Sing When You're Winning: famous football fans reveal their allegiances
It’s a sunny day in London’s Baker Street, where Oasis’s record company Big Brother have their HQ. Here in the office hang gold discs and a John Lennon autograph.
Back home chez Noel Gallagher, however, hangs another treasured memory, a framed Paul Lambert shirt signed by the Celtic captain. It’s a gift from Rangers fan Alan McGee who discovered Oasis in Glasgow’s King Tut’s club. Everyone knows Noel is a Manchester City diehard, but these days the green of Glasgow runs light blue a close second.
Noel breezes in, sharply turned out in shades, faded denims and a green army jacket. And over a cup of tea, he looks back with pleasure over both clubs’ recent seasons, even if last May, Celtic missed out on a memorable Double by the slenderest of margins.
“I remember there was a terrible period where Celtic would continually outplay Rangers and lose 1-0. Then all of a sudden it’s scorelines like 6-2, 3-3 and 5-1,” he enthuses. “I like to watch the games at home and get my head into it. It’s also good watching it in the pub when it’s packed for the atmosphere.
“I watched both the Boavista UEFA Cup semi-final legs at my girlfriend Sarah’s flat – it was fantastic. She’s a Rangers fan but wanted Celtic to win, although it was still nice to rub it in. I also saw the two Blackburn games; Celtic deserved to win both of them – they were bigging it up far too much, saying they played us off the park.
"I'VE STILL NOT SEEN THE GOALS..."
"I watched the first Liverpool game but missed the second leg, which I was gutted about. I was on tour and I still haven’t seen the goals yet! We don’t get the same coverage down here.”
For Noel, the Celtic revival is entirely down to Martin O’Neill. “Celtic for a long time had some nondescript managers such as John Barnes. When Martin O’Neill went to Celtic, I was so pleased because I knew he was a proper Celt. I’ve always liked him because he played at Manchester City for a while. He’s built a really strong team on the quiet. Chris Sutton and John Hartson have both been great signings”.
For a few years now Noel has been friendly with Neil Lennon, a regular when Oasis play Glasgow. “I’ve met Neil Lennon for a drink in Glasgow – I wouldn’t hear a word against him. Like all Celtic players I’ve met he’s a good lad and doesn’t deserve the hassle. He was also a City player too.”
Prior to Celtic, Lennon’s club Leicester City vibed themselves up with Oasis for their Worthington Cup finals. “The Leicester team used Don’t Look Back In Anger as their anthem. They played it as a good luck thing and won it again.”
Noel’s baptism of fire at Parkhead coincided with Martin O’Neill’s first game at the helm, a thrilling 6-2 victory against Rangers. “After the game Martin came into the bar and asked me if I wanted a drink. He brought me into his office with John Robertson, Steve Walford and Peter Reid. I’m thinking, I can’t believe this – I’m sitting in the Celtic manager’s office having
a whisky! It was incredible.
“But the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in my life was before the match. I was having a drink and this guy came up to me and said, ‘You better go and sit in your seat, son; something special is about to happen.’ I thought, what’s this all about? Then someone else said, ‘Come and take a look outside.’
"As I walked into the stadium Roll With It came blasting out the PA. They stopped it halfway through and the fans stood up and began to sing it, which was just amazing. Then the game started and Celtic went 3-0 up in the first 15 minutes. I couldn't believe it. A really, really top day out!”
The day was also memorable for a top performance by Noel’s favourite Celtic player, Henrik Larsson. “I’m glad I got the chance to see him score against Rangers when he looked especially cool with the dreadlocks. In the 6-2 game he scored with a magnificent chip over the keeper’s head. Everyone thought the ball was over, even the ball boys. By the time everyone realised the goal was in, Hen was already celebrating – brilliant.
"OWEN COULDN'T LACE LARSSON'S BOOTS"
“Henrik has to be worth as much as any forward. Michael Owen couldn't lace his boots! If Owen is worth £25 m, then Henrik must be worth about £30m, at least. He could go to any club in the world. He scores 200 goals a season and has won everything he could as an individual player.
"I love the fact that he continues to stay at Celtic! He looks good in the Celtic kit, he runs well and he always rejoins stronger after an injury. To come back even better than before after a leg break and the recent fractured jaw speaks for itself.
“My other favourite was Kenny Dalglish because he was just a phenomenal footballer. It was the 1970s, so he had the sideboards, the haircut and the big-collared shirts with the numbers on the shorts. Football was more real then, played by real men like Rodney Marsh and Stan Bowles. Today it’s played by athletes.
"There were no replays or three-month bans like now. It was more innocent; clubs were part of the community. Now they’re part of the stock exchange. Players are part of the company and the company is part of the stock market. I have to say, though, I love the way football is now with the big stars.”
"GEORGE BEST GAVE ME A HUG"
Whisper it softly, though: as far as Noel is concerned they don’t come any bigger than a certain Manchester United legend. “George Best is the greatest footballer of all time! I was going to Liverpool to watch City play last season and I was standing at Manchester Airport and there was George Best. He threw his arms around me and gave me a big hug.
I was with Gem from the band and he said, ‘Shouldn’t you hate him, being a City fan?’ How can you hate Georgie? He was the first superstar; he’s on the cover of my first album – everybody loves George. The United fans love him because he was such a great player but the City fans love him too because he liked to have a good time and was a bit of a mod.”
Noel also has a soft spot for another United Irishman. “I personally can’t wait for Roy Keane to sign for Celtic, so I can officially have my picture taken with him and shake his hand because I f**king love that boy! I’d have him in my team any time, but when he plays for United against City I wish he’d break both his legs.
"Alex Ferguson loves him – when he doesn’t play for United they’re shit. He’d be great for Celtic; he could play till he’s 50, I think. He’s as good as it gets in an Ireland shirt. I can’t imagine anyone saying a bad word against him. My other top Ireland player of all time would have to be Liam Brady.
“I do follow England because they have some good players,” Noel allows, “but when push comes to shove I’m in the Ireland end. I’ve always supported Ireland since I was a kid. Oasis were asked to do the England song and go on at Wembley – my uncles would have killed me. I don’t really like football songs – I could write a tune but football lyrics are always a bit daft.”
"WE SHOULD BE UNITED FANS"
So with Irish roots, support for the Republic and Celtic, how come Noel isn’t a Manchester United fan? “By rights we should all be United fans because all my dad’s brothers and our cousins are United fans. It’s only myself, Liam and our brother Paul who are City fans.” (Noel tells me that his Celtic-daft brother Paul is green with envy after Noel picked up a rare Manchester City/Ireland badge on a recent trip to Brighton.)
“The rest of my family – there must be about 6,000 of them – all support United. My dad moved from Dublin to Manchester and went to Maine Road. I’m glad he took us to City, though. The Manchester derby is a great thing to go to, although nothing compares to a Celtic versus Rangers game. I’ve been to a few Manchester derbies and I’ve seen most of the others on television. I would definitely say the Manchester derby comes second only to the Old Firm in terms of rivalry.”
Recently Noel made a final trip to his beloved Maine Road to see City’s last ever game there before they move to the new City of Manchester Stadium. “At first I wasn't sure about it. Oasis performed at Maine Road and the greatest team we ever had played there. When you think about it, though, it’s hardly been a lucky ground for us.
"The next generation of United fans can go to their shiny new ground at Old Trafford, so it’s only fair that the next generation of City fans get their shiny new stadium with the big pitch and funky scoreboard. I think it will be a bit of a struggle for people of my generation and older, but we need the money – it’s as simple as that.”
There have been some tough times supporting City over the years. “I’ve seen City get relegated so many times. The worst season was going down from the First to the Second Division. I was sitting watching the game with [Primal Scream singer] Bobby Gillespie: City had to beat Stoke and somebody else had to lose. Afterwards he turned round and said, ‘You’re in the Second Division,’ and I said, ‘We’re in the Third,’ because that’s what it is really, the old Third! I couldn’t believe it. So getting relegated from the Premiership was no big deal to us.”
"SUDDENLY THEY WERE PLAYING LIKE BRAZIL"
But, like Martin O’Neill at Celtic, the Manchester City revival was all about getting the right manager. “We were away on tour and somebody told us Joe Royle had been sacked – Joe was pretty good at getting you out of the First Division. I thought City was going to get someone big like Terry Venables or George Graham.
“When I heard it was Kevin Keegan I wasn’t sure because he usually needs £50m and we had no money. But as soon as we took to the field that season, it was incredible. It made me think what a fantastic manager he really is because he inherited a team that was shocking. He didn’t buy many players and all of a sudden they were playing like Brazil!
“Nobody knows how long he will be here, when we get beat I often think, will he go today, or will it be next week or the week after? In saying that, if he leaves City there’s no where else for him to go. This is his last job – if he wins a trophy then leaves, fair enough. If he walks out, where will he go because Liverpool won’t have him and he only goes to clubs he has an affinity with.” A wry smile appears over Noel’s face. “He'd be great at Celtic!”
Favourite City players? “Colin Bell, but I suppose that’s too obvious. There are many who have been slightly above average but not one who has been shit-hot. Probably Kinkladze and Benarbia.”
What about Eyal Berkovic? He wasn’t exactly a hit when he played with Celtic. “At Southampton he was all right but he was cocky at Celtic. I think he thought it was beneath him. I have to say I think City isn't half the team without him. He’s been a mega player for us. When he’s not on the team sheet you think, this is going to be dull.”
Man City vs Celtic – it could happen if the Old Firm join the Premiership...
“I think we should incorporate all the English and Scottish divisions together. Burnley against Motherwell – that’s a good game! The problem is, if it was all incorporated, we would have to have a Great Britain national team and the English FA and SFA don’t want that. Can you imagine it though? Every game would be massive. Liverpool v Rangers or Manchester City v Celtic – I couldn’t go to that one; I’d just hope the score would be 6-6. However many tickets you could print, Celtic would bring fans. I’ve been in Manchester when United have played Celtic and the atmosphere is unbelievable for a friendly.”
"IT'S THE IRISH THING..."
Rock’n’roll and football used to be very different worlds. Not any more, thanks not least to Oasis.
“[Former Smiths guitarist] Johnny Marr, like me, is an Irish-descendant City fan. Primal Scream and Richard Ashcroft are dirty Reds, Paul Weller claims to be Chelsea but he never comes round my house and talks about the game. It seems that all the major British cities produce great bands – Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool and London. Not Birmingham for some reason, though.
“The thing that runs through it all is the Irish thing. It doesn’t take much to scratch beneath the surface of most bands and find some kind of Celtic roots, whether it be Scottish, Welsh or Irish. Perhaps the only one I know of who is completely English is Paul Weller – I’m sure he would be bang into Celtic, though, because he loves a good drink. The same with Ashcroft, being a Northern Red. Poor [Travis singer] Fran Healy – he’s the only Celt in a band full of Rangers fans, ha ha!”
And now Noel is rock’n’roll’s ambassador to football on Soccer AM. Is he turning into a telly football pundit? “I turn down more than I do but Soccer AM is a good craic. Music will always be my first thing, music and music production. I’m good at that. At the end of the day I’m a songwriter that’s what I do.”
Interview by Richard Purden. From the August 2003 issue of FourFourTwo.
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