WSC #304

“Would you like to write us a Liverpool fan’s perspective on Alan Davies’ comments re Hillsborough and the subsequent fallout?” they said. I did have a few things I wanted to say about the matter, so I said “Alright”, while also thinking “Christ, I hope he doesn’t end up reading it and shouting at me on Twitter, though.”

Anyway, I wrote it – sneaking in a Doctor Who reference in the process – and the magazine is now out in shops (as well as being available to order online). I don’t think I was especially hysterical or excessively critical, and I refrained from making personal attacks against Davies (who I think was misguided rather than downright evil) himself. Although I did sort of slightly, possibly, a little bit, compare him to Richard Littlejohn.

I hope he doesn’t end up reading it and shouting at me on Twitter, though.

Ooh, a few things to catch up on, here. So! To business! If you haven’t seen me posting about these things elsewhere:

Thing the first: Captain America!

I saw it! It was great! And I wrote about it for Film4, thusly:

It’s true that it doesn’t aspire to be anything particularly weighty or original – but at what it sets out to do, it rarely puts a foot wrong. Director Joe Johnston, in full-on Rocketeer mode, crafts a charming and entertaining period action romp that may never exactly hit an unpredictable beat, but is no less enjoyable for it.

Miles better than Green Lantern, not quite as good as X-Men: First Class, but about on a level with Thor. Splendid.

(Less splendid : Rotten Tomatoes posting the review, but not attributing it to me – just to “Film4” generally – thus meaning it’s missing from my scorecard. Booo!)

Thing the second: New podcast!

My regular collaborator/partner in crime/argument board James Hunt and I have launched a new comics podcast, via our website Alternate Cover. It’s called The Graphic Novel Book Club, and it does exactly what it sounds like – each month, we solicit comments from our readers/listeners on a different graphic novel or trade paperback collection, setting discussion topic questions but also looking for any opinions/insights/etc. that people might have – then we throw them into the mix with our own thoughts and sit there chatting about it all for three-quarters of an hour. The first episode is now live on Podomatic and iTunes, and we’ve already posted discussion topics for the second, which we’ll be recording in a couple of weeks. Have a listen! Some people say it’s listenable and entertaining even if you don’t know the comics we’re talking about. I couldn’t possibly comment.

(And yes, it does have a slightly tautological name. “The Graphic Novel Club” might have been better, but then it wouldn’t have been as clear that we were specifically using a book group/book club format. It would have just sounded like a club.)

Thing the third: When Saturday Comes #295!

I’ve written at unnecessarily gushing length in the past about how much of an honour it is to write for When Saturday Comes, so I won’t retread all that ground again. But! This month is quite special, because for years now I’ve read their annual season preview supplement – in which one writer for each club in the league answers questions about their opinions on the previous season and expectations for the coming one – and thought about what I’d say if I were doing the section on Liverpool. So it’s quite exciting that this year, those answers are actually in the real supplement. I actually did a little double-take when I got the email asking if I’d do it. No, really.

What’s more, in the issue itself, an article I did a little while back about the history and merits (or lack thereof) of the away goals rule has made it to print. It’s not quite as exciting a piece as I was hoping when I started it – I was hoping to go into more extensive details about the circumstances of the rule’s creation/introduction, but discovered surprisingly little readily-available information despite doing some extensive library-based research and everything – but it’s still a relatively fun skim over the rule’s history and musing on whether or not it’s still a valid method of settling draws nowadays. Er, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Anyway, the issue’s out in shops on Wednesday – I’d post a picture of the cover, but WSC haven’t put it on their website yet. But it’s issue #295, it costs £3.50, and it’s got Stewart Downing, Phil Jones and Jordan Henderson on the front. So, you know. Buy it, if you like.

wsc291… one that I keep forgetting to do a post about, and one that’s just gone up. So let’s do a post about both.

Firstly! There’s another issue of the fine and august publication When Saturday Comes out with something by me in it. Just a little something, mind – a sidebar piece for the regular “Screen Test” feature, in which old football-related VHSes are dusted off and written about. What did I review? Well, you’ll have to buy the magazine to find out, innit. But it’s something I used to own about twenty years ago, then recently remembered about, and thought “Hey, I should buy that off eBay and then write about it for WSC, shouldn’t I?” So I did. The cover looks uncannily like that picture on the left, and you can find out more about what’s in the issue here.

Secondly, last week I went to see the first of this year’s barrage of superhero movies, Thor, and then reviewed it for Film 4. And here that is. I didn’t make a single joke about how the lead character’s name sounds like someone with a lisp saying “sore”. I think that shows remarkable restraint and maturity.

I can never overstate how much of an honour it is to be asked to write for When Saturday Comes magazine. On the surface, it might not seem like much – one football magazine among hundreds, still very much a fanzine in spirit, and with sales that, while admirable for the scale of the operation (and I’ve been to their offices, having interviewed for a job there back in 2004, so I know how it’s run), don’t touch the likes of FourFourTwo. But to me, it’s a lot more than that, and has been for a very long time. My Dad’s been buying it for as long as I can remember, so I can actually remember ploughing through piles of old copies when I was in primary school (primarily, back then, I was interested in the cover gags and Dave Robinson’s cartoons rather than the writing itself, but still).

What it most represents to me is the perfect riposte to those (and plenty of my friends would be included in this) who claim that football is only for sub-literate morons. Just because there’s a large undesirable element within football support – and indeed within the football-covering media – doesn’t mean that we should all be tarred with the same brush, and there are plenty of us who take a deeper and more thoughtful interest in the game, its cultural and social elements, the ongoing struggle for smaller clubs to survive, the wider context of the global game, and so on. WSC, in its modest page count each month, caters for people like us. Its intelligent and considered editorial style is an antidote to most of the moronic nonsense that counts as football writing nowadays; although this shouldn’t be mistaken for pseudo-intellectual snobbery, as the mag never loses a sense of fun, of enjoyment of the more ridiculous aspects of the sport. And to this day, I still consider it to have published the greatest book review ever written.

Anyway. It’s a great magazine – my favourite magazine, easily – and so when I finally got around to pitching a feature on the vagaries of squad numbers (see? What other mag would publish an article about the fact that Australia once fielded three players with three-digit numbers on their backs?), it was one of my proudest achievements to have got it published. Recently, however, I’ve been asked back by the editor to write for them a couple of times, which is almost even better. I was asked to do a review of a book about Liverpool, which is in the issue now on stands; and today I’ve also had a piece – again about LFC, and specifically their manager – go up on the blog. So have a look, if you’re interested, and hopefully they won’t be the last things I do under the “Half-Decent Football Magazine”‘s banner.

In other news, James and I have relaunched our comics site Comics Daily, having finally acknowledged that we weren’t doing quite so good a job of being “daily” since we stopped doing single-issue reviews. So it’s now known as Alternate Cover – which the eagle-eyed among you may notice was the domain we were using for it anyway – and, ironically, as part of the launch James is kicking off by doing a one-post-a-day “30 Days of Comics” meme throughout October, which I’ll then be following up by doing it in November. Though I may also be contemplating doing NaNoWriMo for the first time this year, too. I haven’t decided yet.

Right, then. Just in time for England to get knocked out of the World Cup by Germany, let’s do the next (or, possibly, last?) of my posts on football songs, in a vague attempt at whipping up a bit of spirit.

So. “Three Lions”, then. Not actually a World Cup song originally, of course – but still just about the greatest football song ever written. No, seriously. Ignore the appropriation by the massed ranks of the boorish, and instead look at the song in its own right – what it sets out to do, what it’s about, and how it does it – and it’s pretty much without peer.

Three Lions (1996)

The thing that makes the original “Three Lions” the most endearing is theway it captures perfectly what it means to be an English football fan. Not the loud, beer-swilling, “IN-GUR-LUND!”-shouting kind, but those of us who approach each tournament with very little expectation yet plenty of hope. England are in a curious position – they’re not a terrible team, even when they play as badly as they did against Algeria; but nor are they one of the best, despite the presence of players from pretty much the highest-paid and highest-profile league in Europe (if not the world). They’re a team who could, on their day, beat just about anyone; but who are also likely, on most days, to stumble against… well, against the likes of Algeria and the USA.

“Three Lions” kicks off on a note of unbridled pessimism – well-chosen sound clips from Alan Hansen, Trevor Brooking and Jimmy Hill dismissing England’s chances could have come from 2010 rather than 1996 (so long as you substitute the latter pair for Lawrenson and Shearer). Baddiel and Skinner, however, know that on their day England “can play”, before launching into the sort of nostalgia-wallowing that frequently draws criticism for fans of both England and my club, Liverpool – “We did some good stuff in the past so we should be able to again” – but which is hard to deny that we’re all guilty of at some point or another. It’s hopeful, but it’s realistic. They know England probably aren’t going to win Euro ’96, but they also know it’s always a distinct possibility.

The best section of the lyrics is the part that makes clear that it’s a song written by people who actually know their football. “I still see that tackle by Moore / And when Lineker scored” – first of all, the way that these two lines are phrased are effortlessly succinct. They’re vague at first glance, but anyone who knows anything about football knows exactly the moments they refer to. And, what’s more, those moments aren’t even anything to do with English success – the first was one of the great defensive tackles of all time, by Bobby Moore on Pele, but it came in a 1-0 group stage defeat to Brazil; and the second was a scrappy equalising goal in a game (versus West Germany in 1990) that England went on to lose. Nevertheless, the fact that they’re two of the most iconic moments in English football history – brilliant and ultimately meaningless individual moments amid overall failure – says everything about that history, and the overall tone of the song.

It’s also, tune-wise, easily the best official England song (or, at the very least depending on your own personal taste, on a par with “World In Motion”) – and you have to give it credit for not one, but two, instantly-memorable refrains (both “It’s coming home” and the “Three Lions on a shirt…” chorus). Yes, it’s easy to get sick of morons shouting “FOOTBALL’S COMING HOME”, and of the phrase being used on advertisement posters during tournaments that aren’t taking place in England, thus missing the entire point of the lyrics – but it was perfect at the time for describing the first major tournament to be held in England for thirty years.

Three Lions ’98 (1998)

And so to the 1998 reprise of the song – this time, actually for a World Cup. This gets a lot of flak for simply being a cheap, cynical cash-in on the success of the original – so I’m going to take the controversial view that it’s not, and that it actually serves a purpose.

You see, it’s the sequel. It’s the morning after (even though it actually came out two years later). The original song ended on a cliffhanger – could England actually do it? The answer was: no, they couldn’t. And “Three Lions ’98” therefore picks up directly afterward, reflecting once again on failure rather than success – but still with that glimmer of hope among the despair. It’s a necessary companion to the original song, because it shows that the hope of that song wasn’t fulfilled – but that it’ll carry on happening anyway, every time England get to a major tournament, even if they look absolutely useless when doing so.

Downsides? Well, the choice of commentary clips are poor this time out – not being able to use “official” BBC commentary, they instead turned to radio clips from Jonathan Pearce, and it’s Pearce when he was shouty and annoying. It simply doesn’t bear comparison with the ’96 song’s excellent use of Motson’s “England have done it… in the last minute… of extra time!” (although come to think of it, that version should also have found room for “Augenthaler couldn’t do it, Lineker probably could… aaaand England have equalised! It’s GARY LINEKER!”) The “I still see” section, meanwhile, is horribly dated – while the moments in the original are frozen in time forever, singing about “Ince ready for war, Gazza good as before, Shearer certain to score” was pretty much out of date by the time the ’98 World Cup had even kicked off. And, of course, it still uses “football’s coming home” when… well, it wasn’t. It was going to France.

But even then, you can forgive re-using the refrain – rather than composing a new song entirely – because, well, they deserved to put out a record that featured fans actually singing it. It’s the only time a football record has actually been properly picked up and sung on the terraces (well, alright, “in the stands”) immediately after its release; and yes, a part of that is that it’s simple and easy for even the most cretinous fan to remember, but it was nevertheless a brilliantly, instantly effective addition to the vernacular – and that deserved to be marked. And if nothing else, the re-recorded version is actually a bit better, musically, than the original – the production is beefier, and although the vocal performances from Skinner and – especially – Baddiel are worse, it’s arguably still a better record overall. The original is still the one you’d want to listen to the most – it’s a better reflection of its time (and the England of that glorious summer of 1996 were far easier to like than the England of that disappointing and slightly bleak summer of 1998 anyway) – but the sequel isn’t just a nasty, pointless cash-in at all – it actually has merit on its own.

But the 2010 version, of course, can just fuck off and die.