by Mike Vinti
This weekend saw the start of Euro 2016, every European’s second favourite quadrennial football tournament. As I write, football fans of every stripe have descended on France and the op-ed writers of every political persuasion are spending their time priming think-pieces about what the clashes between England fans and the French police say about the EU referendum. However, the arrival of not-quite-the World Cup 2K16 also brings with it a chance to break away from eye-ball gauging mundanity of the referendum – to instead talk about, you guessed it, the relationship between music and football.
Football and music have always been locked in something of a confusing relationship. As someone who doesn’t really watch Football but listens to a lot of music, catching snippets of fan-made chants, usually through Facebook videos, has been my main access to the culture surrounding Britain’s favourite sport. The more attention I’ve paid to how the two interact, the more I’ve come to realise that music plays a huge, often vital role in the world of football.
While on the surface the two worlds may have little in common, they share a long history that has shaped both.
While on the surface the two worlds may have little in common, they share a long history that has shaped both. Whether it’s the interpolation of pop songs to insult/praise a member of the opposing/home team, the role of national and team anthems, or even the hilariously naff world of ‘official’ football songs, music and football are almost inseparable. Indeed, there’s an entire website, footballandmusic.co.uk, dedicated to documenting the relationship between the two.
The role music plays in football is of course dependent on context, though its most common function is one of creating a sense of defiant solidarity. While it may see like an obvious point, the power of singing an anthem such as “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at the start of the match is immense. It’s well documented that singing in a group is a transcendent and often transformational experience for those involved, throw in a shared uniform in the form of football shirts and you’ve got the ideal basis for creating solidarity between thousands of strangers. Music is used to manufacture belief. It’s no coincidence that religious worship so often involves some form of choral or communal singing. Indeed its even assumed that the most devoted are those that engage in such activities, hence the phrase “preaching to the choir”.
Yet this isn’t the only role music plays in football, it’s also used in the expression of joy, the acceptance of defeat, and as a means of inspiring not just fans but the players of the pitch as well. For every almost every occasion in football there’s a song. However what strikes me here is not that music is so prevalent is football but that it’s so absent in other aspects of our lives. Most notably, politics.
There was a time where people would sing at rallies and the words of Woody Guthrie would be known by all man, woman, and child alike, fighting for their cause, or so the misty-eyed nostalgia of the left goes. A time when music was political and politics was musical. Today only one of those things is true. Music is still political, by mere virtue of it existing and being made by human beings it meets that criteria. Politics in the UK, however, couldn’t be less musical if it tried.
In the past, activists on the left recognised the power of pop music and helped spread their message with huge, mass-audience events like Rock Against Racism, creating a platform in which politics spoke through music. In 2016 there’s still plenty of political music and political musicians but we’re yet to see a Rap For Refugees concert or an EDM Against Austerity.
I’m sure at some point in the coming weeks of the Euro tournament you’ll see someone bemoan the excitement around football compared to the apathy around politics. But rather than accept that this is just the way it is and that sports, football in particular, will always be more popular than politics, perhaps we should consider that part of football’s undying popularity is the way it uses music. If it’s going to once again become an institution of mass-participation, politics could stand to have a little less talking and a little more song.
Featured Image © What a Music Ltd