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SING WHEN YOU'RE WINNING: ROGER DALTREY
FIRST PUBLISHED: Four Four Two, June 2009
By Chris Hunt

 

Roger Daltrey strolls into the room looking every inch the gracefully grown old mod in a smart black Crombie coat, but one of the first things on his mind is the football. “Have you read the papers this morning about Arsene Wenger going to Manchester City?” he asks in disbelief.

 

I suggest that Arsene would have to change his name first. “Or they will,” he counters.

 

Daltrey is a genuine and devoted Arsenal fan of many years standing, although in this case the description “life-long” is perhaps not apt. As a youngster he grew up in West London, more fixated with blues and R&B than with Queens Park Rangers, the local team he would watch of a weekend. “I was never fanatical about it,” he says. “It was just something that you did on a Saturday back then – you’d go and stand on the terrace.”

 

Always more focused on his music than football through the early days of his rock’n’roll fame with The Who, by the late Sixties Daltrey had turned his back on the game, horrified by its new hooligan face. “I gave up on it when it got violent,” he explains. “In those days we were doing a lot of work in America, where teenagers were being sent off to fight a war in Vietnam. It was completely the opposite of what we had in England. There was an enormous unity there, whereas what we had disgusted me and I walked away from it. I didn’t even watch football on the TV any more.”

 

Football rebirth for Daltrey came in the late Eighties, a byproduct of his seven-year-old son’s decision to become a ‘Gooner’. “He started wearing an Arsenal scarf and soon he was saying, ‘When are you going to take me to see them, dad?’ A lot of my mates were Gooners so I managed to scrounge a couple of tickets and I just fell in love with football again. I fell in love with Arsenal and I fell in love with Highbury, because it was what I always loved about football in the first place. It was a real community ground that had grown out of the houses around it and the atmosphere was fantastic.”

 

This season there have been the first rumblings of discontent about Arsene Wenger’s vision, but Daltrey remains confident about the manager’s future at the club, despite rumours to the contrary in the morning papers. “I wouldn’t swap Arsene Wenger for any of them,” he says. “I believe in his vision. There are dreadful problems in the football economy at the moment and when it all comes down we’ll be in quite a good position. And just look at the alternatives to Wenger. If you go down that route you end up like Chelsea, thinking you can just buy a manager. Do you think you can buy trophies? It’s not like that.”

 

Having started following the club during the George Graham era, he recalls the trophies well, but also recalls the latter years as being “dull as dishwater to watch”. Under Arsene Wenger, however, he has learnt that football can be a beautiful thing. “Ultimately that’s why I support Arsene Wenger now,” he says. “When his teams are running on all cylinders, they are just so fantastic to watch. The whole Premiership is different today because of Arsene Wenger.”

 

There was even that period, in the era of Vieira, Bergkamp and Henry, when Arsenal became known as ‘the Invincibles’. “I knew at the time we were watching the best football we would ever see,” he says. “If you get to see that kind of football from a team of that quality once in your lifetime, then you’re extremely blessed.”

 

A staunch defender of the manager, Daltrey wouldn’t claim to know Wenger well, but he did recently have the opportunity to sing in front of him at a charity event to raise awareness for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Wenger listened intently and admitted to being impressed. “That was good enough for me,” says Daltrey, who also had the opportunity to perform on the pitch after the last game at Highbury in 2006, something he claims excited him more than performing at Woodstock. “It was very nerve-wracking because Highbury had a terrible PA,” he says. “It sounded like a squawking parrot, but it was such a great day, the weather was beautiful, and we’d just beaten Tottenham to fourth place too!”

 

He penned ‘Highbury Highs’ for the occasion, singing it accompanied by a military band. “I wanted to do something special as I felt Highbury deserved a traditional football song, reminiscent of the days when they used to have brass bands on the pitch. It was a dream to sing at Highbury, but I wish it hadn’t have been it’s last day. I wish it was still there.”

 

For a singer with one of the most powerful voices in rock music, by his own admission he is less likely to be screaming at the pitch than his now 28-year-old son. “I can be loud,” he says, “but I’m more of a studier. My son is the noisy one – he’s got my voice and he does let it go.”

 

To his credit, Daltrey is a season ticket holder who prefers to watch his football from the crowd rather than in an executive box. “I love the banter and I love being with a bunch of North Londoners,” he says. “I’ve always said if the shit ever hits the fan, that’s where I want to be.”

 

His main cause of complaint, however, is about the way the club moved season tickets holders from Highbury to the Emirates, damaging the unique Highbury character by not attempting to relocate fans en masse. “The atmosphere that you get in a ground is built up on the relationships between people,” he says. “We sat next to the same people for about 15 years. You know them and it feels like you’re part of a club. Not moving season ticket holders in blocks was one of the biggest mistakes the club made. But don’t tell Tottenham,” he laughs. “Tell Spurs we did it all right, so when they build their new ground they’ll make the same mistake we did.”

 

When it comes to The Who, there’s not too much football banter going on and he’s never managed to encourage Pete Townshend to take an interest. “He’s not a football fan,” says Daltrey. “I said ‘come and hear the noise’, because I know it would inspire him, but I just can’t get him to come along.”

 

It would seem that Daltrey has more in common with Pete’s brother Simon, a touring guitarist with The Who and a fellow ‘Gooner’. It was Simon who was the lucky beneficiary of Daltrey’s ticket to the 2006 Champions League final when singer was unable to attend because of charity commitments. “He went on my behalf and he was very, very happy to go.”

 

Even in this season of uncertainty for Arsenal, Daltrey remains passionate about the club and is optimistic that Wenger is building the foundations for a really successful side with just the occasional thought that maybe the team might need to add some grit and determination to the midfield. “It would be nice to have a couple of growlers,” he says, “but then if we had growlers we’d join the cloggers of teams like Middlesbrough.”

 

Does that mean he would be content to continue to watch this Arsenal team attempting to pass their way into the net, even at the expense of goals?

 

“No,” he laughs, “I’d just like them to hit the fucking thing.”

 

 

QUICK QUESTIONS

Best moment? “The Champions League game against Real Madrid in 2006 – it put years on me. I walked out of that match looking as old as Mick Jagger. It was just a nail-biting game, end-to-end right up until the last minute.”

Worst moment? “In the Nineties, just before Arsene Wenger came along, I remember going to watch them away when they got beat by QPR – we could have gone out that year and things were looking pretty serious.”

All-time hero: “I haven’t got one. I used to love Ray Parlour as he never gave up. We haven’t got enough British players now. I think that grounds a club with a different sense of drive.”

All-time villain? “I don’t look at the game like that and I’ve never booed anyone. I think it’s totally unnecessary and silence is sometimes more devastating.”

Dream signing? “Maybe one of those Spanish players we saw at the European Championships last summer. They were an unbelievable team.”

 

 

 

Words copyright Chris Hunt 2007