FMH’s On This Day campaign has highlighted some true musical pearls. We have featured songs from New Order, Chaz & Dave, and of course, the late, great Bob Marley. This time, we take a look at the intersection between music and football in the 20s: a time of peace, prosperity and exciting new cultural developments in Europe.
We’ll take this chance to discuss three innovations of the time and to pose a few key questions: How did the cutting-edge new musical genre of jazz approach football? What new and exciting things were going on in England and the world at the time? What can we learn from this record?
VEAC Vaults is a record label that specialises in new digital reissues of historic recordings from the early 20th Century. With this record, jazz musician and football fan Nick Ball together with Jonathan Holmes took advantage of the slow pandemic months and performed an amazing archival effort that resulted in the compilation called Pass, Shoot, Goal! It is a jazz record, available on Bandcamp, that compiles 12 tracks from the 20s and 30s about the beautiful game. The advance of recorded music and the explosive popularity of football came almost at the same time in history, and this record takes a closer look at that point in time.
The album is a high energy compilation of humorous and upbeat tracks. It features songs that are of great historical value, like Wembling at Wembley, which documents the opening of the legendary stadium. Songs like Stiffy the Goalkeeper and the Halfback’s Dream give good insight into popular culture and popular humour at the time. Instead of reviewing this record from a strictly musical standpoint, in this article we apply the Football Makes History lens and talk about 3 brand new innovations mentioned in the record that characterise the roaring 20s. What can this cool historical record tell us about society back then?
New tactics in football!
In the liner notes, Ball describes the title track as “trite,” and the sketches included in this theatrical number “unconvincing”. Despite this, the seemingly innocent Pass, Shoot, Goal! is a document of a new chapter in football tactics: a moment where passing started to be in vogue. Traditionally, physicality and force were seen as aspirational core characteristics of the game of football. Strong players would dribble and best their rivals with their sheer speed and superior ability. As the game progressed, and teams professionalised, the ‘cowardly’ action of passing became rather a necessity. With well trained players and defenders, running a whole pitch seemed impossible, and tactics started to develop to counter this. This new zeitgeist is now forever on display in this innocent, fun tune by singer and comedian Albert Whelan.
New music! The birth of the big band
Pass, Shoot, Goal! sounds lighthearted and energetic, but not quite as full bodied as the jazz of the 40s or 50s. The songs in this record have an air of kleinkunst or vaudeville, and they all include a good measure of humour and plenty of breaks to include jokes or sketches. For example, the number Mr. & Mrs. Brown at the Football Match features a couple who constantly bicker as Mr. Brown tries to explain the rules of the game to an indifferent Mrs. Brown who only cares about not losing the shilling she bet for one of the teams. This particular style characterises a transition: theatre comedy troupes that were becoming big bands by incorporating the new cool sound of jazz. These budding bands were mostly formed by 11 members of rough, working class young men, many of which happened to adore football. Together with this new sound, the most successful band leaders reached national stardom and became the pop stars of their time.
New entertainment! A glimpse into a fan’s living room
Culture and football were evolving in the 20s. With them, the private life of people was too. The album includes a few extracts of a popular fan game of the time called the Football Pools Game, which gives an insight on how people enjoyed their newly found free time and used their technology for fun. The Pools Games was a nifty 20 track record with very narrow grooves so that players could not memorise which track was which. One would turn on the record player and place the needle at a random place in the record and a match would be announced. Players could place bets at this time. After a few seconds of cheering, the final whistle would go and the results would be announced, leaving the winner delighted and the losers heartbroken. Much like after any heated match of foosball, Subbuteo or FIFA!
Avid learners will think of how this compilation fits in its cultural context. Does this giddy collection of light hearted songs say anything about the interbellum in Europe and its cultural scene? Jazz’s roots lie in North America, within the African-American communities. How did it make its way across the ocean? And does the popularity of the game and popular culture say anything about the state of workers’ rights in the UK?