London Times, May 11, 2001

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My Red-hot love affair

Elvis Costello

I remember the first time I went to Anfield, when my Dad took me against Leeds in 1961 and we won 5-0. He had a feeling for Everton so he took me there as well, which was a bit like taking you to the Church of England one week and a Catholic one the next. Everton got beaten 4-0 so that was it. I was a Red.

I was 8 when I first went and at that age everything seems huge. It was right at the beginning of the Beatles era of the Sixties and you had to be strong to be on the Kop. When I was about 13, I tried to go in the middle where all the excitement was and almost got cut in half. I was only 5ft 7in and, trying to get an extra step, I got crushed against the barrier. You used to see people passed over the top and I was blacking out. There was a real big docker who pushed the crowd back and I ducked out and went to the left of the Kop goal, which is where I would usually stand.

My uncle used to live in Belmont Road, which is ten minutes down the road from the Kop. They were all Evertonians and I used to go for tea afterwards. They would know if Liverpool had won because they could hear and feel the cheer from that far away. It would hit the windows like a bomb going off.

We moved to London but, when I was 16, my Ma and me went to live back in Liverpool and up until 1972 I went a lot. Then I moved back south for the music, although I also had a day job in London, doing the accounts for Elizabeth Arden in the cosmetics factory at Acton, so I got to know which of the Duchesses had a wax. There wasn't a lot of money so I couldn't follow the team around. Then when the music got busy it depended on the touring, but I have always felt involved and watched all the games.

I enjoy it now as much as in the Sixties and I think the atmosphere in the recent games has been superb, especially in Europe. At the Barcelona game there was this terrific feeling for Steven Gerrard. He took a shot that flew miles over the crossbar and you suddenly realised he was quite young, because it was a bold idea that didn't go right. What I loved was that the crowd started chanting his name immediately. It was like saying: "That's all right lad, give it another go."

The only game I have watched from a box was the famous 3-3 against Manchester United when Liverpool were 3-0 down after 26 minutes. It was really soulless so I totally agree with Roy Keane about the prawn sandwiches. It seems churlish of him to say it because those people probably think, "hang on, he's being paid £60,000 a week and he is slapping us down," but I like that. You can take the boy out of Cobh, as the saying goes.

I like it in the stands and have no problem with rude stuff shouted from the terraces. I don't hold with all this "you're not allowed to swear within reason or say anything edgy." Take Robbie Fowler's line-sniffing celebration. I thought that was hilarious. It is getting too controlled now.

But there is an area where it is funny and it can also be witless. I had an 8-year-old behind me at the recent game against United and it was really depressing to hear this lad yelling stuff, real vile stuff. I just get depressed when I hear the chants about Munich. You never want to hear that. It is beneath contempt to mention that any more than if United fans mentioned Hillsborough or Heysel. That is life and death.

That is why I have never written anything about Hillsborough. I remember the night of it. I was playing a concert and I chose particular songs to sing, but I didn't write anything because you can't put yourself in the mind of people who have lost sons and daughters. Jimmy McGovern tried to write a play about it, but I don't know how successful that was. I just felt that it was something literally beyond words, and there is this dimension where it impacts on the families for ever because there was no justice.

As for Heysel, that was a shameful thing and what can you say? You can argue that it was always going to happen and that the stadium was poorly maintained, but someone had to do something reckless. And they did.

There is this invisible barrier now between players and fans, but I have to say Cantona was totally justified when he hit that fan. Cantona is a human being and he snapped. What do you expect to happen? Dixie Dean did it in the Thirties and I have done it on stage. I am not a violent person and I'm not in a physical industry, but I have people trying to get on the stage and you have to get rid of them. I wouldn't tolerate the worst abuse.

They threw the book at Cantona because he was a role model, but says who? That is the failing of the parents. If they can't persuade their children that there are people to base themselves on other than footballers and pop singers, then the parents are doing something wrong. Maybe they should get them to read a book.

I am not saying kids shouldn't want to play like footballers or maybe dress like them, because all that is natural about growing up, but it is idiotic to say they are role models. If the players aren't paid £70,000 a week, it is not going to go to a better cause. That is the way it is. Murdoch changed the game and you can't change it back now.

I saw a TV show and they interviewed old players like Tommy Lawton. He was talking about getting a transfer to Chelsea and having to stand outside the door and knock three times until he was allowed in. Even to this day, some of the chairmen and owners have the same relationship to the people on the terraces as mill owners because their lives are remote. The players used to be of the people and that has changed because of how much they are rewarded, but I don't like the game any less for that.

In part two in the Football Handbook tomorrow, Elvis Costello looks forward to the Cup Final.

Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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The Times, May 11, 2001

Elvis Costello writes about his love of football.


2001-05-11 London Times photo 01 ma.jpg
Photo by Marc Aspland.


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