Pop idols singing the praises of glory game

Greg Wood sees Jarvis, Damon and Liam live out their footballing fantasies
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The Independent Online
"They are going to sing, aren't they?" a nervous teenager asked her companion in the thousand-strong queue outside east London's Mile End Stadium. "It's not just about football, is it?"

These days, what isn't? Ten years ago, how many trendy young pop stars would admit to an interest in the game? Recreational drugs, perhaps, and maybe the occasional trashed hotel room, but as for footy, it simply wasn't cool.

The only good thing about fashions is that they change, and now it seems that it is impossible to be a proper celebrity unless you support your team and turn out with the lads on Sundays. The Music Industry Soccer Six demonstrated just how far the pendulum has swung.

The 10 sides in yesterday's tournament, a benefit for the Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy Centre, included the aristocracy of Britpop. There were Pulp, Oasis, and Blur, with their famous frontmen, Jarvis Cocker, Liam Gallagher and Damon Albarn all kitted out to play for the cause. Robbie Williams, once of Take That, was guesting for Pulp. Massive Attack, the Bluetones, Dodgy, Gene - the list of bright young popsters desperate to be Cantona for a day was almost endless.

It is a strange phenomenon, that of the celebrity fan. According to the programme before last month's Auto Windscreens final at Wembley, Chris Evans has played beneath the twin towers no fewer than half a dozen times, which is comfortably more than George Best ever managed. Then there were the rumours that Oasis would be the new sponsors of their beloved Manchester City, and, indeed, Don't Look Back In Anger would be the ideal anthem for the Blues just now.

Just who benefits from all this is anyone's guess. Perhaps everyone does, and the simultaneous renaissance of British football and British pop music is more than mere coincidence. As Robbie Williams pointed out: "Footballers want to be pop stars, and pop stars want to be footballers. The adulation of being on stage and of scoring a goal is the same, it's a feeling of ecstacy."

There was at least a hint of the old Sunday kickabout tradition yesterday, as the women watched the men from the sidelines, except in this case there were 5,000 spectators behind crash barriers, their average age was in the low teens, and a fair number of the players were millionaires. Millionaires, what's more, who might not get out of bed - assuming they had been to bed - for less than pounds 10,000, but would do so for free to play football.

They took it seriously, too. Mark Morris, singer with the Bluetones, emerged from his match with the defending champions, Apollo 440 (or should that be 4-4-2?), bleeding steadily from a cut below his knee. His post- match interview with a GMTV reporter was intriguing. "We're playing Dodgy," he responded to one question. "Not going too well then?" she replied. Pause. "No, in our next match we're playing the band, Dodgy."

There were also some non-band members recruited to make up the numbers, described variously as guitar tuners or studio runners, who were more probably the roadie's mate from the pub who plays semi-pro. Playing sweeper for Oasis, meanwhile, was Elvis Edwin, from "band security", who was there to protect Liam as much as the goalkeeper but also capable of saving tackles of appalling brutality.

Elvis went one lunge too far in Oasis's final group match and limped off with a thigh injury, and without him the Mancunians lost 2-0 in their quarter-final, a grudge-match with the Essex Britpoppers Blur. Williams, something of a star in search of a home since his departure from Take That, had by now been recruited to lead the line for Oasis, and also had a message for those who fear that the game's popularity may have peaked.

"Football is going to get even more trendy," he predicted, "as long as they keep buying foreign players to add a bit of spice."

The downside to trendiness, of course, is something which Jarvis Cocker had plenty of time to ponder as he waited forlornly for a pass on the Pulp left wing. Once the celebs have moved in, can football still be the game of the common people?