"HE KNOWS I'D LOVE TO SEE HIM": MORRISSEY AND FOOTBALL

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Joey Barton's declaration of love for Steven Patrick Morrissey this week was totally random yet completely inevitable.

There was something inevitable about the news that Morrissey has asked to meet Joey Barton at Glastonbury this weekend. Two outspoken and divisive northerners with reputations that don't reflect reality, they occupy similar roles in music and football respectively; cherished and dismissed in equal measure, always flirting with outrage, but never bland.

Morrissey and football are not as mutually exclusive as the casual observer might imagine. From his early trips to Old Trafford as a child, to conflicting support of West Ham and Millwall in the 1990s and 2000s, the former Smiths frontman has never shied away from referencing and exploiting the game.

That said, there was barely any football in The Smiths. As football attendances dwindled in the 1980s, the worlds of alternative music and football remained estranged cousins, united only by a venn diagram of haircuts and poor toilet facilities. When English football reached a moral nadir in spring 1985, The Smiths released Meat is Murder, the title track a brutally direct paean to vegetarianism. There wasn't much vegetarianism in the boiled burger football of the decade, there probably still isn't.

But in the early 1990s Morrissey, gaining worldwide fans but losing critical acclaim, embraced the rough side of London life with  abandon. Rather than espousing the quiet delights of strolls in cemeteries, he was hanging out at local boxing matches and surrounding himself with rockabilly sidekicks who looked like they could handle anyone except their barber.

We'll Let You Know, the third track from Morrissey's 1992 album Your Arsenal, didn't disguise its intentions. The subject was hooliganism (this being the era when it was still front page headlines rather than the most tediously well-stocked section of Waterstones), and any Smiths fan who had lost interest in their singer in the intervening years would no doubt have been surprised to see Morrissey siding with “the last truly British people you'll ever know”. The line “We're all smiles/Then, honest, I swear, it's the turnstiles/That make us hostile” suggest that Morrissey was rather more concerned with the imagery of the situation than any sort of accurate analysis.

And while his 1980s contemporary Billy Bragg was singing “Our neighbours shake their heads/And take their valuables inside/While my countrymen piss in the fountains/To express their national pride” (The Few, 1991), Morrissey was far less critical of England fans' frequent rampages across the continent, saying "I understand the level of patriotism, the level of frustration and the level of jubilance. I understand the overall character. I understand their aggression and I understand why it must be released... when I see reports on the television about hooliganism in Sweden and Denmark or somewhere I'm actually amused... as long as people don't die, I am amused."

10 years earlier such comments would have had the papers scrambling to condemn him, but by this stage Morrissey's carefully considered controversy was ubiquitous, and was falling on deaf ears. Still, it bears repeating: “as long as people don't die, I am amused”. Of course, like everything that has happened in the world since 1987, this has all been dismissed as irony, or a character study, or not-to-be-taken-seriously. But words matter. They're longer lasting than raised eyebrows for starters.

By 1995 Morrissey had limited himself to scrawling 'Cantona' on tambourines discharged at concerts, and anyway, his own questionable relationship with the game was soon dwarfed by appalling Britpop-era scenes of celebrity 5-a-side tournaments, usually held at Stamford Bridge, where long-forgotten singers and players milked each others' zeitgeist in the hope of meeting Frank Skinner.

Ultimately, you can't help but feel that actually Morrissey and Barton are excited about meeting the distant 23-year-old versions of themselves, that both have changed irrevocably since then, and instead they'll converge unhappily at a once brilliant event now hemmed in by fences and security, just like an England game in Scandinavia in the early 1990s.

You can follow Duncan on Twitter @OilySailor

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