A Hero, A Fallen Idol – My Trouble With Morrissey

As a teenager you’re almost molded by the people around you and by the people you look up to and I was no different. Many of the views I held were founded by my idols…they put the idea in my head and I carried them on, such is the way. A massive voice to me, one of my biggest idols, was Morrissey.

There were certain parts to Morrissey that I couldn’t quite grasp – example, for as much as I am always moved by ‘Meat Is Murder’, I’ve not felt the urge to become vegetarian – but for the most part, I found many of his opinions to be one’s I could approve of. I was never a Royalist, and hearing “The Queen Is Dead” was confirmation that I could never be a Royalist. Seems daft, really, but that’s how it was. I also read his views of Thatcher and Tory Britain and became moved by how against it all he was. Manchester was not a place to be during Thatcher’s time, and Morrissey made that clear. I started to read up on the politics and, starting from his outspoken views of Thatcher, I found my political leaning.

The biggest thing for me with Morrissey was, and always will be, his lyrics. I absorbed them. He was singing words that sounded like they were made for me, words that resonated so much and so well that the emotional connect was like no other. I loved Morrissey, and this was real love – his lyrics changed my life. How many people have that sort of impact on you?

From his interviews, I started to delve in to the works of authors he discussed. Oscar Wilde is an author that I maybe wouldn’t have taken to as much if not for Morrissey. As it turned out, Morrissey talking about Wilde got me interested in him and I was genuinely excited for the fact that I got to study Wilde at university. It was this love of Wilde that played part in me wanting my son to be called Oscar. But the love of Wilde may not have existed were it not for Morrissey.

My first moment of conflict with Morrissey came through an NME interview. The front page had the heading “Bigmouth Strikes Again. Oh Dear, Not Again…”, and featured a quote saying, “The gates of England are flooded. The country’s been thrown away.” The slant was that Morrissey was racist and opposed to immigrants. I read the interview and felt that, with context, it didn’t read like that (it just seemed that he was saying some immigration is good but it should be controlled) but, overall, the interview displayed beliefs that were no longer intertwined with mine. The idol, my idol, was drifting somewhere else and it was to a place I couldn’t go.

As it was, Morrissey ended up getting an apology from the NME for that article and that cover. I remember reading at the time and having people question me on him, declaring Morrissey as racist due to songs like “The National Front Disco” and “Bengali In Platforms” – but I never saw those songs as anything more than Morrissey, an expert writer, writing from the perspective of another person. When he sang “England for the English”, I saw it as writing as a character. Did I think Morrissey believed that? No.

The real tipping point for me came in 2011. News flooded in of an awful terrorist attack in Norway, with 76 people – mostly children – killed by far right extremist Anders Breivik. It was truly horrific. And then Morrissey compared it all to the slaughter of animals for McDonald’s and KFC. “That is nothing compared to what happens in McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Shit every day.” I was appalled.

I’d always respected Morrissey’s veganism, and understood his view of “Meat is Murder”. Or, at least, I thought I did. For if that view ultimately leads you to believe that the ‘murder’ of chickens is comparable to the murder of children…I just can’t understand that. I certainly can’t agree with it. Suddenly, for the first time, I found myself unable to defend him.

Despite this, I still had his music. Nothing could take that away from me. And when Morrissey’s autobiography came out it was essential that I had it. The autobiography was, I thought, brilliant. Some of it incredibly quotable. Not an easy read at times – the joys of no chapters – but it was enthralling. If nothing else, ‘Autobiography’ reignited the love. He’d messed up with his comments on the Norway attack. We all make mistakes, don’t we?

Time moves forward, Brexit becomes topic. I voted remain, and truly believe that remaining in the EU is better for the UK, but I accept that not everybody will feel that way. When it comes to politics I like to hear all opinions. I think there are points to be heard for every side and I think that, as a people, we should be prepared to listen to the opposition and be prepared to change our minds if the opposite argument is actually valid. However, I’m also a firm believer in research. And through research I discovered more than enough to understand that Nigel Farage is not the voice for me. It broke my heart somewhat when Morrissey declared that he liked Nigel Farage “a great deal” and then put his weight behind Brexit. It felt like a defeat. But this is politics, we can’t all be the same, and it’s his right to have his own views and beliefs…but then he defended Tommy Robinson, and you start to question where his beliefs come from.

Tommy Robinson, former leader of the EDL. A man known for targeting Muslims and other minorities. A criminal that incites racial tension. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. And then, in the same piece, Morrissey declared support for For Britain, a far right political group that are Islamophobic and made up of former EDL and BNP MEMBERS. And why? Because of animal rights, apparently. But, deeper than that, is the real possibility of something more. When I read Morrissey’s interview and the answer, “Halal slaughter requires certification that can only be given by supporters of ISIS, and yet in England we have halal meat served in hospitals and schools! UK law is pointless!” I was gobsmacked. It screamed ignorance. Whether you agree with the act of Halal meat is one thing – to say that those that follow Halal are all ISIS supporters (at a time when ISIS were incredibly present), was incredibly offensive and an insanely unfair comment. Morrissey is a smart man, and he will know what those sort of comments will do. It’s fine him now saying he “loves his Muslim friends”, but those comments feed on the people that, like me, had their views molded by him. For some, they’re blinded by it – his words are gospel – and this ignorance will, sadly, be ignored.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. He claimed, in the same interview, that Hitler was left wing and that the word ‘racist’ was meaningless. His argument being that “When someone calls you racist, what they are saying is ”hmm, you actually have a point, and I don’t know how to answer it, so perhaps if I distract you by calling you a bigot we’ll both forget how enlightened your comment was.“” It was evasive, and it’s a common escape route for people in far right groups that are challenged. It turns those calling out racism in to attackers, rather than victims, for example.

With Morrissey now openly wearing a ‘For Britain’ badge, the controversy starts again. But this now isn’t new, this is just old. It pains me beyond belief to say that Morrissey, an idol and a hero of mine, is so far detached from the man I loved for singing “it takes guts to be gentle and kind” that I just don’t feel the ‘love’ anymore, or maybe I do, just “slightly less than I used to”.

But, vitally, where the love of the man has declined and gone, the love of the music remains.

I was discussing Morrissey after the image of him wearing the ‘For Britain’ badge appeared online and the question was put to me – “How can you listen to his music and not think about him and the things he stands for?”

It’s a good question. He is standing for the complete opposite of my beliefs now, some of which genuinely upset me. I viewed him as a hero, but would struggle to now. So how do I look past it? For me, it’s about separating the art from the artist, and allowing the meaning that the art has for me be the leading factor.

One of my favourite films is ‘American Beauty’. I also love ‘Seven’. Kevin Spacey is, obviously, a main actor in both. His alleged acts of sexual abuse won’t stop me enjoying those films. It doesn’t mean that I support him. I just don’t view the characters as ‘Kevin Spacey’.

With Morrissey, it’s even easier. I don’t need to think about Morrissey when I listen to his music. For me, as the listener, I now own those songs. ‘Asleep’, ‘This Charming Man’, ‘Life Is A Pigsty’…those songs belong to me. How? Because of the meaning I have put to them. The emotional connection I have between myself and the songs is purely that – it’s between me and the music. I’ve created my own personal meaning behind them that doesn’t need to link to Morrissey. And that’s simply how I continue to love the music of the man, whilst continuing to no longer agree with him. I know that won’t be for everyone, but the songs mean too much for me to just let them go.

And, finally, if nothing else…you can always think of Johnny Marr.

Disappointment, Frustration and Hope – Doing An Albion

My first taste of an Albion Villa derby came 21 years ago, 1998, in the FA Cup. Managed by Denis Smith, it was a very different time to be an Albion fan compared to what it’s like now. After starting the 97/98 season quite brightly under Ray Harford, the season would eventually peter out after he left to join QPR and Smith could only manage to get to 10th in the league.

I remember when the FA Cup draw was made and we were drawn against Villa my Dad, far more than me, was massively excited. This was the rivalry of his childhood. For my generation we had grown up to despise Wolves, but for my Dad it was all about Villa. This was the first time we’d faced them in 8 years. You could tell that this meant something else.

The day came. I remember that I was kitted out in an Albion tracksuit (the kind of thing an 11 year old can get away with but now, as a 32 year old…not a chance), Dad had his Albion shirt on. Our team had the likes of Alan Miller in goal, Lee Hughes and Andy Hunt up front, Kevin Kilbane and Richard Sneekes in midfield…Shaun Murphy and Shane Nicholson in defence…and we were up against a strong Villa that had Dwight Yorke, Stan Collymore, Gareth Southgate and Ian Taylor in. My Dad and I knew it would be tough to get a result but you’ve always got hope and…

4-0. We were destroyed. Simon Grayson opened the scoring early, Yorke scored two in quick succession and then Collymore (obviously him…it had to be him…) finished it off. A day to forget. We hoped, maybe one day, we could get out revenge. At the time, the play offs were in our sights but it didn’t happen and we wouldn’t see Villa again for a few years.

At that time we used to go to the Midland Red Social Club in Quinton every Saturday (I don’t think it exists anymore). It was populated by Birmingham and Villa fans, few Albion in there and perhaps some silent Wolves. I went still in my Albion tracksuit. I remember my Dad saying to me during the night that he was proud that I was still wearing the colours even though we’d been thrashed to which I replied something along the lines of “well, they need the support more than ever now and I’m still proud to be an Albion fan”.

A full 21 years later and that stance has always remained, albeit tested on several occasions. The tracksuits don’t exist anymore for me, even the shirts have become more “laze around the house” attire, but the love for the club has always been able to fight through and remain, even at the times when I’ve really felt like giving it up.

Since 1998, times at the Albion have changed dramatically. In 98, the thought of sneaking in to the play offs and getting promoted was like a pipe dream. Unimaginable, almost. But we finally got there, and for some time we actually established ourselves as a decent, if unspectacular, Premier League team. A succession of years of bad management, from top to bottom, has seen the club drop back down in to the Championship and now facing the play offs, with Villa being our semi final opponents.

When I think back to how I felt as an 11 year old thinking about Albion, and compare it to now, the difference is huge. I fell out with the club, and refused to go to the Hawthorns at all, during the Tony Pulis years. For me football had always been about the enjoyment, more than anything else really, and I felt we sacrificed that in hiring Pulis just hoping that he’d be able to keep us just afloat in the Premier League. Even thinking to that 1998 team, when we were far from great, we had players that made it entertaining – Hughes, Sneekes, Kilbane, Hunt all had the ability to make you leave a game and feel like you’d witnessed something good. Under Pulis, we had better players, but played a style that nullified them (for an example, look at Rondon at Newcastle and compare to the Rondon that played for Pulis) and just made it so boring.

After Pulis and the shambles that was Alan Pardew, the club went back to one of their icons, Darren Moore. In the space of a year, my connection with the club had grown back. Moore made the club feel like it’s old self again, brought that connection with the fans back and made me care again. Ultimately it never worked out for Moore and he was dismissed. It was a sacking that pained me more than any other, even though I felt it was the right call. I wanted Moore to succeed. I wanted him to be the one to take us up and move the club forward. I wanted him to help turn me back in to that 11 year old kid, excited about the Albion even when we lost. I had missed that feeling…Moore got it back.

Then the frustration. More mismanagement. The sacking of Moore did make sense results wise, but the sacking of Moore with no succession plan was, and is, beyond naive. It’s foolish, and it puts the club in limbo. It also alters the way in which the club can be perceived – compared to the other three teams in the play offs this year, we stand out as a team that doesn’t seem to have a plan. If we go up, James Shan will have an undeniably brilliant record of results as caretaker – is it really that unlikely that the club could decide to do the same with Shan as they did with Moore and promote him? Likewise, if we fail, is it really that unlikely that the club could decide to stick with Shan because it’d be a far cheaper alternative than looking elsewhere and “he knows the club”? This isn’t meant as a dig at Shan, but it is laughable, really, that a club potentially 3 games away from promotion doesn’t know who their manager is for after those 3 games. It’s even worse when you’re already thinking the club will probably get it wrong when they make a final decision, too.

And this is the biggest frustration with Albion. We had a chance to really reset this year, but have failed to do so. Although it’s been more exciting this season, performance has been poor most of the time and we’ve been reliant on a great strike force. It pains me to think that several of the issues we face as a club come from planning…and you can look over the years, back to Steve Clarke’s last Summer in charge, perhaps even further, and see that it is planning that hurts us most. This season we’ve struggled defensively…but in Craig Dawson (a player I’ve generally always liked) we have a defender that doesn’t want to be at the club and promotion, essentially, hinders his chances of a move away – we should have sold him last Summer – and then you look at, say, the decision to loan out Allan Nyom but have no plan to replace with another right back. Poor decisions. In hindsight, the last Premier League season, paying the ridiculous wages for Krychowiak and Sturbridge, Chadli and so on, have bitten us. If we don’t go up this year the potential for implosion next year is massive because we will absolutely have to sell to make amends, but we won’t get the money we may have got the year prior for the likes of Dawson and Rodriguez, for example.

But then comes the thing with football, and the Albion. Despite the poor planning, despite the frustration, despite the poor defending and performances, we finished fourth and are now two games away from Wembley, three games away from the Premier League. My heart says we can do it. My head says we need to do it but I don’t think we’re consistent enough. But this is football, and the heart will always override.

In a week that saw the impossible completed by Liverpool and Tottenham, it gives all fans hope. The unlikeliest of results are always possible. We go to Villa Park on Saturday as the unfancied team, in my opinion. Villa have ended the season in brilliant form. They have some of the best players in the league. They are a good team. But so are we. There has to be belief.

For all the frustration, the anger…the Albion are my club, and I have to believe things will go well. Although I have supported Albion long enough to know that, if we can, we will find a way to mess it up. We call it “doing an Albion” in our house.

21 years ago, my Dad was excited because we had Villa in the cup. Now, we have them in the play offs. I’m excited, I’m nervous and I’m absolutely dreading it. We’ve made up for that 4-0 drubbing in 1998 on a fair few occasions in recent years but none would make up for it more than beating them over two legs now. A few good results will make me forget all the frustrations…even if only for a few weeks…and it will mean everything.

The nail biting has already started. The anxiousness has kicked in. But deep down I can’t wait.

Now, I just wait and I hope. Hope that we do it. And, most of all, hope that we don’t “do an Albion”.