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Mad about the game: Shostakovich at a football match in Moscow, 1942 (©Pictorial Press Ltd /Alamy Stock Photo)


Unnoticed by many classical music lovers has been the steady ongoing enthusiasm for football among composers of recent times. Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) was a fan of Leningrad Zenith and regularly attended games. His usual demeanour in photographs was the inscrutable death-mask stare, which hid all his turbulent emotions. There is a photograph of him, however, with friends at a game, possibly taken immediately after a Zenith goal, in which he appears deliriously happy. He also wrote football-related articles for the Soviet press. His ballet The Golden Age, a propaganda piece for Soviet Communism, follows the fortunes of a Russian team as they visit the corrupt and decadent West.

Edward Elgar was mad about Wolverhampton Wanderers and attended many games at Molineaux in the 1880s with his friend Dora Penny (“Dorabella” of the Enigma Variations). They watched Wolves play Stoke City in 1898, and the next day the composer read a report of how the Wolves centre-forward Bill Malpass “banged the leather for goal”. He set the line to music, but it got lost. It was found decades later and the club mounted a performance of it at a special concert in the town in 2010.

Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959) was a supporter of Sparta Prague and his work Half-Time is dedicated to them. It was inspired by a Czech-French game. As a frenzied crowd of fans grows ever more excited, a melody emerges fortissimo in the strings and harmonised in thirds, an obvious folk-inspired gesture. This tune clearly represents the supporters, en masse, in an excited state.

There have been a couple of recent operas which feature the game — Mark-Anthony Turnage’s The Silver Tassie, based on the play by Sean O’Casey, features Belfast Celtic winning a trophy before their players go off to fight in the First World War. The Arsenal-daft Turnage has used football crowd chants in a number of his works, including his opera Greek and Momentum, the work which Sir Simon Rattle commissioned to open Symphony Hall Birmingham in 1991. In Benedict Mason’s Playing Away (1993) the ball even has an aria. Based on a text by Howard Brenton, the opera tells the story of flawed football genius Terry Bond, whose team is playing Bayern Munich in the European Cup final.

In 1996, Queens Park Rangers fan Michael Nyman produced an album of three football-related works. The first, After Extra Time, is described by the composer  as “Riff Athletic v Riff Rangers” with the instrumental forces divided into two five-a-side teams. The Final Score is meant to  evoke the Stan Bowles QPR team of the 1970s, and the third, Memorial, commemorates the dead of the 1985 Heysel stadium disaster. The music then appeared in Peter Greenaway’s film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and has now been worked into the composer’s 11th Symphony, Hillsborough Memorial.

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