Saint Etienne & Football

Football and Music are often uneasy bedfellows when it comes to tunes – with some notable high-class exceptions – but, in a more casual and often esoteric way, the two cultures intermingle readily.

Let’s be honest, the difference between the two, for some people, is negligible and indeed symbiotic not only with each other but also fashion and culture. Your mind is now probably wandering, unprompted, towards the letter “H” in your vinyl collection, for a band somewhere between Haircut 100 and the Happy Mondays. But steer away from that end and ease on up the alphabet to just before that Salako album you’ve been meaning to take to the charity shop. Unlike Half Man Half Biscuit, this band’s canon does not include a dressing room full of football songs but scattered freely around their pitch, like desiccated orange quarters, are pointed references to the beautiful game, its paraphernalia and nostalgia.

There is really only one place to start on this non-exhaustive trip through the band’s back catalogue, and that is at the very start. 1990.

Name Yourself After A Glamorous Football Team

If you’re going to name yourself after a football team, a classy French one is your go-to club (Monaco, Marseille, Auxerre, Metz, etc). And if you’re going to do that, make sure you get there first to enhance coolness. You could choose the green and white of one of the most successful French football clubs of the 60s and 70s. Off to the proverbial flyer are the good gentlemen of St Etienne, Peter Wiggs and Robert Stanley – joined after the below hatrick of football wins by Lady Cracknell.


A Game Of Two Halves

Early doors, the boys’ first single, the classic cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, comes replete with Weatherall’s “A Mix Of Two Halves”. For the uninitiated (no one viewing this website) this mix is obviously a nod to the classic footballing cliche “A Game Of Two Halves”, where the narrative and outcome of one half of the match favours one team and is followed by a second half entirely the opposite, favouring the other team. Note to Weatherall: The remix should reflect the title, it does not. Aside: In my mind, the “Cool and Deadly” refrain that permeates the track are nods to Stuart Pearce’s (up to that point) mighty penalty prowess.

An “Official” World Cup Song

J-J-J-J-J-J-J-J-J-J-John Barnes. Flying swiftly out of the blocks like Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool, St Etienne swiftly backed another “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” version with their own “Official World Cup Theme” (1990). A seemingly tongue-in-cheek stab at a modern day football song, OWCT is built upon samples from football commentary, balearic bells, Snap-ish “The Power” stabs and faux wah-wah, over driving synths that sound like pre-season training for Cola Boy.

Radio/TV Commentary Clips

Kicking off your debut album with pre-match clips from French Radio’s version of Sports Report is always a good thing! Foxbase Alpha (1991) starts with “This Is Radio Etienne”, featuring a looped theme tune sample and some words only those with Gallic flair can completely decipher. Something like … “France Football, Stade de St Ouen(?), inter football, France football. Une emission du service des sports presente par Jaques Bordeaux(?)”. Now, I thought Jacques Bordeaux was a French lounge singer, at least I deduced as much from karaoke on a French campsite in the Vendee last year. These French are polymaths, isn’t it?

Jumpers For Goalposts

After such a flurry of football hat-tips, you’d be forgiven for purchasing 1993’s So Tough album and swiftly rifling through to find the gems inside. Sadly, So Tough is fairly silent on tune-related soccer content but the sleeve art includes a group of teenage 80s lads readying themselves for some park football, resplendent in Hi Tec and Hummell, the ball-owner clutching it tightly.


Cult Footballers #1

If you’re uber-cool, you can lay off the football references for a bit and let someone else do it for you. The sleeve notes on So Tough, by Kevin Pearce, namecheck two related (they’re really not) cult artistes of yore. Pearce’s choice of footballer: Alan Hudson. Stylish, entertaining, enduring, cult hero but a bit of an outsider at the time – perhaps evoking St Etienne’s career and future standing. Pearce’s choice of musician: 70s dub legend Keith Hudson. Nice.


Roy Of The Rovers

What self-respecting band is complete without a nudge, a wink and a nod to Melchester’s finest? Non-album single “Saturday” has a simple sleeve, the title evoking game day and, in the corner, a Roy-esque cartoon creating a soccernection with everyone’s favourite time of Saturday, 3:00-4:45pm.


Grassroots Champion

Keeping yourself in touch with football’s grassroots, the issues, the dilemmas, always a vote winner. “Heart Failed (In The Back Of A Taxi)” includes the line: “Sold the ground to a PLC, Moved the club out to Newbury, Sod the fans and their families…”. The actual club referred to may be Oxford United, it could be an allegory for MK Dons, possibly a little dig at Hendon FC’s landlords (brace yourselves, there’s much more Hendon to come), or it could just be a comment on the predilection of club owners to build faceless edifices on cheap distant land, having flogged off the city centre goldmine for their own personal gain. The socialist football heart beats strongly in this band.

Sexy South London Non League Football

2002 single, and the Finisterre album’s opening track, “Amateur” suggests we all “Get a Corinthian view, Wear the pink and blue’. Now, I’m no rocket scientist but that quite clearly is, almost certainly, possibly, a reference to the mighty Dulwich Hamlet, of Champion Hill. I got it and have worn it.

Replica Kit Wearing

Full kit wanker? Good god no, man! Sarah Cracknell in an Ireland Shirt! Nothing to see here, move along.


Sounds From The Game

The intro to the album version of “Action” includes two samples, one of some crowd hubbub at Claremont Road, Hendon FC, and, secondly, the distant sound of shouting players and whistling officials from a Euro 2000 game. As Bob himself said on Twitter just the other day: “Listen hard, and you can hear a kid shout ‘Come on Hendon’.”


Well, here we go, how to endear yourself to men/boys of a certain age? And what better ways to deliver it than via the dulcet spoken tones of Sarah Cracknell? One segue in “Teenage Winter” goes: “There’s not much left on the doorstep recently. Something to do with eBay, Johnny reckons. He’s bidding on it now for a Subbuteo catalogue 81-82. He’ll win it, put it in a drawer and forget he ever bought it…” Yep, we’ve all done it.

Non League Football #2 + FA Cup + Legend

With this one St Etienne are spoiling us! Another segue in the same song gives us “Gary can’t believe the Claremont Road pitch is going to be covered in executive housing. He talks about the Newcastle game, Boncho’s debut, but Tony can hardly hear him.” The “Claremont Road pitch” is/was the home of Bob’s beloved Hendon, their ground constantly earmarked for redevelopment. The “Newcastle game” was a famous Hendon FA Cup game that ended 1-1. And, last but not least, the lovely “Boncho”: Hendon’s former player/coach, ex-Ipswich striker and Bulgarian World Cup semi-finalist from ’94, Boncho Guentchev.


1970s Goalkeepers With Lovely Hair

This one’s fairly simple, write some music for a film called What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? (2006). I don’t need to tell you that Mervyn Day was a West Ham goalkeeper of some repute, and he had marvellous hair. Bonus points for the “Mervyn’s Theme” on the soundtrack too.


Non League Football #3

Also on the What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? soundtrack is an instrumental called “Eton Manor”. Eton Manor FC and indeed RFC still exist. If my memory of the film serves me correctly, Eton Manor sports ground was once based on grounds within what is now the Olympic Park in Stratford and remnants of the original clubhouse could be seen in undergrowth before the site was aesthetically cleansed.

Football Legends

This one’s a bit of a stab in the dark and a large assumption but 2006’s “Message In A Bottle” seems to refer, somewhat wistfully, to Newcastle legend Jackie Milburn: “…no more Tyneside’s favourite son”.

Cult Footballers #2

Littered among murdered industrialists and 80s fashionistas in “Fake ’88” you’ll find a World Cup winner, Gary Lineker’s support striker and the man with the most famous non-goal in FA Cup history. “The classic beard of Altobelli, Leon Klinghofer, baby duck, blonde highlights, flourescent sock, Steve Lynex and Gordon Smith”. Throw in a play on the remix name of a big Alexander O’Neal song and you basically have it all.

Non League Football #4

Monty The Lamb is the club mascot of Hendon. Bob and Paul Kelly’s 15 minute film of the same name follows the lamb for a season and documents the final curtain at Claremont Road, before Hendon were forced to leave to nomadism.


Cultural Footy Nostalgia

“I started to memorise the charts, to memorise the leagues. Tuesday lunchtime at 12: 45, Saturday afternoon at five o’clock,” says Sarah in “Over The Border”. Ostensibly a song about how music affects a person growing up and its importance, the band drop a football bomb in the middle with a nod to the statistical and positional obsession we have with our teams and our league tables. For. Against. Final score.

There is more, there is always more, I find myself tripping over new ones on the odd occasion, dawning realisation that those words are not “just” words but words that acknowledge a debt to football’s culture and history. I am saluting Bob, Pete and Sarah, may there be more nods to football in the pipeline.


But, finally, this last one is a mystery to me. On Fan Club issue live EP Trumpton Comes Alive there is this image. Who is this man? I do not know. Answers on a postcard.

1 Comment on Saint Etienne & Football

  1. Hey nice article.. Here’s our football music collaborative effort..

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