Of football and music: Sports writer Jacob Sweetman on the World Cup and the music it inspires

A guest post for Omnified by Jacob Sweetman

Jacob Sweetman is a sports writer, musician, 10-year Berliner and lifelong football fan. The author of “Dilshan: The Man Behind The Scoop” about the Sri Lankan cricket legend, he’s currently working on a book about football in Berlin and will, unfortunately, be supporting England in the World Cup.

We asked Jacob to give us his playlist of World Cup-inspired songs and some of the reasons behind them. Here’s his response:

I remember the TV as I remember his pass that lead to the penalty, as I remember the way he missed that penalty itself. I remember that five minutes or so almost to the second, but to this day I have barely heard a noise like the one that preceded it all: a roar like it had been delivered out of the bowels of the earth at the cleaving of the continents, like God himself had come onto the pitch unannounced there to make things right. It was my first World Cup, Mexico 1986, and I was eight years old.

The TV was a huge, brown Grundig with the slightest of gaps between the ludicrously bowed screen where it met the fake wood-style paneling at the top. The tracking would get all screwed up when you watched certain videos on it, but not all. It had a single speaker on the right-hand side that was woefully unprepared to carry the noise that the Estadio Jalisco in Guadalajara would create when Zico came onto the pitch in the 72nd minute.

I knew nothing of him at that point, as I knew nothing of his teammate Socrates, the smoking revolutionary who Pele said “could play better backwards than most could forwards.” I just knew from the reaction in the crowd that Zico must have been pretty special. It was as if Jimi Hendrix was singing about him. He could stand up next to a mountain and chop it down with the edge of his hand.

Within what seemed like a heartbeat, this little white guy – who had no business being a God looking like he did – had played the most astonishing, mathematically precise through ball to a Branco, who was the only one who knew all along that it would be coming. France were carved in two with that one touch and the Mexican crowd, Brazilians to a man on this day, bellowed some more — not like they had when he had come on and not like they would when Zico himself missed the penalty given, as Branco was brought down in the box by Joël Bats. No, they howled in disbelief, in terror, because He was fallible.

I sat trembling on my knees as the crappy Grundig speaker tried manfully not to spontaneously combust with all of the utter coruscating delirium.

France won that quarterfinal on penalties, but it doesn’t matter because I knew that I had fallen in love —not with Brazil, but with a game and the noise that it could so easily produce out of those who follow it so fanatically, so rapturously. The likes of three-time footballer of the year, Michel Platini, who would miss a penalty that day in Guadalajara, too, could never take that away from them. From us.

I once sat two rows away from Platini at the Women’s Champions League final, here in Berlin, at the Jahn-Sportpark. He was lording it up as the head of UEFA, next to Angela Merkel, and I was covering the game. I am lucky enough to be able to do that nowadays, and I could practically smell the goose fat on him, the truffle oil that dripped off him in clotted streams.

Platini, it transpired, was a crook who had sold out the game that he too once loved. He’ll have to watch the World Cup on TV at home, which makes me happy, even though it will be Vladimir Putin sitting in the best seats this time around. The shame may remind Platini about the rest of us who can still be transported back to a single moment 32 years ago when we think of that ungodly roar.

I think of that noise today as I put on Jorge Ben Jor’s “Camisa 10 da Gávea,” his tribute to Flamengo’s little genius Zico. Jor’s voice is as sweet as an angel’s, the guitars dance playfully in the implied sunlight, the bass ambles around like it was invented for this one song. Meanwhile the whistles and the Cuica and the muted flute sing like a bird against the subtle stabs of the Hammond B3 organ, while the shakers and the tambourines and the drums slink and shimmer, and they never for one second sound like anything other than the one inalienable fact that has never been so true as it reaches its climax, that this is all so easy.

At its finest, football is reflective of music, just as music – although more rarely – can be reflective of football. It can stomp with malevolence like Achim Mentzel’s “Stimmung in der Alten Försterei,” it can radiate with a dreamlike fantasy like Mukoma Zexie Manatsa’s “Makepekepe Shaisa Mufaro,” and it can pig-headedly refuse to recognize the futility of it all, like in England’s deluded masterpiece from 1982, “This Time (More than any other time).”

I hope that somewhere there is a little kid who will hear a noise, a song or a roar, over the next five weeks that will stay with them. It will mean that the whole beautiful, bloated exercise is worthwhile.