Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Football and Music Part Three: Philippe Auclair on writing a song for George Best and how Liverpool FC and The Beatles changed English culture together

Posted on 3 May 2020 by Hal Fish

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Football fans may recognise the name of Philippe Auclair from the byline of such media outlets as Eurosport, Josimar Football and the Guardian.

They may also recognise his voice from various football podcasts, including the Guardian Football Weekly.

However, in the musical world this same voice is attributed to a French musician of a different name: Louis Philippe.

For a man who operates in both worlds, it is no surprise that a moment he describes as a personal high-water mark for his musical career, is one that was inspired by a footballer.

“With a name like that, you could laugh at your fortune,” Auclair sings in the opening verse of When Georgie Died.

The melody is soft, like sunlight creeping in through the curtains the morning after a heavy night of drinking. For a song about George Best that seems most suitable.

Auclair had been commissioned by a friend at Exotica Records to write a song about the Manchester United legend as part of a series of original albums devoted to footballers.

“There was one about Eric Cantona, which was quite successful at the time: Eric the King. And he [Auclair’s friend] decided to do an album which will be devoted to George Best,” Auclair explains.

“He asked me if I wanted to contribute a song and I said, yes, of course. Because George Best had been one of my heroes when I was growing up as a boy.

“I think I wrote it very, very quickly, which is unusual for me. I usually spend a lot of time refining songs.”

Despite the title of the song, it was written when Best was very much alive.

“I suppose I felt quite melancholy and I wanted to convey my absolute love for everything that George Best represented. To celebrate what people consider to be a failure. Best was anything but a failure. He was a hero and a living God.

“It’s a celebration, but it’s a sad celebration. There is such a thing as a sad celebration.”

Auclair even had the pleasure of playing the song to Best in person: “When I interviewed him shortly before he died, I brought the record with me and I was a little bit unsure as to how he would react to it.

“But I played the song and he actually liked it. He could see exactly what I was trying to say. And he was quite flattered by the fact that, you know, he was the subject of another song ­– that was not the first song had been written about him ­– and also that it was not an ordinary, terrace song, far from it. I don’t think you could sing that one on the terraces, to be honest,” Auclair laughs.

“He had this very nice smile when he said: I like that, I like that. That’s very nice, thank you.”

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This relationship between music and football – a coalescence, as Auclair puts it – is something the Frenchman noticed immediately when he first began to work in England.

“Something I realised very quickly, when I was interviewing people from the British classical music scene, I realised that almost every single one of these people were also football fans.

“Which is not something, believe me, that would happen if you were working in a similar world in France or in Germany.

“But in England, it seemed that every pianist that I was talking to was a fan. Every conductor, I mean, Simon Rattle is a Liverpool supporter. And you know, they all seem to have a cultural link to football. Which is again, something which is very, very English. This confluence of interests, between one and the other.”

So what is it about England specifically that allows these two passions to merge in such a way?

“If you looked at the youth culture in the 1930s, well, there was none. But the mass youth culture that we now take for granted has its roots in the 60s and the 70s. And it just so happens that the main interests at the time were football and music.”

The reason behind that interest? You only have to look at Liverpool.

Dr Richard Mills, author of The Beatles and Fandom, elaborates, “After years in the doldrums the Liverpool football team won the First Division Championship and the FA Cup at the same time as the Beatles’ meteoric rise.”

Indeed such was the popularity of The Beatles, Liverpool fans would belt out their tunes from the Kop.

“There is a footballer on the cover of Sgt Pepper, Albert Stubbins, a legendary Liverpool centre forward and John Lennon’s dad’s favourite player,” Dr Mills adds.

Auclair sums it up nicely: “If clubs are conquering Europe and your bands are conquering the charts. The momentum is such that I think you do create a specific culture, which doesn’t exist to the same extent in other countries.”

Having examined the relationship between football and music in part one and two, it is satisfying to arrive at such a logical conclusion for what may very well have been the first footsteps of this significant cultural imprint on England.