The Ballad Of Paul Tierney

Paul Howarth

Poignant tribute song reminds us of the beautiful game’s fickle nature

It’s a wonderful time to be a sports fan in this country. After the unfettered national joy of 2012, this year has arguably been better still. The British Lions ended a 16-year series drought with a thrilling performance in Sydney; Andy Murray laid an even longer-serving ghost in securing the Wimbledon title; Chris Froome carried all before him in Le Tour; England’s cricketers have inflicted more pain on our Australian cousins by retaining The Ashes in just 14 of the 25 playing days of the current series (albeit with a soggy ‘losing’ draw at Old Trafford); and, of course, The Premier League is about to kick off again.

I must confess I’m less buoyed by this last. Curmudgeonly old fart warning. In the summers of my childhood and teens, the opening Saturday of the new season was like The Fonz arriving at an already giddying party. “Football, you say? In temperatures nudging 90 degrees Fahrenheit? (Celsius hadn’t been invented). With these ants flying all around the garden? And Gower and Gatting putting New Zealand’s bowlers to the sword at The Oval? What is this glorious madness?!”

These days it feels like the first day back at school. “The football season? Already? Oh, Mum, do I have to?” The weary foreboding that greets the arrival of a new season is in no small part down to the continuing gracelessness of those who play, run and administer the ‘beautiful game’. There’s something quite grotesque about multi-millionaire strikers throwing tantrums because their club won’t let them speak to a rival (“But I WANT to play in the Champions’ League!”) or because the manager dares to suggest a starting XI spot is not guaranteed.

Then there’s the type of ‘sportsmanship’ we’ve come to expect on the pitch: everything from claiming a handled goal to appealing for a throw-in even though you know for certain it came off you and not your opponent (this is hard wired into footballers – just watch).

I’m not saying other sports are above that sort of thing – ask cricketers Stuart Broad and David Warner for their definition of ‘fair play’ – it’s just that football seems to revel in its cynicism, knowing that we’ll always come back for more like some wronged lover returning to an abusive partner.

So, today, I want to point you in the direction of a song that tackles a common, but under-reported, football theme. That of failed careers. Because you can be certain that, for every preening superstar, there are hundreds of talented players who never made it, or whose professional paths were decidedly less diamond-studded.

One of those was a left-back called Paul Tierney, who moved a singer-songwriter of the same name to pen a ballad in his honour.  Brilliant, poignant lyrics (“The gaffer wants a word with you. We’re sending you on loan to Crewe.”) and a tale told with charm and optimism. Far from being self-pitying, the message, ultimately, is that it’s better to have played and sunk than never to have played at all. But enough of my cod analysis…

I’m going to compile a list over the next few days of great songs inspired by sport.  Would love to hear your suggestions.

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  • James Bowden

    How about Ich Roque by the German band Sportfreunde Stiller. All about Roque Santa Cruz the Paraguayan, and at the time Bayern Munich, striker. Well that and the fact the Ich Roque also means “I Rock!”…

  • Joan Varc

    “He played for England” by the great Harvey Andrews. He has stated that he sang this marvellous song at Derek Dougan’s retirement dinner “… to universal bafflement”.

  • Greedy Ginger Pig

    It’s not quite what you asked for, but it is what you’re talking about: “All Fur Coat and No Knickers” by Chumbawumba… lamenting the commercial ruination of the beautiful game.

  • Pingback: Paul Tierney and other sport-inspired songs | Paul Howarth | Independent Football Blogs

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