A raggedy silhouette of musicians and promoters staggered blearily in to Doncaster train station, coffee and cigarettes poised against the early morning light. Awaiting a (hopefully) comfortable minibus, they huddled together until the driver parked up and let them on.
I did my head count and there were still two missing. ‘Just waiting for Bang Bang Romeo!‘
Lead singer, Stars arrived on cue, courtesy of a kind if not slightly sleep deprived Charlotte, yet there was no sign of drummer, Rich.
Ten long minutes ticked away but still no Rich until the driver told them it was time to go. We were a team member down. Andy, who had only come along for moral support and possible subbing thankfully stepped in.
‘Hang on!‘ Stars shouted, ‘He’s made it!‘ as Rich came running up to the bus and banged on the door. As he stepped up the obligatory insults began. ‘Who sleeps through their fucking alarm?!’ and such like. Poor lad. He was exhausted but gave a sorry smile and sat down, soon to snooze again. Andy was relegated to sub once more.
And off we went. No sooner than we were out of the car park, sandwiches and apples (yes – we had some healthy snacks!) were handed out, soon followed by the obligatory coffee and cigarette stops. Stars was particularly excited: ‘I just want to kick balls!‘ she cried while Rich was just happy he’d made the bus. Andy was hoping for an injury so he, as our reserve player, would have a chance to play.
The Northern Exposure Team were:
- Stars Walker and Rich Gartland from Bang Bang Romeo
- Jordan Booth from The Kavaliers
- Matty Neale from The Blinders
- Shane Keaney and Will Tyler from SAP (honorary northerners for the day)
- Andy Lawman from Civic Green
- Scotti Eccles from Stray Scene
- Ash from Northern Exposure
The team were born ready. Positive mental attitude was all I could offer, knowing nothing about football, but luckily the team were football fabulous.
‘I’m the epitome of health and have Messi-like skills‘, Stars promised. Fantastic I thought! ‘In saying that, I’m also a liar,’she smiled. Okay then. Stars and Shane actually had played great football previously and were our secret weapons. I was sure we were going to be fine.
Rich had a carefully constructed game plan: ‘I intend to run around a lot and give the impression that I can play. I might even kick the ball in to the back of the net. Who knows?!‘ Boothy was more concerned about his non-existent football skills but felt his fitness should be decent from boxing. We even discussed skill and strategy such as Andy’s promise to show us a ‘Crayff’ turn. Look it up. We all had to Google it. I think I saw one later on that day but on reflection can’t be sure. It could have been a balletic trip or just a stumble.
Arriving in amid tower blocks, we pulled up to Mile End Stadium, a multi-sports stadium located in Mile End Park, East London. Besides the floodlit track and field facilities, there were also several astro-turf football pitches on which the tournament was to be held. Musicians on astro-turf: it was going to be beautiful. And it wasn’t going to be the first time: Blur played a famous open-air gig here back in 1995 in front of screaming 27,000 fans.
Collecting the kit, we discovered Team Northern Exposure were blessed with bright orange and our motto ‘ANGRY ORANGE!!!!’ was born. Visualise BBR, SAP, The Kavaliers, The Blinders and Civic Green creating a Haka formation and you’re almost there. The team looked formidable and wore their colours with pride. Star Sailor rocked red, The Darkness had our favourite kit combo – black and white (momentary envy when we saw that kit) and the This Feeling team were in sparkling white (yet beer, tomato ketchup and mud were very unforgiving as the day unfolded). The battle had begun.
After a quick reminder of the Soccer Six rules, none of which we understood but nodded sagely to, we were ready to go. I hoped, fingers crossed, that the team understood about the ‘no ball height’ rule and what would warrant a penalty or a foul. It was all happening. Terror struck a few souls for a moment before the adrenalin took over.
We then entered in to what can only be described as a pre-match pep talk, leading our team to victory through a sophisticated range of visualisation and warm up techniques.
Or not. Slight exaggeration. What actually happened was a series of cigarette and water breaks, some rather athletic stretches from Jordan, Matty and Stars before a pre-match huddle where the team put their game plan in order. ‘Defence, defence, defence – then strike!’ seemed to be the main idea.
With Andy in goal and that kind of technique we were home and dry. The team knew all about sweeping and striking and such like. All we, as the cheerleaders/managers had to do was yell encouraging comments from the side lines such as ‘What was that?!‘ or ‘Defence! Defence! Defence!‘.
The SAP boys proved to be skilful strikers and we were exhausted just watching them – the whole team rotated so everyone got to play and rest, play and rest, with myself and Rachel in charge of handing out water periodically. Think School Sports Day but with grown ups.
The teams we played against were formidable and although we lost three games out of four and drew one (we hope – that was up to artistic interpretation), we only just lost each time and the calibre of all players was high. Who would’ve thought the musicians of our generation were so fit and football ready?
We were then in to the finals watching Star Sailor and The Darkness play – that was something – and EastEnders showed us some serious skill! While there was the rumour of a Love Island team, none of us spotted any evidence as such apart from some serious nail and eyelash extensions at the beer tent and a young man sporting a rather expertly coiffed hairdo who we believe may have been involved in some way.
Stars had this to share as we rested after our games: ‘We’ve loved being a part of Soccer Six 2017! MAH is such an important special cause, and to see so many bands, artists, companies and teams come together for the day in the form of footy, was a memory we’ll treasure! I think we came last in style too!‘ We certainly did. Team Northern Exposure rocked their kit rather superbly.
Meeting up with the likes of Anais Gallagher, supporting MAH and seeing everyone turning out to highlight the plight of homelessness that exists in this country was humbling. Musicians had travelled from as far as Scotland and West Wales – all voluntarily – to show their strength of support.
Matty from The Blinders had this to say: ‘The whole vibe of Soccer Six was fantastic, bands getting together to for a good laugh and at the same time raising awareness for a great cause. Homelessness is a problem very close to mine and the band’s hearts, we’ve all walked past someone knowing full well we have change to spare but would rather get the bus home instead of walking. What MAH is doing for the cause is outstanding and I fully support it.’
Ticket holders were treated to meeting and watching a whole host of great musicians, actors and industry professionals -these ‘for one day only’ footballing heroes who greeted and chatted with the crowd. Young children came on to the pitches between games to have a kick about with the teams, score goals, pose for photos and just enjoy the whole experience.
After the heats, the finals began and Cabbage played valiantly until the semi-finals.
The big winners of the matches were: The Assist, The Darkness and Tom Grennan. Trophies were presented, flash bulbs were flashed and we were all dazzled by The Darkness‘ first prize of a rather snazzy belt.
Scotti from Stray Scene was our team mascot and flew around each pitch, his Yorkshire flag tied around his waist. He echoed the team’s reasons for being there: ‘Soccer Fest was one of the best days had in ages watching a load of unfit rock stars playing football! We [Stray Scene] did a gig last year in Sheffield for MAH – we’re playing it again this year. It’s a charity close to our hearts as people can lose everything in a blink of an eye and end up on the streets. If these gigs and events raising awareness help them in anyway, we’re happy to be part of it.’
Northern Exposure were loud and proud at Soccer Fest 2017 and all left in high spirits (many of them purchased in the beer tent). ‘We may not have won,’ Stars told us, ‘but we had one hell of a time with good friends.’ As we made the return journey up north, the late night fast food queues and Jordan’s untimely cramping episode could not dampen our mood. As we had a First Aider on board, all emergency massages and medications were administered without a hitch. Jordan really took one for the team and on reflection told us, ‘Apart from not being able to walk for two days afterwards, it was a quality day! Great way to bring bands together and raise awareness for MAH. Also managed to bang in a hat-trick!’
The work MAH do continues to raise awareness through events such as Soccer Fest to support some of our most vulnerable. I asked Emma Rule founder of Musicians Against Homelessness about how she had enjoyed the event: ‘It was a real honour to be associated with Soccer Six at the Mile End Stadium. MAH strives to promote and offer opportunities to talented bands and artists whilst raising much needed funds for some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in society. Working in tandem with such a well known organisation assists us greatly in raising the profile of the shocking rise in homelessness to an audience in a way which rewards both artists and the viewing audience. Football and music have historically gone hand in hand and we’re excited for the future collaboration of our projects.’
Northern Exposure look forward to further collaborations with MAH and are already limbering up for next year. A Northern Soccer Six is also in the pipeline.
See ya next year Soccer Six!