Middlesbrough fan instead of the two of us beating the s**t out of each other. A very convenient truce. That was up at Ayresome Park – there was a huge riot after the game and I ended up running for my life around the streets. I darted around a corner and there was a Boro supporter about the same age as me. We just put our hands up in the air and then swapped silk scarves.

Who’s your current favourite player?

It has to be Kevin De Bruyne, hasn’t it? I think every football fan in the world would want him in their team, and he’d probably be your favourite player. He’s got everything. 

If you could drop yourself into your all-time five-a-side team, who would you be playing alongside?

I’ve modified this question... in goal is Keith Moon from The Who. Bob Marley can play where he wants, and I’d also have Mani from the Stone Roses and The Clash’s Paul Simonon, who looks like he’d be pretty good if he could be bothered. I’ve also got a wildcard sub in Syd Barrett from Pink Floyd. He’d be a little bit erratic – you just never know how it’s going to go. 

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Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor who has contributed to FourFourTwo since 2020. Previously the deputy editor at Q Magazine (RIP), he also writes for Classic Rock, Music Week, The Guardian, Rolling Stone UK, Apple Music and co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue. One day, he plans to name and shame every fan of a Top Six club who describes themselves as “long-suffering” in their Twitter bio.