Football has never been particularly associated with music. Even Liverpool, which strongly evokes both cultures, is not much different. While exceptions include the collective anthem ‘You’ll Never Work Alone’, DJ John Peel’s well-documented devotion towards the Reds and Villarreal’s ‘Yellow Submarine’ nickname, the closest association with Liverpool in recent times has arguably been Leighton Baines’ music blog. The Beatles embody the city itself rather than any specific club.
Instead, we are left with mostly tenuous, albeit fascinating, links to the Fab Four. Firstly, any allegiances to Reds and Toffees asides, it seems they had some attraction, if not fanatical devotion, to the game. The cover of John Lennon’s 1974 album Walls and Bridges is an obvious starting point, painted by him aged 11. Given its dating of June 1952 and the kits, the weight of evidence would suggest it being from that year’s FA Cup final.
The red shirt includes a white badge, which was, as Brian Phillips deduced on his excellent blog Run of Play, most likely added by Arsenal to commemorate the occasion. The player in the black-and-white stripes, then, would be Newcastle legend Jackie Milburn. The number nine can be seen on the back of his shirt, an interesting theme throughout Lennon’s work; look at songs titles like ‘Revolution 9’, ‘One After 909’ and ‘#9 Dream’.
Listen to the alternate version of ‘Glass Onion’ found on Anthology 3, which samples Kenneth Wolstenholme’s commentary during the 1966 World Cup final. Towards the end, as glass smashes, the crowd roars as his phrase “it’s a goal” is repeated seven times while fading out. These various sound effects, however, were replaced by strings for the original White Album release in 1968. Three years later, interestingly, Pink Floyd included the Kop singing ‘You’ll Never Work Alone’ on their single ‘Fearless’, as previously noted on this site.
In terms of connections to the Reds, you may recognise former centre forward Albert Stubbins as the only footballer on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, between Marlene Dietrich and Lewis Carroll. “Well done Albert for all those glorious years of football,” read a telegram sent by Paul McCartney along with the album. “Long may you bob and weave.” Sir Matt Busby, who spent five years at Anfield before becoming Manchester United manager, is name-checked on ‘Dig It’.
Leaving the music itself, evidence becomes more difficult to decipher. A red-and-white scarf can be seen during the Help! skiing scene, and Paul McCartney listened to the 1977 FA Cup final between Liverpool and United on his Caribbean yacht. Yet he attended the 1966 game with Lennon, seeing Everton beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-2, as well as the Toffees’ loss to West Bromwich Albion two years later. Further confusing matters is Liverpool rosette he wore at the Mad Day Out on 28 July 1968, adding recently: “I support them both. They are both great teams.”
“Here’s the deal: my father was born in Everton, my family are officially Evertonians, so if it comes down to a derby match or an FA Cup final between the two, I would have to support Everton,” he said. “But after a concert at Wembley Arena I got a bit of a friendship with Kenny Dalglish, who had been to the gig and I thought, ‘You know what? I am just going to support them both because it’s all Liverpool and I don’t have that Catholic-Protestant thing.’ So I did have to get special dispensation from the Pope to do this but that's it, too bad... but if it comes to the crunch, I’m an Evertonian.”
A diplomatic response, reflected by George Harrison’s assertion that “there are three teams in Liverpool and I prefer the other one.” Ringo Starr’s allegiance is ostensibly clearer, according to author Andy Thompson, because he went to Arsenal games at Anfield or Goodison Park with his stepfather from London. Yet Starr has revealed as much as his favourite colour being red. Other connections include former manager Neil Aspinall, an ardent Liverpool fan. “Mop”-haired George Best, sharing a surname with ex-drummer Pete, was nicknamed O Quinto Beatle in the Portuguese press after scoring in the European Cup against Benfica.
Lennon, on the other hand, seemed more interested in American football when interviewed by Howard Cosell in December 1974. “It’s an amazing event and sight,” he said. “It makes rock concerts look like tea parties... I’ve been trying to follow the game but I couldn’t understand why half the team was on and half the team was off.” He added: “It’s nothing like soccer but I can see a very close relationship to rugby football, which has the shape ball and they move 15 yards down the line at a same time,” going on to speak more enthusiastically about the two sports.
The band’s passing interest was perhaps best summed by McCartney: “I used to enjoy football in the street, but by the time it got a bit formalised I wasn’t very good at it. That puts you off when there are always guys mightily bigger or better than you are. And that’s how it was with the Beatles, none of us was very sports minded. I like watching the footie on the telly, I go to the occasional match but I’m not a massive fan.” It seems a reasonable conclusion to draw.
Perhaps this speculation, analysing lyrics like “toe-jam football,” is in fact beside the point. Just watch that infamous video of the vociferous 1960s Kop singing ‘She Loves You’, or Sky Sports’ superb compilation of that night in Istanbul accompanied by ‘In My Life’. What really matters is what Beatles music means to those in the stands.