Adrian Chiles: Football and music divided by a common language

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I'll tell you something for nothing: that Schoenberg's a tricky customer and no mistake. There you have it, a nice little titbit you can throw into the mix next time you're stuck for something to say to a classical music fan.

I'll tell you something for nothing: that Schoenberg's a tricky customer and no mistake. There you have it, a nice little titbit you can throw into the mix next time you're stuck for something to say to a classical music fan.

I was lucky enough to go to the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall last Sunday night. It was a valuable insight into what it must be like to go to a football match if you know hardly anything about football. I was surrounded by thousands of fanatics exalting in something I didn't quite get.

"Schoenberg," said somebody in my box, "is very difficult". I nodded sagely. "The 12-note technique," he added, by way of elucidation. "Of course, of course," I concurred doubtfully.

"Doesn't really sound as if it's going anywhere," he explained, brilliantly clarifying matters for me.

Now he was talking my language. Bless him. He must have smelt a bluffer like most proper football fans can pick up the scent of an arriviste Chelsea or Arsenal fan.

As the Berlin Philharmonic confidently groped its way through Schoenberg's quite definitely "difficult" Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31, I had plenty of time to ponder the similarities between the spectacle before me that Sunday and that which I'm usually engaged in admiring on a Saturday afternoon. Classical music concert versus football match.

What started me on this line of thought, incidentally, was the striking similarity, from behind, of Simon Rattle to Rudi Völler. Only their mothers could tell them apart.

I looked at the audience. It's like football used to be: some of them are allowed to stand and watch. Happy memories. And, in the more expensive seats, you can drink in sight of the players!

I imagined spiriting a music buff away to the Hawthorns. "This beer's a bit warm mate, and the pie's red hot. Neck the beer quick, cos you can't take it to your seat, but I wouldn't touch the pie till half-time if I was you."

"Half what?"

"Time. Half-time. The interval."

"Oh I see."

And in retaliation for exposing my ignorance of the difficulty of Schoenberg I would throw something like this at him as we took our seats: "Neil Clement. Lethal with his left, but his right peg's just for standing on."

"I see, yes of course," my imaginary companion would stammer, panic-stricken.

Back in the Albert Hall I examined the programme for some help in understanding what Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) was driving at. Thankfully, help was at hand: "Transparency of texture is also helped (but the job of composition made much harder, since all layers of a texture have to contain 'voices' rather than 'padding') by Schoenberg's almost complete avoidance of simultaneous octave-doublings (there are a few discreet ones, especially at the end of the work)." I'm not sure I'd recognise an octave-doubling that strode up and kicked me in the cobblers, let alone a "discreet" one.

What gobbledegook. And it's not as if I'm completely clueless in these matters: I can play you a B flat major diminished seventh, or whatever else you fancy, at the drop of a hat. But this lost me completely.

In the interests of fairness though, what would a non-football fan make of the writing in your average football match day programme? I called up the editor of West Brom's award-winning programme.

Dave Bowler is an accomplished and prolific writer (his Samba in the Smethwick End is the definitive work on the rise of West Brom's black players in the late Seventies), so I felt rather awkward asking him to send me examples of twaddle that he might have written.

I needn't have worried. Five minutes later I got an email with a number of articles attached. "Try the Martin Jol feature," he advised, "that's pretty incomprehensible." An odd thing to say about your own writing, but I thank him for his candour.

Well, here goes: "Jol used to tear up the midfield, churning up the turf as he went from box to box, single minded in his pursuit of the ball, winning it whatever way he could and then trying to feed a forward line that still included the pace and the might of Cyrille Regis."

How can you tear up a field? Why would he want to dig the grass up? Hadn't the forwards been given anything to eat before the game?

The scores so far in this Bafflement Challenge: Classical Music Programme 1; Football Programme 1.

My problem with classical music is I can't tell the brilliant from the mediocre. The Berlin Philharmonic with Rudi Völler, I mean Simon Rattle, conducting were breathtaking but you could have stuck the Chipping Norton Sinfonia up there and I would have been just as impressed.

Could this be true of football? I doubt it. However much of a football philistine you were, you could surely recognise that Arsenal were better at it (even if you don't know what "it" was) than Barnet, or indeed any other football team currently in existence.

The conductor, when he's in full flow, does look rather like a football manager. In fact, I'm sure Clive Woodward is even now planning to take over a major symphony orchestra once he's sorted out English football. It's all the same basic management skills you see.

Like a manager, the conductor has his own little technical area from which vantage point he waves his arms about frantically to send apparently incomprehensible signals to his clearly bewildered or even disinterested charges. I'd pay good money to see Rattle, baton and all, taking charge of a football team for the day.

I'd pay even better money to see some of our managers have a bash at conducting. Alan Curbishley, I feel, would be a solid performer. Likewise Kevin Keegan and David Moyes. Not sure about Arsène Wenger - long periods of trance-like inactivity followed by an angry whirling of arms and wild Gallic gestures could have Beethoven sounding like, well, Schoenberg.

Peter Reid would shout instead of point; Sven would lull them off to sleep and Harry Redknapp would be too busy trying to sign a clarinet player on a free from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra to bother with arm-waving.

Sir Alex Ferguson. Now that would be worth seeing. I imagine he'd be a very good conductor, what with his highly-developed sense of timing. But woe betide anyone not paying attention. If he wanted more oomph from the cellists up front he'd point once at them. Then once more, angrily. And if they still weren't doing the business for him he'd be off his podium into the midst of them, kicking music stands over, cursing horribly, and affecting a Jimi Hendrix-style guitar sacrifice with one of their instruments. As a classical music writer might put it: "Even the more discreet of Schoenberg's octave doublings are to the fore as Ferguson skilfully conflates the dissonance of splintering wood and screaming cellists with the discord inherent in the 12-note topography of the work."

Or as a football writer would have it: "Sir Alex switched the hairdryer on to full power."