When footballers become pop stars...

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United forever, whatever the weather
Less than 100%? Never!
The son of a miner, funkiest rhymer
Always in the news, my crew the headliner
£7.5 mill record breaker, I’m rapping on the mic, keeping it real
I’m keeping the raw.

Andy Cole, Outstanding, 1999

In the late ’90s, then-Manchester United striker Andy (not yet Andrew) Cole, flushed with Champions League success, released his debut pop single – a cover of The Gap Band’s Outstanding, featuring a painful diatribe rapped over the top.

It stiffed, but in the accompanying promotional junket Cole delivered a revealing interview to Time Out magazine, assessing a selection of other singing footballers.

When played Ian Wright’s Do The Wright Thing, Cole enquired, “I remember this well. Who wrote this? Stock, Aitken and Waterman?” (Pop fans note: it was actually Pet Shop Boy’s Chris Lowe).

On Martin Buchan’s Martin Buchan Blues he awarded a “10 out of 10. It’s cool when you consider what type of music was out in 1976.”

This Time..., the 1982 England World Cup song and Liverpool’s Anfield Rap both received the thumbs down, before Cole was played Diamond Lights, as performed by Spurs’ flamboyant midfielders Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle.

“Nah!” snorted Cole. “Forget this. That was shocking, man. No, really, fast-forward this.”

Anfield Rap: Thumbs down from Coley 

Despite Outstanding’s lacklustre entry to the pop canon, Cole had inadvertently smacked the nail on its head.

Footballers, despite repeated attempts at musical stardom, cannot make records – in much the same way that Diana Ross can’t kick a football into a gaping net at the opening ceremony of the 1994 World Cup or Chris Martin wouldn’t pick up the ball on the halfway line, weave his way through a barrage of defenders and ping a drive into the top corner from 25 yards in the Champions League final.

Even to the casual observer it seems nigh-on impossible to hold down a career in both. Dedication, physical perfection and regimented diet hardly feature on the schedules of most touring bands. Drugs, groupies and sleepless nights are frowned upon at most professional clubs.

Not that a string of players have cared – they’ve had a riot peppering the charts with poorly-produced novelty singles.

Terry Venables and John Charles both released records in the 1960s before Kevin Keegan made the first laughable stab at pop stardom with his single Head Over Heels in 1979. It only reached number 31 in the charts but a trend was set.

By the mid-’80s, Spurs midfielders Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle had released two records – Diamond Lights and It’s Goodbye – to muted response, while a decade later Ian Wright and Andy Cole were laying down hip-hop cuts with a level of fan enthusiasm unnoticed within Spicemania.

For an indication at just how bad these singles were, it’s worth considering that Gazza topped the lot with his Number Two smash Fog On The Tyne in 1990.

Gazza and his guitar top the charts, almost 

But rock stars have added to the whole sorry phenomenon too – lyrically at least.

Bands referencing the game in song include Morrissey (Roy’s Keen), Billy Bragg (Moving The Goalposts, God’s Footballer and Shirley – “How can you lie there and think of England when you don’t even know who’s in the team?”), Don Fardon (The Belfast Boy – a song praising George Best) and Half Man, Half Biscuit (I Was A Teenage Honved Fan).

Also guilty are The Wedding Present, The Fall, I, Ludicrous, and Super Furry Animals, whose single The Man Don’t Give A F*ck featured notorious Reading player Robin Friday on the cover.

“His daughter and wife were really upset about it,” says drummer Dafydd Ieuan. “They got in touch to say, actually, he did give a f*ck.”

Still, when it comes to creative inspiration, there’s nothing to match the FA Cup final muse which so often drives bands to pen songs for their favourite teams, most notably Chas’n’Dave who penned the Rockney masterpiece Ossie’s Dream for Spurs in 1981, complete with the couplet:

“Ossie’s going to Wembley
His knees have gone all trembly.”

Clive Allen reaches for the high note

This seasonal horror is only surpassed by the build-up to an international tournament as the whole process goes into meltdown and bands proffer their support for the national team.

Step forward New Order (World In Motion, 1986), Echo And The Bunnymen, The Spice Girls and Ocean Colour Scene (Top Of The World, 1998) and Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds (Three Lions, 1996 and 2002).

“I've never ever written a song about football apart from Three Lions,” says Liverpool fan Broudie.

“I remember when the FA got in touch and asked me to write a single for Euro 96 and I said no first of all because I was a little bit uncomfortable with the whole En-Ger-Land thing. I know New Order did that song but I didn't even like it that much.

"I remember they were doing games at Anfield for Euro 96 and before the end of the season a few pennants went up and that's when I thought, ‘Actually it's going to be here at Anfield’ and I got quite into it.”

Of course, it could be worse. Scotland’s 1998 World Cup campaign was infamously soundtracked by folk rockers Del Amitri’s prophetic Don’t Come Home Too Soon. Craig Brown’s team were duly knocked out in the group stages.

Still, what these singles really create is an arena in which John Barnes can rap, Gazza can sing and the entire squad – complete with kitman, physio and masseur – can sway awkwardly in a low-budget promotional video while clutching oversized headphones.

What songwriter could resist the association? Sadly, the results are often intolerable.

“England players can just about play football,” hisses Ian McCulloch, “let alone sing.” Nevertheless pop’s elite are as wide eyed in adulation of footballers as the next man.

Football is the great leveller. Most bands, despite their too-cool-for-school demeanour, will boast at least one long-suffering fan among their ranks.

“Johnny Rotten would always get pissed off when we started talking football,” recalls former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, a QPR fan.

“He couldn’t get his head round it. He would say things like, ‘What’s so special about 22 grown men kicking a football around a muddy field? It’s crap.’

"And then, with Euro ‘96 and football suddenly becoming a fairly credible sport again, all of a sudden he’s saying, ‘Oh yeah, I’m a massive Arsenal fan. I’ve always been a massive Arsenal fan.”

Rotten: "Goooooooners" 

Not content with falling over at celebrity five-a-side tournaments, countless artists have played shows at a treasured stadium (Oasis at Maine Road) or bought the club (Elton John at Watford), while Leeds Britpop band Kaiser Chiefs stole (and misspelt) their name from the South African side once captained by Elland Road favourite, Lucas Radebe.

“Bands love football because it’s such a contrast from what they do in the studio,” says The Delays’ Greg Gilbert.

“When you’re recording an album it’s all about thought and analysis. You’re expressing yourself, but in a thoughtful way. When it comes to football there’s no bullshit. It’s a physical one on one where great players rise to the top. And you can’t help but notice great players.

"Everything is so quick and instinctive too, more instinctive than making a record. As a musician, I’m into the detail, whereas football is more about getting on the pitch and doing it.”

Footballers aren’t above a little hero worship either – and not just towards the likes of perennial favourites, Luther Vandross and Phil Collins. Rumour has it that former Scotland midfielder Pat Nevin was such a fan of indie band The Cocteau Twins that he was substituted during a Chelsea reserve game so he could catch their London show.

Mani recalls seeing a string of Manchester United players at Stone Roses gigs while punk fan Stuart Pearce went so far as to introduce The Sex Pistols at a Finsbury Park show in 1996 with the cry of “Who said there were no more heroes? Ladies and gentlemen... The Sex Pistols!”

Nevin: "Five more minutes gaffer, then I've really got to go" 

Fortunately, these “superfans” seem aware of the unwritten rule: a little love is OK but unwavering obsession is a dangerous thing.

Any player unsure of the consequences of falling too deeply should look back at history and the likes of Gazza, George Best and Stan Bowles.

Mixing the rock’n’roll lifestyle with training ground discipline just doesn’t work. And nobody has ever taken the football aspirations of Harvey from So Solid Crew, Rod Stewart or Robbie Williams very seriously.

But you can’t blame people for trying, both are rewarding businesses after all.

“Football is like music,” says Mani, Manchester United fan, formerly bassist with Stone Roses, now Primal Scream.

“There are so many people who are really good at it and they’re worth every penny they get. And when it comes together, whether that’s on the pitch or on record it makes it all worth it. It’s f*cking beautiful.”

Wednesday: How football became the new rock'n'roll

The Enemy’s new album Music For The People is out April 27.
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