Classical music and football are often uneasy bedfellows. My house is a particularly fine example of this: I love the World Cup, the sense of excitement and anticipation, the sense of belonging to a vast swathe of people all eagerly hoping for the same thing, all of us participating in an event shared by millions around the world. My wife, a professional mezzo-soprano, hates football and everything about it.

But music and football aren’t so distant.

The national anthems, with which each fixture begins, are a wonderful moment, when fans around the ground, as well as in front of television screens around the world, and players unite in song. It’s impossible to be at a match and not be moved by the communal singing, in celebration or ridicule, the latter usually involving all manner of exciting comments on the referee’s parentage or the opposing striker’s entertaining incompetence.

Pavarotti’s rendition of Nessun Dorma from Turandot has become inextricably linked with footballing culture, thanks to its being used by the BBC for their coverage of the Italia ’90 tournament.

And classical music’s love affair with football doesn’t stop there. Dedicated Arsenal fan and eminent British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage has written an entire opera about football, The Silver Tassie; promising footballer Harry Heegan goes off to fight in the First World War, is tragically injured, and returns home confined to a wheel-chair, his football career dashed. There’s a whole section of Turnage’s epic orchestral piece, Momentum, in which the brass intone a motif that’s reminiscent of Olé, olé olé olé! (an extract from which can be heard on Amazon here). And contemporay composer Jocelyn Pook’s first opera, Ingerland, premiered at the Royal Opera House’s Lindbury Studios only last week. Of course, football can also spell some dreadful music: the World Cup anthems that sides churn out in the build-up to World Cup season. I draw attention to Exhibit A, World in Motion, by New Order, which features perhaps the worst rapping ever committed to record, by John Barnes. I’m always amazed at how Barnes, an elegant, gifted footballer with vision and trickery that was sometimes balletic in quality, was persuaded to give such a clunking performance. (Viewers of a nervous disposition should therefore not listen beyond 2’ 31”...).

This season, the colourful spectacle that is the stadia teeming with fans at each fixture has been enhanced – if that’s the right word – by the vuvuzelas, plastic trumpets blown constantly throughout matches (with the exception of Wednesday’s match between South Africa and Uruguay, in which Uruguay put three past the host nation and the silence was deafening).

So, music and football are entwined. I can’t imagine football, or indeed the World Cup, without music as part of it. They aren’t as distant as you might think. Enjoy both of them.

Dan Harding 21st June 2010

Dan is the Deputy Director of Music at the University of Kent. He writes about music on the departmental blog, ‘Music Matters.’