Editorial: The tragedy and joy of football and music

Football and music go together like no two other art forms. The link has been established over many decades, from music hall through punk to indie, pop, dance, and hiphop. Our lives as football fans have a soundtrack that is both highly personal and yet profoundly collective.

There’s so much tragedy in the world, so much to be sad, worried, and angry about, that these two things – two frivolous pursuits that are nevertheless vitally important constants in many of our lives – somehow seem more important now than ever before.

Both are truly popular and universal art forms, accessible to everyone – rich and poor – as both performer and audience. Both are mediums where pure talent, creativity, and drive (as well as practice and training) are the determinants of greatness, rather than inherited privilege, and where individual talents are best expressed as part of a collective enterprise.

Both inspire adulation and unflinching loyalty towards their heroes from fanatical followers and inflame our irrational passions more than almost anything else in this world.

And both serve as allegories for life in general – most poignantly and powerfully when it comes to joy and loss. What other two experiences can bring a man of almost 40 to the brink of tears as he raises his voice – to the point of breaking – in chorus and in unison with all those around him?

Perhaps I am feeling it more right now because we’ve almost lost them both during the pandemic. Both industries have survived on life-support in a virtual, sanitized form devoid of the real-life audience interaction that gives them their true value to everyone involved. To be there as they spark back into life has, on a personal level, been a truly regenerative experience.

This weekend I’ve experienced the joy of real live music and real live football for the first time since the pandemic hit us last spring. On Thursday evening, I saw my favourite singer-songwriter, Gruff Rhys, who I’ve been travelling across the UK to watch live since I was 18, play live in the village where he grew up, and where I now live.

I was almost brought to tears as the Super Furry Animals front-man played a solo version of the Welsh post-punk classic “Y Teimlad”, written by Dave “Datblygu” Edwards, who died earlier this year. It was a song that Rhys first covered on the classic album Mwng – the first SFA album I bought from Our Price in the Bridges in 2000 – and the first Welsh language music I ever heard.

It was a beautiful and heart-warming performance, with the hall signing along with true feeling, a moment I’ll remember forever in a way that – if we hadn’t lived through and indeed survived the last 18 months, when so many haven’t – might not have left such a powerful impression.

Then, the next day, I drove up to the north east to watch my football team play a competitive fixture for the first time since February 2020. I’ve been to a couple of local Welsh non-league games, and a Sunderland friendly away at Tranmere, but Saturday at the Stadium of Light was something else altogether.

The atmosphere, before, during, and after was immense, moving, and – again – unforgettable. The performance was invigorating. The goals were memorable. The noise, even though the attendance was less than 30,000, was louder than anything I’ve heard there in years.

Experiencing it alongside friends and family was fantastic, but I was also reminded of all those who have not been able to return this season. Close friends have lost family members, life-long Sunderland fans, during the covid-19 pandemic, and are still themselves suffering from the physical and psychological effects of this horrendous virus.

In many cases, fans have lost the person or people with whom they shared a love of football, the parents who took them to their first game, the friends they sat with, the distant relative who they called to talk over the finer points of the Lads’ performance every week. It was something they shared together, and so the return of fans to the Stadium has brought to the fore the hole that our lost loved ones have left in our lives.

Many at the game on Saturday, and in the city, were mourning the tragic news of football friends and musicians lost. The death of Dave Harper – Newcastle fan, drummer with Sunderland band Frankie and the Heartstrings, a bandmate of Sunderland commentator Frankie Francis, the heartbeat of pioneering independent music store and venue Pop Recs Ltd, and friend to many in the city’s cultural scene, including my close family members – has hit hard.

I didn’t know Dave personally, but I do know that his friends and colleagues – stunned by incalculable grief – have rallied around as best they can. As well as simply being there with love and kindness, they’ve set up a crowdfunder to support his young family at this most difficult of times. His friends, Andy Dawson and Sam Delaney, also paid a funny and heartfelt tribute to Dave on their Top Flight Time Machine podcast on Friday.

The world of football media has, this weekend, lost Lance Hardy, a Sunderland fanatic who was shortlisted for Football Book of the Year in 2010 for his work “Stokoe, Sunderland and 73”, and someone many in the sports media have known and looked up to for many years from his role as BBC Sports Programme Editor, with commentator Nick Barnes leading the tributes to his colleague.

And in the wider musical world, we learned this weekend of the loss of dub reggae stalwart Lee “Scratch” Perry, whose love of football was immortalised in his collaboration with dance music legends The Orb on the track “Fussball”. He’s an artist I’ve seen live a number of times and who, even in his 80s, brought an energy to the stage that was truly infectious.

These losses will stay with us; most powerfully with both those who knew them personally, but also those who admired their work from afar. However, alongside the tragedy, we have the knowledge that both the music and the football lives on in their work, and in our memories. We offer our love and condolences to all those who’ve lost someone special to them in recent days and months – we know that feeling.

Music and football. The forums for drama, the distractions we use to cope with the stresses and suffering of our lives, the passions that we ensure are passed down to the next generation.

What would we do without them and the wonderful people who make them happen?


Y teimlad sy’n gyrru bobol i anghofio amser

The feeling that makes people forget time

Y teimlad sy’n gyrru ti i feddwl nad yw’r dyfodol mor fler

The feeling that makes you think the future isn’t so bad

Y teimlad sydd yn dod a cyn sbarduno gobaith

The feeling that comes before sparking off hope

Ti’n gweld y tywod llwch ond ti’n gweld fod yno flodau

You see the sand dust but you see that there’s flowers

Y teimlad, beth yw’r teimlad? The feeling, what is the feeling?

Y teimlad sydd heb esboniad The feeling that’s inexplicable

Y teimlad, beth yw’r teimlad? The feeling, what is the feeling?

Y teimlad sy’n cael ei alw’n gariad The feeling that is called love

Cariad, cariad, y teimlad Love, love, the feeling

Y Teimlad, Datblygu (1985)