When The Beautiful Game met the Greatest Of All Music
Mark Webster

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat’s that, ‘soccer and soul’ you say, Bobby? The football, and the funk? I think this is where I came in! So here’s my hat trick of moments where The Beautiful Game met the Greatest Of All Music…

3) Ilford in Essex is an unlikely birth place for a movement. But there is no doubt that in the mid seventies, the rather tatty old Lacey Lady club in the High Road was where it was at. And that ‘it’ was underground disco and early jazz funk, played to a racially mixed crowd of aficionados wearing the new cutting edge of fashion – carpenter jeans, straight leg trousers, plastic sandals, Hawaiian shirts and, get this, the fellas had haircuts where you could see their ears!

First record I heard when I walked in there for my underaged debut on the nightclubbing scene in the summer of ‘77 – Chic’s ‘Dance Dance Dance’.

Also born in Ilford, in 1967, was Paul Ince. So he’d have been pushing it a bit to have been at The Lacy hearing those pioneering dance sounds ten years later. Mind you, I have it on good authority from a friend of mine who went to school with Incey, and subsequently some of the same local night spots a few years after, that The Guvnor’s favourite record was… Joyce Sims’ ‘Come Into My Life’.

Released in 1987, this was an innovative hybrid of soul vocals with hip hop production – courtesy of pioneering hip hop producers/mixers Mantronix. It was released on the brilliant, but short-lived New York label Sleeping Bag, which was also home to other groundbreaking acts such as EPMD and Todd Terry. Incey may now be plying his trade in one of the hotbeds of the Northern Soul scene, Blackpool, but back then as a young John Lyall discovery, making his way from West Ham’s famed youth academy into the first team, his first choice, was Joyce.

2) It’s 1994, at  the famed Soldier Field – the oldest stadium in the NFL and home to the Chicago Bears – and the World Cup is about to get underway with all of the usual overblown pageantry that we have so come to hate over the years at these kind of events. But what’s this, bursting through from the half wine line, leaving at least 200 defenders in white in her wake? It’s none other than the Queen of Motown,  Diana Ross. Dressed in what can only be described as a Liverpool FC trouser suit,  noone can get near her as she approaches the penalty spot – all of 6 yards from the goal.

La Ross, it should be pointed out, was 50 when she made her one and only World Cup appearance. So, yes, nearly as old as Ryan Giggs. But at the time she was married to Norwegian Arnie Naess, so it’s likely that she did have some grasp of the job in hand.

The ‘Supreme’ athlete takes a breath, shimmies, then begins her stuttered approach to the ball – in doing so, making a mockery of the penalty taking rules that insist on an unbroken run up. But these were different times, when England were represented at the tournament by the Republic of Ireland squad, for example.

Nevertheless, in spite of the kit, the knowledge and the guile, Ross only succeeds in dragging it, sticking the ball wide of the keeper’s right hand post. But if she’s anything, Ross is a competitor and without taking a beat she bursts through the goal which has now inexplicably exploded – she missed! – and carries on with the show.

Point being: all of this happened to the magnificent strains of what was to become her anthem, the Chic-produced ‘I’m Coming Out’; a paean to her having left her musical (and emotional, given her relationship with Berry Gordy) home of twenty years, Motown. The song also became a triumphant gay anthem, and had it’s roots on that scene because the writer/producer  Nile Rodgers came up with the lyric when he saw 3 drag queens all done up as La Ross, when out clubbing in New York. In spite of the Liverpool reference, Nile Rodgers, as far as I know, is not related to Brendan.

1) If you stick your head in a few of the pubs in the streets around Celtic Park, chances are you’ll find an old boy who’s a fan of The Bhoys and who’ll remember a game against Morton back in 1951 when a young player scored on debut. That player was to become known as ‘The Black Arrow’ during his brief tenure at Celtic. And his name was Gil Heron.

Gil was born in Kingston, Jamaica but emigrated to Canada where he joined the Air Force to do his bit. He was a good all round athlete, but decided to have a go at making a career in the heavily-handled ‘North American Soccer Football League’. Which is where he was scouted by Celtic and brought over as the first black player in that League.

Gil Heron
Gil Heron

He continued to have a career as a player – including a stint at Kidderminster Harriers –  and ultimately made his way back to North America to play his football in the home town of Motown, Detroit.

Although never really a couple, there was a relationship around this time with an opera singer, Bobbie Scott – one result of which was a son, Gil Scott-Heron.

By the time Gil Scott-Heron arrived in the artsy Chelsea part of Manhattan in the late Sixties, he was already proving to be a master of the written and spoken word. He was a published author, then recorded a spoken word album, ‘Small Talk At 125th & Lenox’ for the jazz label Flying Dutchman. A year later, in 1971, he then recorded what I consider to be possibly the greatest album ever made, ‘Pieces of A Man’. What ensued was a magnificent career, and troubled life, that saw him record his last album, ‘I’m New Here’ on XL in 2010, and die at 62 in 2011.

Back at that  nightclub in Ilford in 1977, I’d have been dancing to his best known tune, ‘The Bottle’, but out of an incredible array of great tracks, perhaps ‘It’s Your World’ is the one that really does it for me.





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