The Byline: British Sea Power’s Noble On The Trials Of The Man U Fan

In the second of our series recounting independent musicians personal relationships with the beautiful game, British Sea Power's Martin Noble talks to Andrew Fenwick about eating crisps at Old Trafford, performing at an FA Cup Final and catching a glimpse of Sir Bobby Charlton's penis...

I used to feel uneasy when people would ask which team I supported. I didn’t particularly want to reveal the fact that I was a Man UTD fan. Maybe it was because of the jokes about their fans not being from Manchester or maybe it was because I didn’t want to feel any more of the reflected hatred my beloved team had suffered at the hands of rival fans for decades.

My Uncle hated them too. He was a Leeds fan and would regularly claim he’d rather Man UTD get relegated than see Leeds win the League. He hated the way they supposedly got treated differently by referees, and the fact that other teams seemed intimidated by their reputation.

Maybe some of my embarrassment, though, came from feeling spoilt following a team that would win things regularly, for having a pretty rosy supporter’s life filled with excitement and vicarious glory.

Growing up in Bury, Lancashire in my pre-teens I would play for a Sunday league team called Roach Valley Dynamos. Switching between right-back and midfield, I was fairly useless, but I couldn’t get enough of it. It was during this time that I got my first taste of Man UTD, regularly heading up the road with my dad to Old Trafford to see Big Ron Atkinson and his boys in action.

It wasn’t until my third game, however, that Man UTD scored a goal. They weren’t a great team back then, but just being there was exciting. Old Trafford was enormous, I’d never seen that many people together in one place before, and the sound of the crowd roaring was immense. I vividly remember being sat in awe as my favourite player, the exotic Scandinavian Jesper Olson, bombed down the wings.

In 1985 my dad would take me and my brothers to watch the first team train at The Cliff and we’d try and bag a few autographs, which we’d cut around and stick in a scrapbook alongside the players’ Panini sticker mugshots. I still have the book; I’ve got the signatures of Norman Whiteside, Paul McGrath, Jesper Olsen, Clayton Blackmore and Mark Hughes… twice.

These days I can’t look at Blackmore’s mug without recalling David Beckham’s confession that he was forced to jack off to the full-back’s calendar shot after losing a reserve team bet. Luckily, my mind’s been eased somewhat by the fact that BSP’s driver and tech, Paul Summers, was in the year below Blackmore at school in Neath, and him and his mates once “smashed Blakey’s Birthday Cake in.” Nice one lads.

By the end of the 1985 ’86 season Big Ron had been fired, and Alex Ferguson was brought into the fold.

As my maths teacher, Miss Smalley, was dating a Bury striker, I managed to nab a free season ticket. The pies were good, and I remember a wonderful pitch invasion on the last day of the season, although I’m not sure if they won, lost, stayed up or got relegated. I wasn’t interested – I wanted gladiators… I wanted Manchester United.

The following summer I signed-up to the Bobby Charlton football school of excellence. It sounded great, but it turned out to be a place where parents would pay for their kids to have rather rudimentary football lessons.

Martin Noble front left beneath Bobby Charlton

There was a competitive element to training, though, and you’d get maximum points for netting a penalty in the sweet spots (sans keeper) so I’d always try and toe poke in a pea roller into the bottom corner. One time, after retrieving balls from behind the goal we found a bumper stash of porn mags that we joyfully divvied up between us. It didn’t end up that joyful though, my mum cracked me round the head and chucked them in the bin.

In a strictly unrelated incident, I remember lunch being served in a massive canteen, and on one occasion while using the staff urinals a tall figure stood next to me. I looked up and Bobby Charlton was taking a pee. I saw Sir Bobby’s willy. Result. The lads are going to be well impressed.

At 13 we moved to Leeds. Being the new kid from Lancashire, and supporting Man UTD wasn’t plain sailing, but it gave me a niche. I didn’t have a group of friends to follow my team with, so I watched from a distance as I grew up.

Joining a school band, music suddenly seemed to take on more significance. I remember going to my first gigs – Suede on their ‘Drowners’ tour and the Verve in their psychedelic delay and reverb phase. More than anything, I remember being amazed by The Wedding Present plonking Georgie Best on the cover of their debut album.

These days Dave Gedge lives near me in Hove and we catch games together when we can. I’ve asked him how they pulled that cover off but I don’t think I’ve ever got a decent answer. Imagine an album with Ryan Giggs on the front, and calling it Ryan Giggs. No chance! I can only think they got Georgie at his Nadir where he’d do anything for a bottle of whiskey and a lapdance.

In 1994 my school band had recorded some demos and we were desperately trying to get signed before we left for Uni. At the same time we were witnessing a new era in football where millionaire owners had come in and effectively bought Blackburn Rovers the Premier League title. Things were never to be the same again. Needless to say, our school band didn’t get signed and I started Reading University the following year.

I can’t afford to go to games. I spend my money on other things, like food. I’m no football ‘fanatic’, but I’m fascinated by people whose whole life is shaped around the so-called beautiful game, though; the anger, the ecstasy, the hatred… filling the void. It’s that level of fan who really create the atmosphere in the stadiums, but unfortunately it’s never been me. Maybe I was one of those fans who prompted Ferguson to scornfully comment: "we have people coming here to admire the scenery and enjoy their crisps." Well, I’m sorry Sir Alex, but I like eating crisps in spectacular surroundings. It’s up there.

It was during Uni that I met Scott and formed what would become British Sea Power. By the time I’d left Reading in 1998, Man UTD had started to put a lot of trust in their youth, and the following year they won the Treble. Their fighting spirit and seemingly endless barrage of last minute goals was an exciting thing to witness but things quickly started to change.

The psychology, the pantomime, the high stakes, the athleticism, wages, fees, and Stephen Ireland’s ridiculous cars.

One thing I’ve learned from football and music is that the general public value entertainment over being a decent person. As a case in point, I went to see the film Zidane, where he rarely touches the ball, and during the game “Zizou” just grunts. He rarely has the ball at his feet, but in those brief moments he has to try and change the game. In the end he just head-butts a player and gets sent off. Daft Lad.

Another case in point, I once thought our South By Southwest performance was going so badly I lost control of myself and threw my guitar and a chair into the audience. I didn’t like myself so much afterwards, but it did help us get noticed a lot at SXSW though. Daft Lad.

BSP have yet to head butt anyone though, but amazingly, we were asked to perform at Wembley during the build up to the Wigan v Man City FA Cup final last year.

Ex-Liverpool midfielder Jason McAteer was presenting the show on ESPN but we were more interested in trying to sneak a pint in with lifelong Man City fan and BBC 6 Music presenter Marc Riley. Studio guests included former Man City midfielder Paul Lake who told us he once saw BSP at the Manchester Academy, but we were genuinely shocked when sometime Germany captain and current World Cup winner Philipp Lahm claimed to have witnessed one of our shows in Munich. We move in odd circles, it seems. Zidane, take that.

In an attempt to help us make a splash in the football realm we’d been sent a selection of old-school football tops by Netherlands-based retro shirt supplier, COPA for the occasion. I opted for a Chile top, while keyboardist Phil went for Boca Juniors and sticksman Woody donned a 1970s top from Belgian team Beerschot, whose badge – rather appropriately – included a giant white bear. Abi, meanwhile, stole the show in a stylish 1950s Swiss national top.

We kicked off the event with ‘No Lucifer’, a song that touches on Sodom, the apocalypse and the Raleigh Twenty bicycle – the usual stuff. The studio audience, though, homed in on the song’s Big Daddy-derived wrestling chant of "Easy! Easy!" Wonderfully, the Wigan fans then reprised the chant throughout the remainder of the game. I wonder how long it will be before Man UTD have something to sing about again…

British Sea Power’s ‘Sea of Brass’ tour begins on 24th October including a stop at The Barbican Centre on Saturday 25th. For the full list of dates please visit the Sea Power website

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