Heart of Football

Champion’s League pregame show – Thank you for the music!

Music and football, the two are so intrinsically linked. The Match of the Day theme tune is as recognisable a piece of music as you’ll find in the UK, Three Lions hits the UK charts every World Cup and Euros, and every team in the country has some weird and wonderful fan chants, popular songs reworked to accommodate player names. Who can forget the internet fame achieved by Aberdeen fans for reworking the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me Baby” to their midfield man Peter Pawlett. “Peter Pawlett Baby” rang around Hampden Park in a national cup final, and this type of thing happens in every ground in the country week after week.

Aberdeen fans sing ‘Peter Pawlett Baby’ at the 2014 League Cup final

Why then, when we football fans in the UK are so enamoured by the music-football crossover, were we so affronted last year when it was announced that the Champion’s League Final would feature a pre-game performance by popular music singer Camila Cabello?

The reaction to a pop star performing at the biggest club game of the year caused outrage. Fans on both ends, though very much more skewed towards those of a Liverpudlian persuasion, booed the Cuban-born American singer and the backlash was huge. Twitter was awash with grown adults breaking down in online tears at the prospect. “ThIs iSn’T ThE SuPeRbOwl!!!” appeared to be the overwhelming reaction.

You know what, no, it isn’t the Super Bowl, but why is this such a sticking point? The audience pulled in by the NFL’s showcase event is stupendously large, and the marketing potential is ridiculous. The cost paid out by multinational organisations known the world over, like McDonald’s, is flabbergasting. Why? Because it crosses the final of the most popular sport in America with one of the most iconic performers. Recent Super Bowl HT headliners include Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Shakira, Beyonce, Springsteen… The biggest and the best (well, the biggest and the best, and then bizarrely Maroon 5).

Dr Dre, Mary J Blige and Snoop Dogg performing at last years magnificent Super Bowl HT show in L.A [image from CBS News]

One common complaint is that the artist isn’t what a traditional football fan wants to hear – and that is problematic in itself, as it assumes a lot of the viewer. This is the marketing genius though. The whole thing is rigged to put football fans and music fans in the same place, and therefore why the ad space is so expensive.

The Champion’s League final isn’t the Super Bowl, but from their point of view, it could be, and it should be. Money talks, and if they can’t get their European Super League then a few extra million pairs of eyes on the game from a Latin American global icon singer couldn’t hurt to boost viewership and, in turn, boost the cost of ad space.

This is the more heinous side of things, though it is logical for sure. But what about the more basic side of things… the music. Look, Camila Cabello isn’t for everyone. Her comments about being booed didn’t help her public perception. You perform at a football game and taking verbal pelters is par for the course. But then again, Ms Cabello has a point. Why was she being booed?

There was a lot of reaction to Liverpool fans singing YNWA during Camila’s performance [Tweets from The Independent]

The fans were angry. The crowd situation in Paris was laughably poor and I understand that once they were in, they wanted to see a game, not a concert. The thing is, I can’t imagine the reaction being much different if the entry process went smoothly. Fans didn’t want a show, and I find that baffling.

There’s an old Friends joke, Rachel makes a trifle and the recipe book pages mix together. Not being a cook, she didn’t notice the difference and made something with custard, cream, minced beef and onions. The sitcoms lovable dummy, Joey, didn’t understand why everyone found it so awful. “Custard, good. Jam, good. Beef, good” When my wife asked why all the hate for this show I used this as a comp. I said that I didn’t know the hate. Football, good. Music, good. Not just aimlessly scrolling your phone while the players are getting their pre-game team talk… Good!

Custard? Good. Jam? Good. Beef? Good.

But it wasn’t good. It received lots of backlash. As of yet there hasn’t been a performer announced for this year’s spectacle, though truth be told I can’t see why anyone would want to be associated with it after the misery of last year. Actually, that’s a lie… Money, there’s your reason. I can see both sides of the coin to an extent. The Super Bowl is as much a commercial event as it is a sporting one, and football is still clinging on to the ideal that it is the working mans game, that it is pure and sacred and hasn’t been ripped apart by oil money. The irony being that the chances of a Man City v PSG final looks a lock at this stage with Messi and Haaland ripping it up domestically.

The reason that I’ve typed this out is that I love American Football. Yes, it is slow paced at times, no, it isn’t just “rugby with pads on”. Yes, it is far too commercialised and of course the concept of being a “world champion” in a sport only played in America is absurd. It is so much fun to follow if you care enough to give it a go, and the Half Time show of a Super Bowl is insane. Rihanna is performing in Arizona this week and it is going to be a blast. I personally don’t see any reason why we football fans are pushing so hard against a little extra entertainment, a little more bang for your buck and punch for your pound.

Why do we go to the football? We go to have fun. Admittedly when VAR rules out a last-minute winner, or your coupon loses because fucking Hartlepool bottled a two goal lead, or you’re sat with a gale force wind blowing an arctic rainstorm into your face, it may not feel like the most joyous occasion, but at the crux of it, football is fun. So why then are we so hell-bent on denying ourselves a live concert pre-game? I don’t get it. I really don’t. I’ve never wanted it or felt it was needed in the past, but now it has been rolled out in 2022, I’m all for seeing this trend continue. Life is short, let’s make it a bit more fun!



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