Author Archives: Will Simpson

My World Cup prayer

This feels like an important World Cup. We (and by ‘we’ I mean all of us who care about the future of the game and its intregity as a sport) need an exciting, intriguing, fascinating World Cup of incident and interest. FIFA certainly need a good World Cup, but for rather different reasons that I hardly need to elaborate on in this blog piece.

It was Arsene Wenger who remarked immediately after the 1998 tournament that he thought that international football was in decline. Back then to me at least it seemed a preposterous statement. The Briitsh naton had been captivated by that year’s World Cup. Drivers hooted their horns after the first group game win against Tunisia (!), the nation ground to a halt on the night of the Argentina game. The competiton loomed so large in our culture that it seemed to suck in everything else in that summer. At Glastonbury one of the largest crowds that weekend watched the England-Colombia game on the big screen – pity any band which had to compete with that. TV audiences were huge – nearly 24 million people watched the England-Argentina second round game.

But something has happpened in the intervening years. There has been a marked waning of interest in the England team. No one really believes any more that they stand a chance of winning the thing. Misplaced expectation has been replaced by eye-rolling cynicism or worse indifference, both by genuine fans, who have always been more interested in their own clubs, and casual punters put off both by a combination of the modern game’s moral vacuity and all those bloody penalities failures. In Bristol and London St George flags are thin on the ground this year. Perhaps that is a good thing.

But there is something else too. Let’s be honest, when was the last truly thrilling World Cup? Tournament after tournament has been characterised by dull defensive football and a lack of genuine shocks and incident. From an England point of view 1990 was probably the last memorable Mondiale (despite the fact the foootball was largely dire). Before that 1982 was probably the last time I enjoyed the tournament unreservedly.

You never forget your first World Cup. This year is my 7 year old stepson’s and I hope that the football ignites the same passion for the game that started burning in me at the same age. I hope that he doesn’t become cyncial over time, at the corruption that has infected its ruling body, the predictablity of the competiton, or the never-ending failures of the England team. I wish for a romantic World Cup that fills him and all of us with joy and renewed faith that this wonderful sport can be redeemed, and reclaimed by those it truly belongs to – the ordinary people of the world.

Great Lost Summer Hit 3

ROONEY – ‘When Did Your Heart Go Missing’

So it’s the last week of August. In the UK we’ve had our warmest brightest summer since 2003, we’ve retained the Ashes, a British man has won Wimbledon for the first time since God knows when. But I can’t be the only one for whom this week brings a tinge of regret, a feeling of what might have been if only…

Time to reach for this record.

Rooney were (perhaps still are?) five pretty Californian boys with good hair who caused a brief flurry of interest around 2003 with their Strokes-meets-the Beach Boys debut album. Then there was nothing until this single from their second effort Calling The World, released this week in 2007. With its itchy guitar figure, gormless rhyming of ‘princess’ with ‘justa one big mess’, and that he-cannot-be-serious spoken word outro it’s a micrometre from toppling over into outright cheese. But it doesn’t. Because there’s something heartfelt and real at the centre of this song, a romance that had so much potential but yet somehow conspired to fall apart despite the singer’s best efforts. Sigh. We’ve all had one of those, haven’t we?

It’s been seen with this video, which made me laugh out loud when I first saw in a bar on  holiday in Barcelona six years ago this month.

Needless to say, it wasn’t a hit. But I always play it around this time the year, because it just reeks of the last week of August, a time to look back with fondness and regret, when you appreciate every day of good weather, so desperate are you to eek every last drop out of the summer. Because all that lies ahead is darkness, loneliness, bitterness and gloom.

Happy winter.

PS: I wonder if  any Man U-loving promoter has ever tried to get Rooney, Keane and the hard rapper Giggs on the same bill?

Great Lost Summer Hit 2

POCKET SIZE – ‘Walking’

This single landed on my desk at the Big Issue sometime during early June 1999. I left it unplayed for several weeks before digging it out one idle afternoon the following month. And guess what? It sounded just perfect for that specific time on that specific day, a lazy dog day afternoon during the last week of July.

Pocket Size were vocalist Liz Owers and multi instrumentalist Darren Pearson. They were one of those groups you don’t really get these days – signed by a major without having built up any sort of following or profile in the hope that, well, something would happen. Walking was released and nothing happened. It’s a fine tune, kinda country-ish, languid but playful and cool; a record that doesn’t draw attention to itself. Unfortunately in a summer when the charts were dominated by post-Spice Girls kiddy pop, latin-influenced dance music and pop trance its coy charms didn’t stand a chance. I’m not even sure if the accompanying album 100% Human was even ever released. If it was, we certainly didn’t get a copy of it.




Great Lost Summer Hit 1

So…last year I wrote a post bemoaning the disspearance of the British summer. As you can have expected I have been pinching myself during this last week or so. It’s utterly flabbergasting. We have not had an extended period of hot dry weather like this in the UK since 2003 and I am revelling in it, lapping it up, knowing that it could well be another ten years before we enjoy anything like this once again.

And it’s sent me back to records like this, the sort that only make sense in the sunshine. Le Kid are a Swedish five piece who have had some success in their home country and Germany, but haven’t as yet had the big push in the UK. Mercy Mercy was first released back in 2009 and then again the following year, both times kinda halfheartedly, with zero promotion and no airplay that I can recall. I’m stumped as to why this hasn’t already been a massive summer hit. Listen to it three times and you’ll never be able to shake the chorus from your head. It’s that good.

And yes it does sound a bit like Girls Aloud’s ‘Can’t Speak French’. But it’s better, miles better.



On ‘Get Lucky’

I DJed at the Plough in Bristol last week and the last record of my set was the one new-ish single that I had bought especially for the occasion – Daft Punk’s recent Number One. Cue pandaemonium – people dancing on stage, mouthing the lyrics and playing air guitar. I kind of half expected that reaction, but it was still pleasant all the same. In my experience it’s very very very very rare to find a ‘new’ record that causes those kind of scenes, but as DJs all over the world have found out in the last couple of months Get Lucky is something close to a universal panacea. It’s on course to become the biggest selling single of the year, quite probably this decade. And it deserves every accolade that comes its way. It’s my favourite single of the last 5 years.

How exceptional? Well, I think the last time a new record was in the terminology that I use, a ‘banker’ (ie the sort of record you know will fill the dancefloor not matter the occasion, whatever the crowd) was Madonna’s Hung Up. And that was, what…2005? Before that? Probably Crazy In Love and Hey Ya! And they were both released in 2003.

Nothing much released in the last ten years has had anything like that kind of power. Lady Gaga? Don’t make me laugh. The only halfway useable track of hers is Born This Way and even that is tainted by the fact it aches to be a gay lib anthem so much that you just can’t love it. No funk, no groove, and it (and she generally) just tries way too hard.

Get Lucky though, like all truly great singles, sounds effortless, even though you just know that it was the product of a huge buckets of sweat by all concerned. It’s one of those rare examples of a collaboration between top line artists that truly is greater than the sum of its constituent parts. Pharrell supplies a typically cool feline vocal, Mssrs Bangalter and Homen-Christo add their trademark touches and then there is the sweet joy of hearing Nile Rodgers play guitar like that for the first time in years.

But all four know that they are there to service a great song, full of hope and self belief.  “We’ve come too far to give up who we are.” Who can’t apply those words to their lives? I know I have. Released in late April (the most hopeful time of the year in the northern hemisphere) it’s obviously stirred millions of hearts. When we listen it’s impossible not to feel that whatever your situation has been over the last few years, even in a world where we’re now five years into an economic downturn, a world where (for a while at least) pop was taken over by Auto Tuned-dullards, where we all stand on the brink of ecological catastrophe, there is still time left for all of us – personally and collectively – to seize triumph from the jaws of disaster if only we can hang in there long enough and somehow, somehow get lucky.

 I think it will be a long time before I get bored of it. 


Talking About The Book…

…Is what I’m going to be doing over the next week.

Tomorrow (November 10th) I’m going to be on BBC Radio Bristol from 9.30am discussing ‘Freedom Through Football’, the Cowboys, Bristol’s Radical History and a lot more besides, I’m sure.

Then on Wednesday (the 14th) comes the London launch of ‘Freedom Through Football’. It’s at HOUSMANS, London’s premier radical bookshop,  in King’s Cross from 7pm. It’ll be great to see any of youse lot there.



Very Exciting News!


My book is finally published this week.

Freedom Through Football: The Story Of The Easton Cowboys And Cowgirls is unleashed out into the wider world tomorrow (Friday 5th October). It’s a biography of the Bristol-based sports club that I’ve been a part of for 20 years. The book uncovers the true stories behind our tours to Zapatista-held Mexico, the West Bank, Brazil and South Central LA, tells how we’ve created a vibrant community around our part of inner city Bristol and played a part in building a network of similar left-of-centre sports clubs around the world.

It’s on sale at Waterstones, on (spit) Amazon, at the M Shed in Bristol and at Bristol Museum and through the Cowboys and Tangent Books’ website. 256 pages, many in full colour and retails at just £9.99.

That’s the sales pitch.

There’s also a launch, or two. The Bristol event is at The People’s Republic Of Stokes Croft, 35 Jamaica St, Bristol from 6.30pm TONIGHT (Thursday 4th October). There’ll be a short talk about the Cowboys and films of some of exploits down the years. It’d be great to see you all there.

Obligatory Olympics Post

I can’t add much more to the acres that have been written about the Olympics over the last two weeks. Sorry to stick to the party line, but yes I thought it would be awful, a farrago of branding police, cops with guns and transport gridlock, all topped off with two solid weeks of rain. I’d bought tickets, but I was cynical in as much as that I assumed (from 40 years of experience) that Britain’s biggest ever sporting event would magnify all the country’s very worst defects – its mean-spirited obsession with security, its woeful short termism and unerring ability to cock things up.

Needless to say, it didn’t turn out that way. Myself and a friend went down to the Olympic Park, tickets in hands last Monday and like everyone we were flabbergasted at the friendliness and enthusiasm of the volunteers and the good spirit amongst the crowds. In just a week these statements have become cliches. But they still bear repeating, and comparison against what we were expecting on July 26th.

But I also wonder whether it marks another staging post on the way to an era where civic minded communitarian ideals are pre-eminent once more. It feels like something is happening. We’ve had thirty years of rampant neo liberalism rammed down our throats with its concomitant view that sees humanity as nothing more than atomised individuals, all out for whatever we can get. And we’ve seen where that’s got us. If you want to look at a sporting insitution has been bent out of shape by these forces just fix your gaze on the English Premier League. And turn away. In disgust.

Of course, we still have a Tory government in power but the Olympics made Cameron look nervous for a number of reasons. And it wasn’t just the U turn on schools funding, the embarassment over sales of school playing fields or the fantastic NHS tribute in the opening ceremony. The Tories already look like a government that has run out of ideas, whose tired free market mantras currently reside on a cul de sac, on the  opposite side of town to where all intellectual, economic and cultural traffic is currently flowing. The answer to where all that traffic is eventually heading is, I suppose, what everyone on the left is waiting for. I suspect that whoever it is that eventually articulates that vision will base it around the values we saw on display during this dream-like fortnight – ordinary people working together towards a common goal, a generosity of spirit and a modest, guilt-free patriotism based on quiet achievement rather than imperial arrogance.

Mind you…the closing ceremony was still rubbish though, wasn’t it?

Shall We Talk About The Weather?

It really has gone beyond a joke now.

The summer of 2012 (‘Britain’s greatest summer ever’, lest us forget)…where do you start? Aside from a brief 10 day respite at the end of May it has not stopped raining since the first week of April. That’s three and a half months of rain. And there’s no sign of it ending yet. Up north and in the west there have been floods. It’s not been much better down here. There is just one question on everyone’s lips: WHEN WILL IT END?

We are all familiar now with the notion that it is the jet stream curling in the southerly direction that has caused this, but what’s more worrying is that this is now becoming an annual event. For the record it is now almost a decade since Britain enjoyed a warmer than average summer, in 2003. It is six years since we had what could be described as an average summer that was warm in places but also cloudy and wet in parts. Since then we’ve had 2007, a complete washout, the worst in over 40 years. 2008 was scarcely an improvement. The following three years all followed a similar pattern in that any warm dry weather was frontloaded to the start of the summer – April and part of May. July and August – traditionally the warmest part of the year – have been wet and mild for over six years now. You have to be over 15 now to remember what was like to enjoy a hot summer in Britain. An entire generation is growing up not knowing what it’s like to bask in temperatures over 80 degrees and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with not having to remember to bring a bloody umbrella out day after day after day.

So what’s happening?  Some climatologists have posited the theory that this alteration in the jet stream is linked to the melting of the polar ice caps. If that is correct (and being climatologists they are hedging their bets, saying that many more years data are needed before they can come to a definite conclusion) then there’s a certan karmic justice in all this, isn’t it? Capitalism will destroy our planet and thus the human race. And as Britain was the first industrialised country, the first to fully adopt free market capitalism on a mass scale then there’s a certain poetic justice that we are reaping the whirlwind that is the result of our burning of fossil fuels for over 250 years. Actually ‘whirwind’ is probably the wrong word in this context. Can you reap a weekly deluge of rain followed by interminent showers?

Until then shall we stop using the word ‘summer’ to describe June to September in this country? The ‘British monsoon season’ is surely a more accurate description of the climate we enjoy between those months now.

Another Fantastic New Record Alert!

Things that make go you ‘awww’ (Part 523)

It’s rare these days that a pop son truly touches me.

But I don’t know, but Ladyhawke’s current single ‘Sunday Drive’ really hit home this week for me, something about the way she sings ‘Please don’t go/ I need your love’.

There’s something terribly vulnerable about Ladyhawke aka Pip Brown as a pop character. We’ve all read about the New Zealander’s battles with Asperger’s, how she dreads playing live and finds interaction with other people extremely difficult. Boy band members being ‘sensitive’ are ten a penny, but these days it’s a rare female singer indeed who’s brave enough to sound really truly fragile. I hope she’s alright.