How England’s first wave of heavy metal football conquered Europe | Paul Doyle
In the 1970s and 1980s, English success on the pitch and on stage was rooted in a bleak, uncompromising landscape where the only escape was to become a footballer or start a band
- Originally published in Eight by Eight magazine
England in the 1970s and early 80s was a grim, violent, angry, lean, ambitious, stimulating place. It had hardship and conflict on a scale unknown since the end of World War II. It was the golden-studded age of English punk and heavy metal. It also had football success of a magnitude unseen since: English clubs won the European Cup in seven of the eight years between 1977 and 1984. Now the English Premier League is the richest and most popular in the world, but English clubs dominance on the pitch is a thing of the past like, alas, Lemmy Kilmisters throbbing bass in Motrhead and Bob Paisleys understated cunning at Liverpool.
Not much was understated back in English footballs salad days. And by salad days, of course, we mean beer-and-burger days, because enlightened dieting and sport science did not drive English clubs victories. The Italians and Spanish were well ahead on that front, as were the Dutch, Portuguese, and West Germans (who knew what the East Germans were consuming?). And yet for the better part of a decade, English clubs consistently outfought, outran, and beat their continental counterparts. What was fuelling them?
It wasnt fancy brain food. Managers such as Paisley and Brian Clough were tactically smart but never developed schemes as elaborate as, say, the total football of the Ajax team that reigned supreme in Europe from 1971 to 1973, or the tiki-taka tyrants of 21st-century Barcelona. The three European Cups immediately after Ajaxs regal streak were won by Bayern Munich, who fielded almost the entire West German national team, including the imperious libero Franz Beckenbauer.
His qualities somehow included a remarkable ability to escape conceding blatant penalties in the 1975 European Cup final, when Leeds United were on the wrong end of whiffy refereeing and a 2-1 scoreline. That should have been the first English triumph of the 70s. Nevertheless, a feeling of injustice was not enough to account for the rioting and pillaging in Paris by Leeds fans after the final, when, as the striker Duncan McKenzie later put it, all they left was the Eiffel Tower.
Yes, England was prey to darkness back then, both figuratively and, because of frequent blackouts, literally. The country was in economic, social and political turmoil. Inflation and unemployment soared, and so did tempers. In 1974 businesses were restricted to using electricity only three days a week, and motorists faced petrol rationing. That prompted Idi Amin, a murderous despot who knew an easy target when he saw one, to taunt Britain by sending a telegram saying he had arranged for Ugandans to donate one lorry load of vegetables and wheat and the British government should dispatch a plane to collect it quickly before it goes bad.
Meanwhile Britains prime minister, Ted Heath, declared four states of emergencies in three years as he attempted to quash mass strikes. Violence of all strains broke out, sometimes politically or racially motivated, sometimes economic or recreational. Lord Radcliffe, best known for chairing the committee that partitioned India at decolonisation, suggested England was ungovernable.