How Stevie G let down the soccerati
Gerrard’s passion for Phil Collins is sneeringly taken as evidence that footballers are ill-educated philistines.
How could Stevie G do such a thing? I don’t mean lamping a DJ. Allegedly. We expect Scousers to do stuff like that (just joking, honest). No, the question exercising the nation is whether the fracas started because Gerrard insisted that the DJ play Phil Collins’ greatest hits package, Hits.
Admittedly, Gerrard has received special treatment from the media. Unlike most footballers involved in nightclub brawls, Gerrard hasn’t been presumed guilty until proven innocent. As Observer columnist Barbara Ellen remarked: ‘[U]ntil we have the full facts about what happened in that Merseyside bar, it is ludicrous how automatically he has been exonerated, how unquestioningly he has been assured he will “never walk alone” by an over-sentimental public.’ (1)
So yes, Gerrard has been treated quite sympathetically by the normally ferocious press pack. But there’s been a detectable change in mood since the fresh revelations that the Liverpool skipper’s love of Phil Collins may have caused the ruck. ‘Unfortunately, those of us who instinctively side with Gerrard… will have been dismayed to learn that Gerrard was demanding that Phil Collins’ Hits, be played at the nightclub when the alleged incident occurred’, wrote Dion Fanning in the Irish Independent (2). ‘Steven Gerrard’s favourite music acts are Coldplay and Phil Collins so you can understand why the DJ at Southport’s Lounge Inn apparently wasn’t keen on handing him record-selecting duties on Sunday’, remarked betting pundit Derek McGovern in the Mirror (3). The wags at 4TheGame.com were somewhat more blunt. ‘[R]eports in today’s papers suggest that the incident that has landed Gerrard in such trouble was started because he asked the DJ at the now-infamous club to play Phil Collins. He should be locked up for that alone, if you ask us.’ (4)
As a veteran defender of the indefensible, even I struggle to justify a man’s right to play Phil Collins. But I’ll give it a go. Of course I won’t deny that Phil Collins represents all that is bad in popular music. It’s MOR über-bland playlist fodder at its over-produced worst. The utter vacuity of Collins’ songs was brilliantly satirised in the novel American Psycho. ‘I’ve been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke’, waxes the psycho, Patrick Bateman. ‘I think “Invisible Touch” was the group’s undisputed masterpiece. It’s an epic meditation on intangibility.’
Yes, Phil Collins is rubbish. Yes, I’d rather have my toenails extracted by rusty pliers than have to listen to Genesis. But there’s no need for the undercurrent of sneering about Steven Gerrard’s taste in music. There’s a subtext here: that footballers are ill-educated philistines. The problem is that the soccerati want footballers to be cast in their own image. That’s why they venerated the half-baked cod-philosophical prattlings of Eric Cantona. Remember too how his infamous kung-fu kick on a Crystal Palace fan was preposterously reinterpreted by his acolytes? ‘One applauds Eric Cantona’s foray into the Crystal Palace crowd as an example of postmodernism’, declared novelist Julian Barnes. Another described the flying kick as an ‘instinctive expression of a flawless moral judgement’.
Sadly Stevie G’s taste in music precludes a similarly favourable rewriting of history. As Dave Simpson, writing in Guardian Unlimited, put it: ‘Gerrard’s reputation may recover from the forthcoming court case, but surely Liverpool’s finest midfielder will never live down the revelation that behind those stunning 30-yarders lurks a passion for “Easy Lover”.’ (5) If only he’d asked for The La’s or The Coral, he’d have been anointed a thinking man’s hero, the NME would have sponsored a ‘Stevie G is innocent’ campaign, and a Philosophy Football t-shirt would have been designed in his honour.
The MOR music taste of footballers has long been the source of amusement to those snobs who think that owning a copy of Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain is a mark of sophistication. There was similar sniggering when it was reported that John Terry’s party piece at the Chelsea team’s Christmas party was a karaoke rendition of Luther Vandross’ ‘Never Too Much’ (a cracking tune in my opinion). And of course there’s no denying that footballers on the whole have rather conventional music tastes. As Sky TV summariser Andy Gray once said: ‘People say footballers have terrible taste in music but I would dispute that. In the car at the moment I’ve got the Corrs, Cher, Phil Collins, Shania Twain and Rod Stewart.’ These days, you’ll find plenty of R&B and hip hop as well as MOR tripe on footballers’ iPods, but rarely will they venture to the darker reaches of pop culture.
You can count on the fingers of one hand the British footballers who prefer alternative music. Former Scotland winger Pat Nevin was the darling of the NME because he was into post-punk bands like Joy Division and The Fall. England under-21 manager Stuart Pearce had a penchant for The Stranglers. Long-haired Leeds midfielder David Prutton likes heavy rock while QPR’s Gareth Ainsworth is a big Jim Morrison fan. And that’s about it.
It’s not hard to work out why. It’s partly a class thing. There are hardly any middle-class or university-educated footballers. More importantly it’s also a dropout thing. The waster values of the counterculture are completely at odds with the lifestyle of a professional footballer. It’s impossible to reconcile Arthur Rimbaud’s belief in the ‘systematic derangement of all the senses’ with a footballer’s training regime. The staple ideological diet of your average adolescent indie kid consists of angst, self-disgust, self-destruction and a great big dollop of alienation. By contrast a trainee footballer’s life is all about self-denial, discipline and self-improvement.
And that’s the way it should be. Footballers should be straights not freaks. They shouldn’t be into Throbbing Gristle or Lou Reed’s Berlin. England will never win the World Cup if our footballers started listening to melancholic, introspective dirges about failure, suicide and drug addiction. What they need is vacuous, uplifting, feelgood MOR mush. So, note to DJs everywhere: Next time an international footballer asks you to play some Phil Collins: just say yes and think of England.
Duleep Allirajah is spiked‘s sports columnist.
(1) It’s a little early to sanctify Steven Gerrard, Observer, 4 January 2009,
(2) Stevie G gets his Phil but DJ trouble allows Rafa to call the tune, Irish Independent, 4 January 2009
(3) Bookies take odds on which song sparked Steven Gerrard’s bust-up, Mirror, 31 December 2008
(4) Our two penneth, 4TheGame.com, 5 January 2009
(5) A midfield kind of love, Guardian, 2 January 2009