Chris Salmon 

Once musicians were too cool for the terraces – not now

Chris Salmon: There was a time when music shunned sport – then something changed: sport started generating more money than music
  
  

In the mid-80s, when John Peel was the compere at Reading festival, the Liverpool-supporting DJ was fond of reading out the results of that afternoon's football matches from the stage. These days, you'd imagine such a thing would be greeted warmly and with playful partisan banter from the crowd. But when Peel did it, he was booed.

That's because, back then, for many people, football and (credible) music were mutually exclusive. If you liked one, you really didn't like the other, and if you liked both you kept it to yourself: like Paul McCartney, who reputedly cheered from the stands for Everton at the 1968 FA Cup final, but only publicly admitted to being a fan of the Toffees in an interview in 2008.

By then, of course, there was absolutely no perceived shame in cutting-edge musicians liking football. Quite the opposite, in fact. From the moment that New Order were unexpectedly chosen to provide the official England song for the 1990 World Cup (despite not being particular football fans themselves), football and music embarked on something of a love affair, whose passion peaked in the mid-90s with Britpop, lad culture, Three Lions and the money and popularity explosion of the Premier League.

That explosion of cash in football – the Premier League's total TV revenues have grown from £50.7m per season in 1997 to more than £1.1bn per year in 2012 – coincided with an enormous decline in the music industry: in the UK, total album sales have fallen from 228m units in 2003 to just 113m in 2011, with revenues dropping even more sharply as the retail price of albums tumbled, too.

This has, of course, also affected the relative wealth of the two industries' protagonists. Not too long ago, even middlingly successful musicians could expect to earn a decent income from record sales, while successful footballers had to plan for careers after the game: there were only five years between the last of Neil Webb's 26 appearances for England in 1992 and the revelation in 1997 that the former Manchester United star was working as a postman in Reading.

It's the opposite these days. Even popular musicians have to watch the pennies: despite two top 10 albums, Paloma Faith has complained she can't afford to buy a flat. But that's certainly not an issue for top footballers: the average Premier League player now earns £1.16m a year – and before bonuses and endorsement deals.

All of which helps to explain the modern phenomena of credible musicians allowing themselves to become part of marketing campaigns for sport, which was unthinkable 20 years ago.

Football is now seen as a bloated corporate industry, overrun with money and out of touch with people. Thus it's always looking for something that can lend a sense of edgy cool and credibility. Musicians, meanwhile, are often skint and desperate for anything that will earn them cash and/or give them some exposure to help prolong ever shortening careers.

Thus, Umbro paid Kasabian to launch the England away kit in 2010, while indie also-rans the Enemy were chosen by the FA to play on the Wembley Stadium roof before this year's FA Cup Final. Even Noel Gallagher allowed his song AKA What a Life to be used in a Euro 2012 car advert. Bands used to have strong principles about that sort of thing. Anything seen as corporate or even just uncool would be labelled as that most cardinal of indie sins: selling out. These days, most are happy just to be able to sell anything.

Football's not the only sporting industry happy to pay for some of music's associated credibility. As the Olympic gravy train rolls into town, there's money and exposure to gained from that, too. BT appears to be throwing cash at a series of free gigs at its live events in Hyde Park in July and August. Bands appearing include the Levellers. When even those bastions of revolutionary socialism are happy to swallow their pride and principles in return for the exposure from one of the largest and richest multinational companies, you know things have changed. John Peel, you'd imagine, wouldn't know whether to laugh or cry.

 

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