Once upon a time, football and music were inextricably linked, both being bastions of the working class. The late seventies and early eighties saw a culture grow up around the two; the casual. Terraces that had once been rife with anger and fighting began to look like catwalks, featuring young men mostly in Adidas trainers, Fred Perry polo shirts and other designer gear.
They would follow bands that were equally as fashion savvy, but with a message that resonated with the working class of the time. The Jam were a classic casual band, spouting lyrics that mattered but doing it with a style that was both relatable and desirable.
Football and music culture moved on, into the early nineties when rave took hold. New Order sang ‘World in Motion’, a song classed as a game changer by the Independent. It preached togetherness and love, whilst in the clubs in the UK hooligans used to fight on a Saturday; they were now embracing rave, and dance.
Britpop came and had a similar effect; Three Lions followed England around Euro 96 as Cool Britannia seeped into modern life. Floppy haircuts and baggy jeans dominated the football grounds of the UK, whilst bands like Oasis, Blur and the Lightning Seeds set the soundtrack for a generation.
However, in the last decade there has been a visible split in how music has influenced the terrace scene in the UK. In some respects, a north / south divide has opened, or perhaps even a divide between the branded, corporate top flight and those who still stand on a terrace with their mates.
A feature by Ladbrokes on club football’s relationship with music highlights the success some of England’s biggest teams have had, looking to set a soundtrack to represent that success. Many of those clubs now have celebrity followers, artists wanting to drop names into their lyrics, Stormzy being a good example.
Arsenal Fan TV reflects that urban culture and how it’s been influenced over the last decade. There’s no rhythm and reason to their language and style, but it’s easily identified as the urban, working class voice of today. It’s language that’s perhaps alien to supporters of smaller clubs in provincial towns, or perhaps even those north of Birmingham.
On the other hand, there is a strong sub-culture taking grip at grass roots level of the English game. The Guardian describes this as a force for good at many European clubs, the ‘ultra’ is the current-day equivalent of the eighties casual, the new breed of supporter that still embodies the angry working class. There’s no Stormzy here, no urban culture seeping out of the videos on YouTube. The northern ‘football lad’ (or lass) would likely be found at a Courteeners gig, or listen to a Jake Bugg track.
Perhaps this is the natural evolution of the old-style casual. There is still a focus on clothing, or ‘clobber’ as it’s usually referred to. Old school polo shirts and jumpers are just as popular as modern-day Stone Island or CP Company, almost always paired with Adidas trainers. Instead of working class bands like The Jam or the Specials, there is still a burning desire for bands with direction and a message, but equally conscious of having the right look as well.
It’s interesting to see the definite split in culture, perhaps as reflective as the north / south divide as much as anything. Whilst big acts link themselves with clubs and the Premier League, where it really matters the scene is still organic and fan led, with bands chosen and followed not because they’re pushed heavily, but because they fit the style perfectly,
The changes have only begun to develop over the last decade, but the next 10 years will be fascinating as we watch the scene evolve further.