My favorite players as a kid discovering football at the start of the 90s were, for the most part, an illustrious bunch. Indeed, many of them still rank as true all-time greats. Maradona, of course, and his compatriot Claudio Caniggia; the Dutch trio of Rijkaard, Gullit and Van Basten, Roberto Baggio, Carlos Valderama and Stuart Pearce.
Pearce looks like the odd one out in the group.
A quality player, no doubt, but certainly not among the greats. He is also the most defensive, least technically gifted player on the list. One of the things that attracted me to football, however, was the imagery. Great photos in newspapers and magazines captivated me long before I had the patience for a 90 minute game. And it was photos – or quite often stickers – that led me to the players mentioned above. Gullit graced the cover of my Italia 90 sticker folder (the Orbis one – none of your Panini crap for me). He looks to be just about getting the better of Chris Hughton in a touchline race to the ball. The pitch-side running track somehow seems to emphasise their speed. He looks terrific: with his dreadlocks bouncing off his shoulders. In fact weird hair and weirder names had a lot to do with my favorites. Rijkaard and Valderama had both. Caniggio added a chunky gold chain to his distinctive look. I now have the sense to see that he looks a bit of an idiot but I didn’t need hindsight to know that Baggio’s barnet was beyond dodgy. None-the-less, I loved him for it and his poster adorned my bedroom wall for a while. Then there were the thrilling moments of sublime skill captured by the photographers. I must have looked at Marco Van Basten, both feet in the air, his body contorted, as he scored against Russia in the Euro 88 final, a hundred times before I ever saw a video of the strike. Maradona and his photos could have had a book of their own. Running at full stretch the ball seemingly glued to his boot, standing off in front of six beleaguered Belgians and of course out-jumping Shilton for the hand of God.
Which brings us to Pearce. His hair was dull in the extreme and his name wasn’t much better. Photos of Pearce displaying fancy footwork or dazzling skill are a little thin on the ground. But there were plenty photos of him bellowing orders, fists clenched, fury in his eyes and a blood vessel about to pop on his forehead. There were some good blood shots too. Nothing like Steve Bull levels of ridiculousness but a nice trickle coming down his face. Some of the others introduced me to football style, panache and skill but Pearce embodied dedication and passion. It was clear when you looked at some of those pictures that this was a serious business. It wasn’t always fun and it wasn’t always pretty. It meant something.
And so I was delighted, years later, when Pearce signed for Newcastle. It was about that time that I was really getting into a few punk bands too and I took an interest in Pearce’s musical taste after seeing an interview in some footy rag. You see, Psycho (as we was affectionately known) was not just passionate about footy but was quite the punk rocker. I remember the two page spread pictured him sitting in a room full of classic 7 inches and LPs. In his hand he held his favorite album: Stiff Little Fingers‘ Inflammable Material. I had heard and loved Suspect Device at this stage but there and then I put the album at the top of my shopping list. He talked about getting ready to take the field by pumping “White Riot” and other classic and jumping around the dressing room. Even Brian Clough was a little scared. This was the kind of music I was looking for and the feature really encouraged me to take a greater interest in classic UK punk bands.
Psycho’s association with punk is well known and he even wrote the following note in the liner notes of The Clash singles box set:
“Back then I didn’t went to hear any slow songs or any ballads; I just wanted something fast and loud that I could sing along to and jump up and down on the bed with a baseball bat like a complete idiot.”
Apparently, Pearce regularly went to see his favorite bands such as SLF, the Stranglers, 999, GBH and the Lurkers (he is even visible on the sleeve of one of the Lurkers live albums in the midst of a frenzied crowd).
But what about other punk footballers? Alas, they seem few and far between. Footballers are famous for their terrible taste in music. Steven Gerrard ended up in court for insisting (a little too forcefully) that a DJ play some more Phil Collins. And don’t get me started on their attempts at becoming pop stars. Kevin Keegan, Gazza, John Barnes and Andy Cole really should have let their feet do the talking. However there have been some notable exceptions
Scotsman Pat Nevin was a mercurial and talented winger who spent his best years at Chelsea and Everton. Nevin’s taste in music is also quite well known; Not least because his Chelsea teammates were famous for complaining about his selections on the team bus stereo. Apparently he was banned from even approaching it after once playing a Jesus and Mary Chain tape. The Fall, Joy Division and Sonic Youth were other favorites. He loved going to gigs and was regularly seen hanging out with John Peel. In fact, he once asked the Chelsea manager to sub him off at half-time of a pre-season friendly because he wanted to go to a gig. Perhaps Nevin is best remembered by left-leaning football fans for his outspoken views on racism and terrace violence which he wrote about regularly while writing for the Chelsea newspaper.
Details are quite a bit more shady when it comes to Pat’s countryman, the legendary Ayr and Motherwell goalkeeper, Hugh Sproat. Sproat proudly declared: “I am a punk rocker” when asked why he tried to wear a razor blade as an earring during a game. Sproat was a well-known rebel and was famous for his choice of jersey for games against the Old Firm. His regular jersey was red but he always wore green when playing Rangers and blue when playing Celtic; Earning this advice from Jock Stein: “take that jersey off son, there’s enough loonies out there without you winding them up.”
Of course any talk of football and punk would be incomplete without mentioning St. Pauli and they also have a goalkeeper to add to this short list. Perhaps I’m stretching it here a little as I’m quite unsure of Volker Ippig’s musical tastes but he must have heard some punk-rock while living in a squat on Hamburg’s famous Hafenstrasse. Ippig was another leftist and decided to live amongst the squatters and punks that filled the Millerntor stadium on matchdays. I’m sure that on a few occasions he wandered downstairs to a raucous gig in full swing.
Another player with punk credentials is former Northern Ireland international Ian Stewart. Ian managed to find time to publish a couple of issues of a zine (Anarchy in the UK) while playing on the wing at various clubs such as Millwall, QPR and Newcastle. Gaizka Mendietta, the classy Spain and Valencia midfielder, was also a keen punk who regularly enthused about the Stooges and other early punk bands. So much so in fact, that an interview with 4-4-2 magazine was scrapped because the player made so many references to Funhouse and talked about little else.
Perhaps this is the week in which punks have finally risen to the top of English society as Stuart Pearce is probably going to be handed the biggest job in English football (at least on a temporary basis). Surely something for punk football fans to savor.