Football, punk as a way of life
We all come to football for different reasons. It may be as simple as geography: You support your local club. Or perhaps your maddening devotion is passed down through generations in your family. The equation takes on a layer of complexity if you grow up in the U.S. Your allegiance to the sport in general and to a club in particular can be the result of a circuitous emotional algorithm that may defy easy explanation and classification.
My devotion to football came from an affinity for two things: music and the counterculture. Music being punk, hardcore and Oi!, the latter a tradition of English working-class bands that brought a foreign world of singing from the terraces, drinking in the pubs and yes, fighting in the streets into the safe confines of my bedroom. Each spin of an LP produced concretely vivid, if widely imagined pictures of another world that was at once dangerous and seductive. I wanted in. The counterculture was straight-forward: anything that wasn’t mainstream. And football was better than my dad’s version -- “throwball” as we derisively called it. You can have your NFL, and the NBA while you’re at it -- I was one of the guys combing the agate print of the newspaper to find the latest scores of my club in the days before football went digitally global. (Throw in my grandfather's allegiance to a certain English club and my destiny was set.)
I was reminded of this nexus of football and punk when I learned that Lars Frederiksen wrote the San Jose Earthquakes' new anthem. Frederiksen is the guitarist and one of the singers for Rancid, but it’s his new band, the Old Firm Casuals, that produced “Never Say Die.” The Quakes’ battle cry (you can view a live performance here) is a rabble-rousing track that features the players singing backup, including Clarence Goodson, Jason Hernandez, Jordan Stewart and Steven Beitashour. The hammed-up, cringe-worthy "Super Bowl Shuffle" this isn’t.
The collaboration was an on-again, off-again project that started in earnest with the help of, among others, Goodson. “I called Clarence, who I knew was a huge Rancid fan,” Frederiksen says, “and I said, ‘This is what I want to do, I want you guys to come down and sing along on the track,’ and Clarence -- who is one of the coolest, most humble dudes -- was like, ‘Lars, I’ll take care of it.’”
A lifelong football fan who, as he often sings, grew up in Campbell, Calif., Frederiksen has been a Quakes supporter since he was 7, bringing him back to the NASL days. “Me and my brother used to go to Spartan Stadium to watch them play,” he says. Attending matches is also what helped ignite the idea for “Never Say Die” in the first place, as Dan Margarit, the leader of the supporters’ group the Ultras, once approached Frederiksen in the stands and asked him to write some songs for the group. (For the record, Frederiksen says, “I’m not an Ultra, I’m not a Goonie. The Ultras are cool, but the Goonie thing is totally lame.”)
“I didn’t write the song to say, ‘Here, San Jose Earthquakes, is your new theme song, license it for me. I was writing the song and putting it on my f------ record, so if you want to use it, totally cool. The song is about love for the team, love for the city, love for where I come from.”
“Never Say Die” references how “we’re gonna be Saturday’s heroes,” which echoes a classic song from the Business and their album “Hardcore Hooligan.” Football and music, it all ties together for Frederiksen.
As a kid, he would consume as much football as he could, no easy feat as anyone who got up early to watch PBS can attest. “We would watch [the show] 'Soccer Made in Germany' with Toby Charles. … And when we were younger living in Denmark our grandfather -- who played for Silkeborg IF -- showed us the game.”
Frederiksen has attended football matches all over the U.K. and Europe (the best pie, he reckons, can be found at Glasgow Rangers, though he also rates the curry chicken at Villa Park). For him, the atmosphere abroad remains the gold standard, and through the years he's also become a supporter of Millwall. It's the connection between working-class music and football that has remained a constant in Frederiksen's life, the early years of which he grew up in low-income housing and had to play baseball instead of football because it was what his mom could afford. “If you understand English culture, the music I loved growing up as a kid, the Oi! ... that was football culture. It was about their team," he says.
With the new MLS season upon us, Frederiksen brings the conversation back to the Quakes. “The San Jose Earthquakes from the very get-go were a working-class, blue-collar team. I mean, the only person who knew about San Jose was Dionne Warwick. She put San Jose on the map with a song [laughs]. Other than that, it was just some s--- town. With the Earthquakes being there, that was ours. Our thing, you know. We’re not a big-money team.”
Of course, the Old Firm Casuals aren’t the league’s first connection with those from the punk community. Brandon Steineckert, drummer for Rancid, wrote Real Salt Lake’s official chant, “Believe.” Years ago, D.C.’s own hardcore institution Bad Brains recorded "D.C. United" (it was hardly a shining musical moment for Darryl Jenifer $amp; Co., indeed far from it, but there you go). The fans often return the favor: The Emerald City Supporters in Seattle, for example, are known to belt out Cock Sparrer's "Take 'em All."
Frederiksen, meanwhile, is just as happy to talk football as he is music. When asked whether he thought players such as Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey were taking a step back in their careers by returning to MLS, Frederiksen answers with the kind of Dr. Martens-style bluntness found on the Old Firm Casuals’ LP, “For the Love Of It All.” “Look at the talent that comes through the league,” he says. “Guys like Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart, Edson Buddle. You’ve got great players that come through our system that nobody really knows about. So no, I don’t think they’re taking a step back.
“I’d love to see Tim Howard, who’s a friend, come play for MLS,” he adds. “I’m more excited to see American players compete in our league than a David Beckham, a Thierry Henry. I also love that we have an influx of South American and Mexican players. And I like seeing some of the Europeans and Brazilians.”
Any advice for the league? “The style of play doesn’t need to change,” Frederiksen says. Sounding like an agro version of commissioner Don Garber, he makes no pretense about the league’s current state and future potential. “The quickness of the game needs to change -- go up a notch. And the refs are going to have to get way better. I hate to say it, but they’re s---.” But true to his nature and lyrics, Frederiksen loves an underdog story, and believes that “slowly but surely, we’ll be the leaders [in football] because that’s the way we are. We’re Americans, we’re always going to excel.”
Asked for his favorite player, he pauses. He name-checks the likes of Galatasaray’s Didier Drogba and burly Millwall defender Danny Shittu, but rather than pick a box-office star he goes with perhaps the most unassuming player on the planet, Wondolowski. As anyone who’s watched the striker can attest, Wondo hardly captures the imagination with mazy runs in the box or Samba-inspired goals. His is an everyman’s approach, again mirroring the music that has defined Frederiksen’s career. “He makes something out of nothing all the time,” he says. “He plays with every ounce of his body.”
Frederiksen’s band Rancid has a well-known sign-off: “See ya in the pit.” But for him, it really should be “See you in the pit -- and on the pitch”. “To me, this is my culture and has been for 30 years. I’ve been into this music, this way of life. I’m just honored to be part of the Earthquakes in this capacity. To me, that’s the highlight of my life.”