The ball is passed out to the wing. The winger controls the ball with the outside of his foot and runs towards a full back with a look upon his face that reminds you of a rabbit stuck in front of car headlights. Momentarily, it looks as if the winger can’t remember which leg is which but this is all an act, and he jumps away from the tackle. Approaching the byline, having looked up for no more than a tenth of a second, and crosses. The centre-forward and an opposition full-back race towards the ball like athletes straining to cross the line in a sprint race, but the centre-forward gets to the ball, flicking the ball deftly across the goalkeeper and into the far corner of the net. The crowd jumps as one, grown men hugging and kissing like the winning contestants on a game show… and then “Tom Hark” blares out from the public address system.
It doesn’t have to be “Tom Hark”, of course. It could just as easily be “Song 2” by Blur, “Papa’s Got A Brand New Pig Bag” or “I Feel Good”. Football and music have an occasionally fractious relationship. On the one hand, a trip to Brighton couldn’t be complete without “Sussex By The Sea” parping out over the loudspeakers as the teams come out onto the pitch and Chas & Dave belting out “Glory, Glory Tottenham Hotspur” at the end of a winning performance at White Hart Lane provides the perfect coda to an afternoon of football in North London, but the other hand, it has started to feel as if music at football matches has almost started to drown out the sound of the crowd. It is sound of a football club deciding what you should sing and how you should celebrate.
Goal music, you see, isn’t part of the pre-match experience. It’s neither the beginning nor the end of the afternoon’s excitement. It’s encroaching onto the field of play and, worse still, it’s as if they don’t trust us to celebrate enough of our own accord. It doesn’t end there, either. Stadium announcers now act as if they have been given a dozen espressos before they take to the microphone, and goals aren’t met (as they should be) with the name and number of the goalscorer and the time of the goal but with a self-congratulatory bellowing that sounds like a foghorn with an Estuary accent. The post goal stadium announcement should be perfunctory and, of course, it should be slightly morose if it is the opposition that has scored. It is a public service announcement for the likes of me, who have missed the goal because the clouds over the stadium have formed into a particularly interesting shape. Anything more than this is show-boating.
There is one thing use of the public address system than goal music, but it is usually so feebly done that it doesn’t feel like a menace. This is the piping of the sound of a crowd over the public address system. We were at Clarence Park last season “enjoying” a particularly tepid Blue Square South match between St Albans City and Chelmsford City when a sound that resembled a vacuum cleaner starting up drifted over the pitch. Players stopped what they were doing and looked at each other. The crowd, momentarily raised from their Sudoku puzzles and the idle conversation that passed for “watching the football” there at the time. As the realisation of what it was started to dawn upon people, the crowd dissolved into fits of giggles. Then, a couple of minutes later, it happened again. Then again, and again at seemingly random intervals while, if you looked closely enough into the back of the stand, you could see a confused looking PA man fiddling with the offending (and apparently malfunctioning) laptop.
Fortunately, this phenomenon hasn’t become widespread, but goal music seems to be spreading through football like swine flu. It is almost impossible to think of a set of circumstances in which it would be tolerable, but only one comes to mind. If – and it’s a big if, this – upon scoring a goal an organist on a Wurlitzer came up out of the centre circle on a riser playing “Ode To Joy” while fireworks went off and dancing grizzly bears wearing replica shirts high fived each other, then – and only then – might it considered to be anything other than an affront to our sensibilities. And don’t even get me started on those people that join in with the goal music and start jigging along to it. I wouldn’t want to be held responsible for my actions.