Mark E Smith on England's World Cup chances, etc

The Guardian

What Sven could learn from me

Mark E Smith
Monday June 5, 2006

Running the national football team is very much like running my group, the Fall. As a manager, you’ve got to maintain a certain detachment from your players, and it’s the same with my musicians. When we’re on tour, I sit at the back of the bus. We’re friendly but the secret of it is never get too ally-pally. You can have a pint or two together now and again but you don’t want to be going round their houses.

You don’t want people to get too comfortable, because if they do, there’s no way they’ll be on top of their game. It’s not a job for life. I see the Fall being like a football team with a two- or three-year cycle. There’s always going to be a period where I’ll need a new centre-forward.

I always like to keep a strong subs’ bench of people who can step into the breach, cos you never know when you might need them in an emergency. [Smith is currently touring the US with pickup musicians, after a guitarist, drummer and bassist became the latest of around 50 “ex-players” who have sadly and suddenly departed from the Fall.]

You want a manager that’s hard but not stupid. I met Manchester City manager Stuart Pearce on the transfer bus on the way to Amsterdam. He’s a hard case. Some lads were going up to say hello, but he had this air of “That’s all you’re gonna get”. I like Pearce but I couldn’t stand Kevin Keegan. I saw him on telly once when City were playing Newcastle and he went up to the Newcastle fans, shaking their hands. The City players were looking at him, appalled. No surprise he never won a game against Newcastle or Liverpool.

The way the England team is now is ridiculous. A team of superstars is like a supergroup. It’s like picking the best guitarist in Britain, the best drummer and the best singer, and expecting them to produce something that isn’t prog-rock mush. It doesn’t work: this England team will never work at the highest level. I know that. See, Sir Alf Ramsey [who managed England’s 1966 World Cup win] – people never liked him for it, but he’d always have the full-backs from the second division. He took players and moulded them, like I do with musicians. Gordon Banks, the goalkeeper, was from Stoke City, who were bottom of the first division. They’d conceded more goals that World Cup season than anybody else. But it works. You want a goalie who gets bloody shot at every week! You don’t want the Arsenal or Spurs goalie or whoever in any national team, because he’s never got anything to do! He might pull off the occasional beautiful save, but he’s never gonna be any good against a gang of Poles or whoever who know full well they’re going to face the firing squad if they don’t score.

Mind you, I shouldn’t be talking about England. My wife’s Greek, and when Greece won their first game in the [2004] European championships, I said, “Put a bet on now.” We didn’t put the bet on, but I know these things. Two of my mates put £500 on at 250-1. When Greece won the tournament the wife went crazy, absolutely mad. We even ran a Greek flag up in the front garden. We were very popular that week”

? Mark E Smith was talking to Dave Simpson.

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About Jay Babcock

I am the co-founder and editor of Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curator of the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was one of five Angelenos listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. Today, I live a peaceful life in the rural wilderness of Joshua Tree, California, where I am a partner in JTHomesteader.com with Stephanie Smith.

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