Marching to their own tune

The king of instruments: the euphonium

The king of instruments: the euphonium

There was widespread relief in England when World Cup organisers announced late last year that musical instruments wouldn’t be allowed at World Cup venues in 2014.

The relief was not vuvuzela-related. The English were relieved that the England Band – a fixture at England games since 1996 – wouldn’t be pumping out their two tunes in Brazil.

The England Band’s response was that they in fact had four tunes, having added “Roy Hodgson’s Barmy Army” and “Seven Nation Army” to their repertoire.

(A government petition to stop the band was rejected for being “outside the responsibility of the government”.)

Brass bands at the football are nothing new. In the 1930s, bands would often play before football games and at half time, sometimes marching on to the pitch to replace divots.

Perhaps the most famous band/football tradition is that of the A-League inviting little-known New Zealand bands to perform before the A-League Grand Final. The other famous band/football tradition is the playing of “Abide With Me” before the FA Cup Final.

“Abide With Me” was first trotted out in a football context at the 1927 FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Cardiff City. That day, King George V and Queen Mary were roughing it with the commoners at Wembley, no doubt waving perfumed kerchiefs to fend off the stench of the proletariat. Toadying FA officials ordered that “Abide With Me” be played, as it was one of the royal couple’s favourite hymns.

The workers were treated to a 1-0 Cardiff City win. Three years later the FA Secretary was knighted.

The best brass band, by far, has to be the Dutch national football brass band, pumping out a proper potpourri of pop goodness. At an England-Holland friendly at White Hart Lane in 2001, the Dutch band had the entire Park Lane end singing “Living Doll” – the Young Ones version, admittedly.

Turning to the A-League, the Central Coast Mariners brass band inspires mixed reactions. There’s something simultaneously brilliant, eccentric and irritating about their seemingly endless rendering of the “Tetris” theme.

The Tasmanian V-League, meanwhile, is into experimentation. A Caledonian pipe band plays pre-game and at half-time of Launceston SC games.

Why should our brass bands be anchored in the stands? They should be set loose, wearing bright uniforms, to march across the field in stunning synchronicity. And surely there is room in our broad church for… cheerleaders.