World In Motion – Sport and Music by Peter Newlinds

by Peter Newlinds author of Around The Grounds

Sport and music. Both are powerful vehicles of nostalgia, and can evoke strong opinion and high emotion. They form central platforms of life for a lot of us.

I didn’t realise until I read the final manuscript of my book Around The Grounds how regularly I’d used musical reference points in my story which, if you don’t know already, is essentially about a sports crazy kid who managed to turn a powerful and abiding interest into a long (and some might say) successful career in the media.

Musical memories are dotted throughout the book; ‘Sister’ by Icehouse was running through my head as I sat on the back deck of a Hydrofoil en route to my first day of work experience in October 1980. ‘West End Girls’ by the Pet Shop Boys will forever remind of my youthful adventure to England in 1986, the summer Maradona confounded England with his brilliance and his treachery (the memorable ‘hand of God’ incident) in an unforgettable World Cup quarter final played half a world away in Mexico city. Before my first ever live radio broadcast (which was reading a news bulletin from carefully typed paper cards) my ragged nerves were soothed by the simple, innocent sound of ‘Puff the Magic dragon’ by Peter, Paul and Mary.

Some music is written with the specific purpose of adding to the sensory pleasure of an already great sporting occasion. These compositions, like a weak number 11 batsman, tend to be a bit hit and miss. Who can forget the amazing ‘Nessun Dorma’ sung by Pavarotti as the unofficial 1990’s World Cup anthem (it was actually just part of the BBC’s broadcast opening music)… and for that matter does anyone know what this current World Cup’s anthem is by Russia? Don’t bother, it is not memorable).

As with most things to do with the popular song, the English have proven masters of the art of the sports-themed anthem. New Order’s ‘World In Motion’ (complete with England’s World Cup squad members on lead and backing vocals) was a memorable and evocative backing track to the team’s gallant yet ultimately doomed run to the semi-finals of Italia ’90. Like Paul Gascoigne’s tears and the trauma of Chris Waddle’s missed penalty, the song keeps the memories both bitter and sweet coming back.

It’s true that my mind at the moment is filled with World Cup soccer memories and associations but away from the round ball game I want you to consider two musical artefacts both beautiful in their own way. Then perhaps contemplate those that might stir up the same feelings for you.

In Around the Grounds there are companion chapters on Rugby League and Australian Rules football. Both are very closely associated with my formative experiences as a sports follower and consumer of sports media. There are two songs entirely different in form and execution that define the epoch for me.

When sports broadcaster Frank Hyde owned the Sydney weekend radio airwaves in the 1970s he did so in a pioneering way. A successful kick for goal was described as ‘high enough, long enough and straight between the posts’, he presented a Seiko watch to the best player on ground at every broadcast match and hosted an end-of-season world tour for dedicated fans. There was even a Frank Hyde board game! Those things live on in the memory but when it comes to stirring up the well of nostalgia nothing gets to the heart of the matter like hearing Frank’s version of ‘Danny Boy’. An Irishman, a sentimentalist and a showman, Frank would play the aching lament at the conclusion of every Sunday afternoon broadcast. The song captures a tone and a time; it’s a link to the working class tribalism that so defines (or once did) the character of the thirteen-man game.

I grew up on the other side of the ‘Barassi Line’, the illusory boundary that separated (or did then) the Australian Rules portion of Australia from the one that thought of football in terms of rectangular playing surfaces. In 1979 one musical number escaped across the border and entered our impressionable collective conscience (which meant it made it onto Countdown). It was from the flat landscapes of Melbourne where police wore different-coloured uniforms, fans turned out to matches in striking numbers and there was never an offside whistle to be heard. The song was Mike Brady’s anthem to the joys of Melbourne suburbia ‘Up there Cazaly’.

I like the kitsch and the catchiness of ‘C’mon Aussie C’mon’ for our Australian Cricketers, and the happy rollicking associations with Australia winning the America’s Cup that one feels with every rendition of ‘Down Under’ by Men at Work, but neither tune makes it in to the book. What that says about my musical taste or the perils of airplay saturation I’m not sure.

It’s just that some things, like your first day watching Test cricket, never leave you. And why would you want them to…?

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