When unable to get out of bed, my grandfather would loudly demand that the television be carried into his bedroom whenever Cassius Clay was fighting. Other than that I never saw him get very upset and am thankful that a man who had his sole annual teary sniff during Abide With Me didn't live to hear years of wooden caterwauling by Cup Final teams on Top Of the Pops. Those of us who did may have acquired an aversion that has caused us to overlook some magnificent records with a sporting theme. There are three, at least.
The Real Sounds of Africa arrived in Harare in the 1970s. Their joyous narrative of a match between rivals "Tornados v Dynamos (3-3)" is no standard brag, nor much of a cliffhanger, given the title. Yet the exciting blending of rhumba and soukous from their native Congo with Zimbabwean mbira-influenced guitar just can't be denied. The thirteen minute version is the one, as I don't recommend missing the introduction of the teams to "His Excellency, President Kanaan Banana". This record sparked Zimbabwe Football Fever in our house. Santa was asked for Black Rhinos shirts, despite them not actually being in the song, and Moses Chunga remains a family codeword for unstoppable wizard. Players nicknamed "The Computer" or "Kojak" instantly reveal their characteristics. Marvelously, although no team ever falls more than a goal behind, whenever they equalize the Real Sounds sing something along the lines of "2-2, 2-2, they've pulled one back!" The game doesn't actually end it just fades into the ether with eight minutes to go. Utter bliss.
Former Flamengo trainee, Jorge Ben, now known as Jorge Ben Jor, to avoid royalties being mistakenly sent to George Benson, recorded many football songs. "Camisa 10 da Gavea" about Zico, is okay, but "Ponta de Lanca Africano (Umbabarauma)" is Brazilian music at its irrepressible best. Knowledge of the centre-forward in question matters not, we just want The Goal Man to Go! This is taut afro-samba-funk call-and-response ecstasy; as if Fela Kuti, Tom Ze and James Brown signed for your team, with contracts stipulating that the crowd must always be attractive, delirious, and virtually naked. The best argument yet for the winter break.
In the midst of the noble sporting struggle that is cricket, though no sound can match that of bat on ball, some have tried. Sadly, conditions were never ideal for the very English genius Vivian Stanshall to contribute much in this area. The Bonzo Dog Band's "Sport" jibed weakly and the hint of some cricket action buried in the glorious verbal kaleidoscope of "Sir Henry at Rawlinson End" never emerged from the crumbling pavilion of Viv's dreams. Roy Harper's hazy "When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease" (left) was a great doomed knock, especially if we believe it only took fifteen minutes to write. Which brings us to The Cavaliers' creation of "It's A Beautiful Game", just possibly the finest recording dedicated to a sporting theme. Here is an ethereal litany of English cricket legends including Geoffrey Boycott, James Laker, Trevor Bailey, Thomas Graveney, John Augustine Snow, and "Sir" Frederick Trueman, balanced with faux wafts of calypso and didgeridoo. It's as if angels were serenading the dusty heroes on a faraway beach or cloud. Was that a wave or a ripple of applause? This fabulous ode proved as unrepeatable as any of those summers long since passed. I'd especially caution against hearing The Cavaliers unnervingly repeat the word "Tavare" on their album "A Perfect Action", unless you feel you absolutely must.