When Ian Curtis’ wife, Debbie, asked him what his favourite colour was, he answered ‘Blue, blue Man City.’ Or at least that is what Anton Corbijn, his biographer, imagines the Joy Division leader saying. Curtis was a premature genius. He also had epilepsy and was a Manchester City supporter. This last fact could seem irrelevant in his life – which he ended by hanging himself when he was 23 - although it’s hard to imagine him being unfaithful to Man City by wearing a United scarf, something that, on the other hand, he had no problem doing to his wife.
Until recently, Manchester City was a team that always lost and we all know that this is irresistible for musicians and other artists. They also have a much nicer anthem than their neighbour, United, who, on the other hand, have won a lot more titles. Glory, glory Man United is just a boy scout song compared to Richard Rogers’ Blue Moon, which the fans howl and with which Elvis contributed to the fifties baby boom. Now that Man City are richer and actually winning things, the melancholic whistling has reached stadiums all over Europe. Like the Bernabéu, where Liam Gallagher kissed a security guard and his sky blue shirt when his team scored before singing his own version of Blue Moon.
This is a strange example of the happy union that is music and football. In England, where the The Beatles were born, Hey Jude is heard in every stadium. In the seventies, however, it was not The Beatles who made the football songs. Instead, it was the Liverpudlians singing to Bill Shankly that he’d never walk alone. Rogers, the same man who wrote Blue Moon, also composed You’ll Never Walk Alone for a Broadway musical and Gerry & the Pacemakers brought it to the isles: from Anfield Road in Liverpool to Celtic Park in Glasgow.
London’s West Ham is another interesting example; a team which has constantly struggled to stay in the Premier League, the Hammers have their own original anthem, I’m forever blowin’ bubbles. 'Pretty bubbles in the air' goes the chorus of the song, also written for a Broadway musical. What’s really amazing is how 35, 000 voices singing in unison can make a song about bubbles sound like a war cry.
Football songs are not confined to Premier League. In Amsterdam, the Ajax supporters turn something as serious as football into a light hearted affair with Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. In Hamburg, there’s Sankt Pauli, once the world’s most dodgy neighbourhood, with sailors breaking into fights every half an hour and prostitutes on every corner, where you might take home a few venereal diseases as souvenirs. This is the home of FC Sankt Pauli, a cult second division team, whose stadium is always full and whose fans sing AC/DC’s Hells Bells when the players run out onto the pitch. Lens, another mining team from the north of France, which in the eighties adopted Pierre Bachelet’s Les Corons, another cult anthem. 'The earth was coal, the sky was the horizon,' can be heard ringing out from the depths of Ligue 2.
Italian and Spanish teams are used to kicking music in the mouth with their anthems. There are, of course, exceptions, such as Napoli, the independent republic of the mediterranean boot. The team that Maradona once bought to glory and that later fell into the shadows. O surdato ‘nnamurato, a song written by a soldier for his girlfriend from the trenches of World War One, reflects the tragic tone that accompanies Naples, both the city and the team.
Venditti’s Roma, Roma, Roma doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but even so, the AS Roma fans have made it their own. One of its verses, unico grande amore, has stuck as the team’s motto for posterity. Venditti actually asked for the song to not be played in the stadium, because he didn’t agree with the club’s values. The fans reacted badly to this and Venditti atoned on facebook. The song is still playing at Olimpico and probably will do as long as Totti wishes it to.
In Spain, Madrid’s most followed teams, Real and Atlético, have two very different stories that were captured in the songs that both teams requested for their hundredth anniversary. The trophy winning Real called upon Plácido Domingo to give an elegant touch to “Los Galácticos”. “Field of stars”, is one of the song’s verses, which goes on to a finale, “who play in verse”, that implies an attack on all other clubs, far from God and from progress. Atlético chose Joaquín Sabina, a poet of excess, lost battles and also a big follower of the team. “What a way to go, what a way to suffer”, goes one verse. With a sense of humor, Sabina praises Atlético’s resilience and the pride that can be found in being beaten. Although these things can’t be shown in trophy rooms, they can certainly be captured in songs.