In search of a winning score

By Jeff Dowsing

It’s fair to say the rocky relationship between sport and music is an obvious yet strangely elusive one.  Venture into any changeroom and protagonists will be plugged in, psyching themselves for battle.  What are they listening to?  I dare say nothing that relevant to sport.   

Sure, rousing abstract tunes made for TV montages and kitschy pre matches abound… Simply the Best, Holy Grail, Playing to Win et al.  Unfortunately these overexposed ditties were around when we bought music from Brashs on CDs and cassettes.

Footy club anthems serve a purpose and Up There Cazaly is a faithful servant to the game, but what about the likes of Powderfinger waxing lyrical on Punter’s pull shot or a Beyonce tribute to Serena’s ATTITUDE?  How about the Ballad of Ricky Nixon per chance?  Surely all this on and off field drama is perfect fodder for musos searching for a twist on the staples of sex, drugs and the awful trials of wealth and fame?

The agony and ecstasy of sport translates so well to canvas, literary tomes and celluloid but struggles for contemporary music adaptation.   Clunking made-for-major-sporting-event anthems are typically as memorable as last year’s Eurovision winner, and bawdy rugby drinking songs don’t count.  Similarly, commercially driven team sing-alongs are best kept within the confines of the changerooms.  They always look like they’re having a blast – pity our bleeding ears.  The only conceivable use for anything performed by an Australian Olympic team is an aural war on crime designed to flush the world’s most wanted from their hidey holes.

England’s 1990 World Cup soccer squad’s World in Motion was an exception, only thanks to New Order’s stamp of credibility.  Even then it barely scrapes into their ‘best of.’  Interestingly, the London Olympics is seconding a musical tour de force featuring Blur, among others.  Perhaps they could play Modern Pentathlon is Rubbish.  There may yet be reason to tune in.

Golf ‘boasts’ several odd dedications and a John Daly country and western release, but tragic tales of the pugilistic arts inspire the most fruitful marriage.   Bob Dylan’s Hurricane is a knockout tune (as much a racial protest song) about Rubin Carter who ‘coulda been the champion of the world’.  Song for Sonny Liston by Mark Knopfler and Springsteen’s The Hitter are worthy contenders that explore the fate of poor sods entrapped by boxing’s murkiness and brutality.  Another eclectic wordsmith, Morrissey, laments ‘losing in your home town’ in Boxers.  ‘You wish the ground would open up and take you down’ croons music’s unofficial spokesman for the downtrodden.  For something a little more upbeat, there’s always Survivor’s ubiquitous Eye of the Tiger.

You wouldn’t pick cricket as a popular songwriter’s muse, but C’mon Aussie and 10CC’s Dreadlock Holiday could make solid openers on a concept album.  In Mr Carbohydrate, Manic Street Preachers’ Nicky Wire would mysteriously rather watch England’s Matthew Maynard bat (4 tests, batting average 10.87) than play his guitar!  Ironically, as assistant coach of the national side, party boy Maynard enlisted lyricists to draft a team song.  Although a perfect fit for Punter and Huss, it’s doubtful the Aussies will bump dressing room fave Khe Sanh for Roy Harper’s When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease.   TISM’s The Parable of Glenn McGrath’s Haircut cleverly sticks it to yobbos who mocked the bowl cut nerds at school but Paul Kelly’s simply titled Bradman stands apart.  ‘More than just a batsman, he was something like a tide, more than just one man, he could take on any side.’  Equally catchy and inspiring, it sparks visions of a sepia toned Adelaide Oval, Larwood thundering in and the evil Jardine plotting in the shadows, swatting at our flies.

As the archetypical storyteller, Kelly is intrinsically suited to the genre.  Leaps and Bounds also hits the mark, remembering a wide eyed youth and being ‘high on the hill looking over the bridge to the MCG’, the smell of burning leaves and his feet not even touching the ground.  From the opening it sends a tingle down the spine.  Surprisingly, the maudlin Mancurian, Morrissey, also kicks goals with Munich Air Disaster, the tale of ‘the unlucky boys of red…their faces fixed in our head’ and the sinister We’ll Let You Know which delves into the mindset of loathsome British soccer hooligans.  These moody tracks illustrate the best aren’t necessarily the obvious rah-rah crash through walls variety.

John Fogerty’s Centerfield is a worthy finalist; despite the burden of being George Dubya’s favourite song, it’s a pretty good B-side to Take Me Out to the Ball Game.  Queen’s Bicycle Race is one of few commercial hits with a sporting connotation although claims are tenuous given the video featured a peloton of nude models. We’re clutching at straws now but Billy Bragg’s work habitually reveals his passion for soccer. Meatloaf epic Paradise by the Dashboard Light incongruously yet effectively incorporates a lengthy baseball interlude, although never starvin’ Marvin should never be allowed within 10km of any stadium, ever again.

It’s downhill skiing from here; these off-cuts belonging in K-Mart’s bargain tray.  Unlike the race, Kraftwerk’s Tour de France goes absolutely nowhere. English punk outfit The Fall’s Theme from Sparta FC and Kicker Conspiracy are livelier, if nothing else.  The Chili Peppers’ rapid fire ode to Magic Johnson is OK lyrically but sounds rubbish.  Take the Skinheads Bowling by Camper Van Beethoven is something else again, the intriguingly named title and band is all you want to know.  At least Black Box Recorder can be commended on their humorous mention of Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski who ‘like true British heroes, they let the whole nation down.’

Alas, for 35 years We are the Champions continues to thunder across stadiums all over the globe, still undefeated.  A bombastic encapsulation of the winning feeling, be it World Series baseball or World Series hopscotch.

The challenge is clearly apparent to achieve sporting glory; no athletic prowess required.  Hmm… based on the music industry’s track record, maybe we’ll just play it safe and crank out Grail and Champions one more time.

About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. Bruce Springtein’s “The Rising” is an almight anthem – could be played at any sporting event.

    Then there’s ZZ Top’s “La Grange” which would fire up a corpse, and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” which would sound magnificent being belted out across the ‘G before the Big one.

    None of these is inherently sporty, but they’re all bloody good.

  2. Wasn’t one of George Dubblya’s three criminal convictions (conveniently overlooked) for when he was ……….taken out of the ball game as a young wannabe?

    (Reference: one of Michael Moore’s offerings – not sure which)

  3. Where do we put Rose Tattoos we can’t be beaten ?

  4. Glen – in the bin

  5. Jeff Dowsing says

    Yes, with Angry’s you-know-what mobile.

  6. Dave Nadel says

    Rose Tattoo’s “We Can’t be Beaten” and Queen’s “We are the Champions”should never be played at another sporting event. They have been so over exposed that even “Up There Cazaly” seems fresh by comparison. Hunters and Collecter’s “The Holy Grail” is a much better song but it, too, has been overexposed and if you listen to the lyrics, was always quite inappropriate as a sporting theme,

    While Greg Champion’s ditties are quite amusing, the fact is there hasn’t been any song written explicitely for football that has the power of Kelly’s “Bradman” or the songs about boxing that Jeff mentions above. (Or for that matter Dan Fogelberg’s “Run for the Roses” which, despite its sentimentality, has to be one of the best songs ever written about horse racing)

    Perhaps Dave Warner (Mark One) should write one. His writing on football in “City of Light” is close to the best treatment of Football in Australian fiction.

  7. When I was playing footy in the early ’90s, at one stage we used “the Battle March Medley” by the Pogues in the pre-match.

    Although I reckon it is a wonderfully rousing instrumental, it is probably an understatement to say that it polarised the team.

  8. Andrew Fithall says

    Bit disappointed Sherbert’s Howzat has been left out.

  9. John Butler says

    Also surprised (but relieved) that Pat Benetar (Hit Me With Your Best Shot) hasn’t scored a mention.

    One neglected (very) Melbourne footy anthem is “Ball… Yes!” by Alloi Head and the Victa Motors

  10. Jeff Dowsing says

    No doubt there’s a number I’ve failed to mention – and perhaps a Top 50 chart was in order.

    Greg Champion probably deserved a mention, although it’s a particular dedicated audience that listen to ‘I’m Diperdomenico-ho-ho’ et al every week on the wireless.

    It was a shame McKenna’s ‘Last One Standing’ didn’t gain a bit more traction, though maybe my estimation of the song is coloured by the events of the day (2010 GF2).

  11. My pick is ‘Superbowl Jesus’ (Kayne West + 1985 Chicago Bears + Wilco)

  12. It’s not music, but on the topic of Superbowl and NFL, have a look at the half time speech by Al Pacino in ‘Any Given Sunday’. Stunning motivation.

  13. Warumpi Band “Stars” Hard rock’n, patriotic, earthy, relevant and huge guitar riffs.

    Unfortunately they don’t play anymore.

  14. When I was at Fitzroy, I got these guys on board ( Sure ‘Mr November’ is not the most relevant of titles to appropriate with a football club, but what the hell.

  15. How about Weddings, Parties, Anything? Is there any place you’d rather be than with me at the MCG? And if the Saints get done again, by Christ I couldn’t care.

    Not a footy song, but a marvellous sport song … “Bartali” by Paolo Conte, about the great Italian road cyclist. Hanging around dusty roads sticking it to the French and waiting for Bartali to ride by while his innamorata would rather go to the pictures.

  16. Oh, and as long as I’m playing the Italian cantautore (pretentious) card, Francesco de Gregori’s “La Leva Calcistica della classe ’68”, about a 12-year-old taking his first steps into professional soccer:

    “Nino, don’t be afraid to miss a penalty kick; that’s not how you judge a player. You see a player by his courage, unselfishness and imagination”. Words to live by.

  17. Stainless says

    Some years ago I saw a highlights package set to Pat Benatar’s “All fired up”. Apparently it was shown to the Hawthorn players just before they ran onto the ground for the 1989 Grand Final. The package wasn’t of their great marks or goals, nor of the elation of victory. It was full of the “one percenters” that the team had done across the season – bumps, shepherds, tackles, smothers etc. It was a really effective combination of motivational music and a visual reminder of the effort involved to win the prize. Would have gone nicely with the “Pay the Price” speech at half time.

  18. Crossing over to a simultaneous blog I ask the questions.

    Would Nick Reiwoldt be afraid to miss the penalty kick?

    Would Nick Reiwoldt miss the penalty kick?

    Would Nick Reiwoldt be allowed to take the penalty kick?

    Is Nick Reiwoldt courageous, unselfish and imaginative?

  19. Why did you have to mention the bloody 1989 Grand Final Stainless? My shrink has told me a thousand times to get over it but I can’t. It just keeps popping up when I least expect it. AAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGG!

  20. RobC,

    Weddings Parties Anything had a wonderful song called “The Swans Return”, in which Mick Thomas assumes the role of a South Melbourne supporter lamenting his team’s move to Sydney.

    “I will spend my life awaiting til the Swans return….”

  21. Phanto,

    Yes, Yes, No, No.

    (Put me in the chest-marks-on-the-wing-do-not-a-champion-make camp).

  22. John Butler says

    Is this the RobC who formerly played in a band called Ruck Rover?

  23. Stainless says

    Sorry Phanto. I actually feel worse about mentioning a Pat Benatar song than the ’89 GF. It was just that the way it was used in this case…er…struck a chord!

    For mine, sport and music don’t mix. Sport hijacks music either for over the top motivational purposes, or for unctuous, sentimental “Wind beneath my wings” crap that accompanies slow-mo footage of retiring stars or moments of triumph.

    Even songwriters with a genuine passion for sport struggle to make great music out of it. I agree with Jeff that “Bradman” is one of the better ones in a thin bunch, but as much as I love Paul Kelly, this is a tedious song saved by a couple of great lines. It would have been better as a poem.

  24. It would be caller ‘On Baller’ in these contemporary times JB.

  25. Jeff Dowsing says

    Good point Stainless – and I guess the problem is there’s a dearth of actual appropriate material to actually choose from.

    Just gotta say I reckon TISM never found the fame and fortune they deserved. Especially with titles like “I rooted a guy who rooted a girl who rooted a guy who rooted a girl who rooted Shane Crawford’. Or ‘The back upon which Jezza jumped’.

    And just to digress further, this TISM song has little do with sport but the choreographed batsmen are classic, the highlight at 2.32 when they set off for some runs – including dives for the crease and Wood-Darling like mix-ups;

  26. Stainless says

    Jeff – as I might have mentioned before on this site, I am privileged to attend Richmond matches with a former member of TISM. Although I’m not really all that knowedgeable about them, his acerbic wit has an obvious TISM flavour and has livened up many a dull Tiger loss. I think they could have done a wonderful job as GF entertainment!

    Does “What nationality is Les Murray” count as a sports song?

  27. Phanto

    To the Riewoldt questions, having started the debate:

    No, Yes, Yes, and Yes, Yes and No to the three in one Q.


  28. Did Brett Lee’s band do a sports song?

    Whilst not a song about sport, my favourite pre-GF entertainment was when Judith and the boys did, “I am Australian.” I would vote for that song to be our national anthem. I think Aussie Rules encapsulates the essence of that song and I thought it was a perfect fit for that day.

  29. Brett Lee’s band ‘Six and Out’ did do a sports song.

    Brett Lee is a national treasure… actually he’s not. He is a tone-deaf, talentless, hair-tipped twit who should be shot in the dick.

  30. Talk about coming off the long run, Litza.

  31. ‘Six & Out’ also featured Richard Chee Quee if I remember rightly.

    So many bands with so much more talent out there wouldn’t get a poofteenth of the exposure as a known sportsman having a glorified jam session. I also recall Pat Cash & one of the McEnroes getting pally back in the day & thinking they could play guitar.

  32. For those who enjoyed a mis-spent youth and currently enjoying tinnutis; I give you “Champion” by Grinspoon.

  33. Jeff Dowsing says

    In the midst of looking up the Duckworth Lewis Method on Wiki last night I found that it’s also the name of a band formed by Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy and Thomas Walsh of Pugwash, which recorded a self-titled concept album of cricket songs.

    Don’t think it’s available on iTunes though.

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