The soundtracks of football's intriguing history

It is 50 years since England’s lone FIFA World Cup win, which coincided with a moment when the nation’s youth were creating a musical soundtrack that swept the planet. Four years later it was the turn of Brazil.


Pele playing his guitar during the Cannes film festival in the 1970s Source: Getty Images

Is there a connection between these two things – the footballing success and the cultural effervescence of The Beatles, Rolling Stones and so many others?  Yes and no.

In the direct sense it is hard to find a link.  Football represented a part of old style, working-class life that the musicians were trying to get away from as they dealt with new possibilities and fresh perspectives.

The game was an old thing – perhaps reflected in the musical taste of Bobby Moore, the young and glamorous captain of the England team.  He was a Frank Sinatra fanatic.  In years to come he was often found in the team hotel listening to his Engelbert Humperdinck records.

But it is hard to deny that, on one level at least, Moore and his team-mates were part of a moment and a movement that also helped produce the adventurous musicians. 

The key to it all was growing working-class opportunities, manifested in football with the end of the maximum wage at the start of the 1960s.  Suddenly there was a little more money in the game.

Bright youngsters such as Martin Peters, for one, could give their all to a career in football in the knowledge that now their efforts had the chance of earning a reasonable reward.  Other bright youngsters, meanwhile, were taking advantage of other new possibilities - basing themselves on American rhythm and blues and then adding a local twist that took them on a musical journey, which travelled at astonishing speed. 

The connection between music and football, those twin pillars of mass culture, is a rich field of research and conjecture.

A question I’m frequently asked is about the link between music and the wonderful football played by Brazil in the 1970 World Cup.  Brazil experienced a musical effervescence in the years leading up to that triumph, and might there be a connection between the two areas?

In this case a link is harder to find.

The musical moment was based around a series of televised festivals in the mid to late 1960s, which made the name of a group of artists who remain influential to this day.  The backdrop here was clearly the military dictatorship, which had taken power in 1964, and which was in the process of becoming more hard line.

Music was an important escape valve for the feelings of frustration of living under such a regime.  Many of the songs in these festivals tended to have a political message.  Feelings were running high.  Some of the left wing nationalist artists even organised a march against the electric guitar, which they saw as an instrument of North American imperialism.

It was in this context that, in the festival of 1967, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil launched their movement that came to be known as Tropicalismo.

Heavily influenced by mid-period Beatles, they aspired to make music that was both Brazilian and international, using electric guitars.  Rather than the focus on the rural poor of the songs of the more politicised artists, their new compositions tended to be urban. 

The songs carried a sense of newness, of a youth searching for new possibilities, that made them more subversive than the more traditional protest tunes.  When the crackdown came in 1968 Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil were soon arrested and sent into exile.

All of this was played out in front of a largely middle-class public.  The fevered crowds present at the festivals were mainly composed of students.  Television was still in the process of becoming a truly mass medium – in the coming years it would change its public and its language, with soap operas replacing music as the main attraction for a new, wider audience.

One of the stand-out points in the 1967 festival is the performance of Sergio Ricardo.

One of the original Bossa Nova generation, he had a history of political compositions.  This time, though, his entry was about football: ‘Beto Bom de Bola’ told the story of a once great player fallen on hard times, exploited by the unscrupulous and now living in the shadow of past glories.  It is an explicit reference to Garrincha.

But this was not a theme that appealed to the middle-class audience.  Sergio Ricardo was booed off stage, and in anger he threw his guitar into a crowd that had no desire to listen to a song about football.

Three years later many of that crowd may well have been hoping that Brazil would lose the 1970 World Cup, since victory would be interpreted as a triumph for the military regime.

These debates may well have been completely ignored by those players who represented Brazil in the tournament.  With the exception of centre forward Tostao, educated and left wing, it is hard to imagine the team containing many fans of the type of music that was played at the festivals.

A more likely soundtrack for the players would be that of Wilson Simonal.

A friend of Pele who travelled with the national team squad to Mexico, Simonal was a singer of talent and charisma.  In his own way, he was interesting as well – his style updated and internationalised the Brazilian wide boy, giving it a slice of James Bond caddishness and adding some black North American swing.  He was a huge star.

These days, though, he is largely forgotten – all because of one incident.

He used a couple of friends in the police to help him kidnap an accountant he thought was cheating him.  When the case went to court, to justify his action he said that he was an informer for the special police of the military dictatorship.

The artistic community was horrified – this was a time when a number of performers were being imprisoned and tortured.  Simonal was ostracised. 

His work dried up, he took to drink and, still protesting his innocence, he died in June 2000 – 30 years after helping to provide a soundtrack for Brazil’s players in the 1970 World Cup.

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6 min read
Published 9 April 2016 at 2:48pm
By Tim Vickery
Source: SBS