The Story with no Song: My Time in Football

Like many writers the majority of my songs are about me and my life. And these blog pieces are usually about my songs and, therefore, about my life. But there is a time I’ve not yet written about and perhaps I should.

What did I do in the years between 1981 when The Boys broke up and 2000 when we got back together to play Japan? In short I went back to the University I left after a day in 1976, then got a job, family and mortgage like everyone else.

I’ve talked about my time working for Andrew Lloyd Webber (https://www.andrewlloydwebber.com/about/) in this blog: https://duncanreidandthebigheads.com/2018/11/12/the-story-behind-the-song-parts-6-and-7-children/ and the family sacrifices which inspired the song “Little Fingers and Toes”.

However, in 1997 Andrew Lloyd Webber was rethinking his desire for global domination and talked of a simpler life, taking his Really Useful Group back to being a small theatre production company dedicated to his work in London and on Broadway. In that smaller company what would a guy who spent his days planning new ventures in film and television, opening up new theatre markets in Europe, Las Vegas and the like, and who was looking at managing non Lloyd Webber shows such as Riverdance do with himself? Get laid off was the obvious answer.

So I started looking around to see how I could keep a roof over the heads of my young family and stop the bank coming in to repossess our nice house which still had a pretty hefty mortgage hanging over it.

But I couldn’t just do anything. I have a very low boredom threshold and when I saw an advert which said “Premier League Football Club requires full time director” I thought: “Why not?”

200 people applied for the job at double European Champions Nottingham Forest (https://www.nottinghamforest.co.uk/) but I must have made a good impression. Experience as a performer is useful in many situations including interviews, which is why a drama degree is often undervalued (not that I have one). I remember being asked: “How does working for a theatre company make you qualified to run a footbll club?” to which my reply was: “I’ve been running venues, selling tickets and merchandise, negotiating media rights, and organising bars and food. It seems to me the only difference with football is the divas are a different sex”. It got a chuckle and maybe got me the job but I was wrong. I was about to go from a company that made millions of pounds while we slept in our beds from shows all over the world, to an industry based on financial madness, where clubs get relegated with a wage bill they can’t afford while their income is reduced to a fraction of what it was, and which requires Arab royal families, Rusian oligarchs or American billionaires for a team to be competitive. But more of that later.

Off I trotted home to tell my wife: “I’ve landed a new job”. “Oh, where is it?”, she asked.”Nottingham”, I replied.

We took the very sensible (with hindsight) decision not to take our daughter, Lauren, out of school, sell the house and move to Nottingham until we saw how the job worked out. So started 2 years of me living in Nottingham and Liz and Lauren coming up Friday nights after school till crack of dawn Monday.

I moved into a house rented by the club and previously used by a string of Scandanavian footballers like Alf Inge Haaland ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alf-Inge_H%C3%A5land ) who you may remember had his career ended at Manchester City by a particularly thugish tackle of Roy Keane’s.

I moved in during the close season when no matches took place and most of the news was about new players. It was known that this was a “Forest House” rented out to players and as I put the keys in the door for the first time I turned round to see a gaggle of little boys looking at me, eyes and mouths wide open, horror written across their faces. “Bloody Hell they are buying them small and old”, they were thinking.

So began two of the most fun and interesting years of my life. Nottingham was a delight to live in. People spoke funny but boy they were friendly. I fell out of bed a half hour before I was due in work, as opposed to struggling in to town for hours on overcrowded and often cancelled trains. Footballers themselves were surprisingly down to earth and often very intelligent (and teetotal!). Some were greedy, charging charities and schools money to turn up at open days when they earned so much anyway and had so much free time. But then there were others like Chris Bart Williams (https://www.nottinghampost.com/sport/football/now-former-nottingham-forest-midfielder-1228760) who I discovered ran and funded a free football academy for underpriveleged children in his spare time.

Chris Bart Williams

One thing I had never previously appreciated was how large a part pain plays in their lives. We always read in the paper “So and so has an injury”. It’s so common we take it for granted. But injury equals pain, and often surgery and crutches. These guys who run a half marathon twice a week and train in between live with it. Some of them constantly.

But they do get paid well.

The people who really impressed me were the managers. I never quite met Brian Clough (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Clough) the genius legend who took Nottingham Forest from the Second division, to English Champions and double European Champions in 5 years. But I heard some great stories most of which I can’t repeat. We organised a public dinner in his honour and invited most of the great champion team of 1979/80 to attend. Many of them were by then very succesful managers in their own right like Martin O’Neill (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_O%27Neill). To a man they sat white knuckle rigid with fear until word came through that Brian Clough was too “poorly” to attend (he was known to struggle with the drink). Hearing the news, all those years later and after Brian Clough no longer had any day to day hold over them, this group of successful adult men visibly relaxed and could enjoy the evening.

That was the old way of managing with techniques such as the Alex Ferguson “hairdryer” at half time, making the players scared of upsetting you with an undercurrent of potential violence. It’s been a long time since that worked.

Imagine you have a workforce of millionaires who have been on good money since they were teenagers. A workforce for whom the threat of the sack would represent an opportunity to get out of a contract and sign for another club with a massive signing on fee. And it’s a cold, wet, Wednesday in February with an away match at a lower team. That is why you see the Jurgen Klopp approach of I’m your friend and surrogate Dad, with so much emphasis on team building and playing for your mates. Not only do managers have to be great coaches and football tacticians, they have to be charming, master psychoanalysts and all the ones I met were an impressive presence in the room.

The best and worst thing about the job was the football itself, both on the pitch and around the match.

For my then nine year old daughter, Lauren, the first match was an ordeal. Clearly bored she spent the whole time looking at anything but the pitch and asking to go home. But the power of football won. At our third game I heard this little voice beside me say: “He was offside”. I was stunned. The offside law is one of the hardest for newcomers to get and the player had been offside. From then on she enjoyed an initiation into football spent visiting matchday boardrooms and liking it if the catering was up to scratch. At home games she had the run of the ground because all the security people knew her, and after every game she would make sure she got an autograph from Dutch international Pierre Van Hooijdonk (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_van_Hooijdonk) as we had a jolly time in the “Robin Hood” lounge where the players would relax post match. Pierre would chuckle as he signed what he knew must have been her 20th autograph from him.

I’m glad to say she knows now it was a bit of a weird way to get into football and is happy to sit in the stands like everyone else.

You might be an avid football fan. You might often find it tense, depressing or exhilarating. Imagine if you are running the place. If you’ve raised money to get promoted and know that there is no more. That while you are trying to get promoted that money is being burned through at a rate of knots as it goes out the door each month via the players payroll. And you know that if you don’t get promoted back to the Premier League that season then its over. There will have to be a fire sale and who knows what that will lead to. Believe me, life and, in particular, every match was an emotional roller coaster.

I remember a game at Manchester City. We had bought Pierre Van Hooijdonk the previous season from Celtic while we were in the Premier League and there was a clause that said if he scored 25 goals in a season we’d pay an extra £500,000. In the Premier League that would have been challenging for him. In the Championship (as it’s now called) he was like a thoroughbred racing against goats, scoring amazing goals left, right and centre. At Manchester City we were 3-0 up when awarded a penalty. Pierre was on 24 goals for the season. “Please don’t let him take it”, I prayed. As he stepped up to take the place kick I had to be restrained from running on to steal the ball.

Just a small example of Pierre van Hooijdonk’s magic

At the top of this blog there is a picture of the squad with me front right sat next to Pierre van Hooijdonk. Like the alpha male he was he has his long, long legs wide apart taking up some of my room. “Can you close your legs a bit?, I said. “No”, he replied, “My bollocks are too big”.

Ultimately it was the business which defeated me. You can save as much money as you like on the paper clips but the money going to players is extraordinary. Back in the Premier League it was clear the team weren’t good enough and there was no money in the bank. Yes, there was a huge amount of TV income but the wages were even higher. Fans are unforgiving. We are so used to hearing about players costing £50 million, £60 million, £70 million that we no longer stop to think just what a huge amount of money that is! Sums that would fund hospitals spent on one footballer before paying hundreds of thousands per week on wages. But fans want “investment” (In most walks of life that means spending money on something which lasts a long time and increases your value. In football it means spending more money than you have and later going into administration).

In the autumn of 1999, and back in the Premier League, we invited some friends to a home game against West Ham. It was the early part to the season and there was still some optimism. But the fans, used to a recent history of success, wanted new players and started a chant of “Sack the Board”. “Who are they singing about?”, asked one of my friends.”Me”, I replied.

Plus, there is only so long you can spend living away from your family before the week nights start to feel very lonely, fun as the weekends and school holidays were.

It was time to return to London, with a heavy heart at leaving Nottingham and Nottingham Forest, but invigorated and refreshed by the experience. And, although I didn’t know it at the time, a new chapter was about to start as The Boys would be asked to reform to play a couple of shows in Japan, an experience we would enjoy so much that, having not even listened to anything but Football for years, my love of music would be rekindled after nearly two decades away.

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It’s Definitely not Grim Up North!

There are some heroes on this small island of ours. Fighters who keep the flame alive and give a platform to those of us who plow our furrow in the unfashionable and underloved arena of melodic, tuneful, punk rock, – heroes who enable weekends as fun-filled and fulfilling as the one just passed.

We’ve been guilty of ignoring the Northern end of Great Britain for a couple of years. Those Germans, Scandinavians, Spanish, Irish and even Americans are just so damn welcoming. And I don’t know what we’ve done to Rebellion but they never answer our emails. We started to put that right this week though.

So step forward  Mr Joe Maddox and his band The Breakdowns. We needed a stopover between London and Glasgow and up they came with our salvation. The Chameleon Arts Cafe: smack bang in the middle of Nottingham on a thursday night. Run by two very friendly fellas who are determined to enjoy their work and make sure their wares are up to scratch before offering them for sale. If you ask nicely they are also not backward in coming forward with the Jaegermeister post show.

Heated to a level just a few degrees below St Petersburg on Christmas eve, the Chameleon still has a warmth only the good people of Nottingham can engender. I lived in this town for a couple of years when I was helping to run Nottingham Forest FC (twice Champions of Europe!) and I love coming back to hear the dulcet tones of the local OAPs telling me: “You’re blocking the road and breaking the law”!  Well I was, but only because we had to stop somewhere in the car to telephone the venue which is hidden down an alley and up some stairs. A great crowd, a great thursday night and we were bloody good too.

mauroandsophie
Sophie and Mauro

And so to Glasgow. Last time we were there was a Saturday afternoon matinée. Bold idea and a good one. This time it would be a friday night proper, promoted once again by the charming Alex Mainy Main, a man of many entertaining opinions, as evidenced by his blog –“Itsaxxxxthing” (Warning: do not read if you like your point of view filtered by the Daily Mail, or are of a Trumpish disposition). He is also a general doer of good deeds for struggling musicians through his local collective The New Hellfire Club. The venue, Audio, is one of the best in the UK as were the two support bands, Media Whores and Heavy Drapes.

I love a big stage. Give us a Big Stage and we’ll show you how to use it! Sophie K Powers threw her best poses, thrashing away with no regard for life or limb,  a blur of hair, white Les Paul Junior and legs.

Mauro Venegas strutted his patch, a wild mixture of Mick Ronson and Steve Jones. Our own Jones (Karen) whacked away behind. How does someone so light hit those drums so damn hard?

And me? You know what I do when you give me a bit of space.

We were shit hot that night. It was worth the long drive just by itself.

audioglasgow
Audio Glasgow: Brilliant Venue

Afterwards we headed off to sample the bars of Sauchiehall Street. Glasgow late on a drunken Friday night? Well why not? You only die once.

Actually it wasn’t threatening at all. We arrived in an establishment full of young bearded fellows, quite clearly off their faces on MDMA, throwing karate poses to each other in time to modern music of indeterminate quality. The girls, clearly also floating in another dimension, were together enough to be pissed off at the lack of attention from the blokes who, despite their lack of terrestrial presence, seemed to be quite aware that they looked like a bunch of bearded Craig Revel Horwoods.

And then things got weirder. The besuited DJs played first “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath, then Whitney Huston, Dolly Parton, Sheena Easton and a whole host of guilty pleasures from the 70s and 80s. By this time the place was heaving with hipsters all getting off to music they probably wouldn’t be seen dead owning up to on Sunday morning.

We’d been joined by Guy Jardine, boss at Rebel in Print T Shirts (Check them out), a man who wouldn’t be seen dead on facebook (cough) and unmistakably: A PUNK! “This isn’t Punk” grumbled Guy, “Punk was invented to get rid of all this”! “Don’t be a silly sausage” I said. “Yes, come and have a dance” said Sophie. So off he sheepishly trotted to have a bop whereupon the DJ took Lionel Ritchie off and put on Billy Idol to save Guy’s blushes. Hospitable people these Scots.

And so to Middlesbrough, home to Stephen Harland and his Riverside Rebellion. Well at least there’s one Rebellion festival which will have us 😉

RIVERSIDE REBELLION 2016 with Fringe.jpg
Riverside Rebellion

And that is what you call a line up.

We were on at the perfect time: about 8 pm. But: we followed Church of Eon and Cyanide Pills. Watching them both I was thinking, “This is going to take some serious showing off to keep up with”. Church of Eon even had a portly local jump up in his ABBA pyjamas during their cover of Mama Mia.

abba-pyjamas
Man in ABBA Pyjamas

Cyanide Pills were simply magnificent: everything you want when Leeds meets Lager.

So we really did get up to some serious, world-class showing off. There weren’t the wide open spaces of Audio so we crashed into each other a lot, I couldn’t hear a word I was singing and the mike kept flying off its stand. But I think we pulled the largest crowd of the night and kept them there to our glorious finale.

On the way back to the hotel Mauro stopped to pick up a local delicacy: the Chicken Parma. He had a half sized one which was about 4 kilos of breaded, fried chicken covered in 3 litres of melted cheese and a bucket of fries. I share a hotel room with him and was worried (having seen Monty Python’s Meaning of Life).

Back in London the next day I discovered that the first band on in Nottingham, Bones Park Rider, had kindly sent me a recording of our set. In celebration of this deliriously wonderful jaunt we offer a 15 minute extract for download here. It’s completely free (subject to Bandcamp’s monthly limit) although you can pay a little if you want to.

London, Brighton, Sheffield, Grimsby, York and Nottingham again in the first quarter of next year do you say? I can’t wait.

Post Script (3 Jan 2017) Following this post a number of people contacted Rebellion to say we are great. Rebellion have contacted us and we have been offered a slot for this summer. I love you all!

 

 

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