Midweek Muse: Musical Footballers

A new football biography released last week, Oliver Kay’s Forever Young, tells the story of Adrian Doherty, a brilliant youth prospect who played in the same Manchester United youth team as Ryan Giggs. Doherty’s untimely death the day before his 27th birthday in 2000 means that the story is ultimately a tragic one. However, as Tom Simmonds explains, the joy Doherty found in music lends his tale a strong uplifting element. And he is not the only footballer to have seen music as an alternative career.

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Doherty’s interest in music always did eclipse his interest in football, even in 1989 and 1990 when he was seen by Alex Ferguson as “nailed on” to become a first team regular at Old Trafford. Whilst to United die hards, he was equal to the young man then called Ryan Wilson who played on the opposite wing.

Not averse to taking his guitar into the centre of Manchester to busk while the first team played on a Saturday afternoon, it was an off-season flit to New York where Doherty, calling himself S. McHillbilly, revealed that he could have done something with his music. Paleface, a senior face on the NYC indie scene and future mentor to lo-fi indie superstar Beck, told Kay that Doherty had left an impression on him:

“I remember his music and I remember liking it. His stuff was different. He was one of the good artists”.

A former footballer who made it to where Doherty might have done is Glasvegas frontman James Allan. Allan spent his teens and early 20s as journeyman winger who started at Falkirk passing through Cowdenbeath, East Fife, Queens Park, Gretna, Stirling Albion before being released by Dumbarton. While good enough to be nominated for the Scottish Third Division Player of the Year award while playing for Queen’s Park in 2002-03, it was in music Allan found fame of a different sort.

Glasvegas’ eponymous debut album emerged in 2008 to a feverish media reception, sold over 300,000 copies and reached number two in the UK album charts. They supported U2 and Kings of Leon in the wake of this commercial success. During an interview with the Guardian in 2011, Allan betrayed an indifference to professional football similar to Doherty’s:

“If you’re playing instead of [an older player] you’re taking their win bonus, and their kids could be getting the win bonus so they’ll just smash you”.

While the likes of Allan are rare in having a career where he was known for his football (to a lesser degree) and his music, there are a number of footballers who dabble to a degree where music is more than a mere hobby.

Former St Johnstone captain Kevin Rutkiewicz (who has a cracking singing voice) released his debut album Handwritten in 2010. Former Watford and Sheffield United striker Tony Agana is a saxophonist of some repute. Dion Dublin, whose father was not in the 1970s band Showaddywaddy, contrary to popular rumour, has invented a musical instrument-the Dube-which is a percussion instrument that his Twitter handle is named after.

Songs specifically related to football are still generally regarded (rightly) as naff affairs and fans, when asked, can only cite New Order’s World In Motion as an example of a decent one. However, the likes of Doherty, Allan, Rutkiewicz and the former Forest striker Paul McGregor, who still plays with his band Ulterior, have shown there is more to footballers dabbling in music than miming to cup final songs.

Do you know of any other footballers with a musical sideline? Which players do you think could or should be in a band?

Read more from Tom here.

Follow Tom on Twitter at @TallulahOnEarth

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