Friday, 21 December 2018

THE SARTORIAL ELEGANCE OF SERIE A: A.S. ROMA, 1986-91





It used to be compulsory for cyclists riding the Tour de France to wear black shorts and white socks. As far as I can tell there was no practical reason for this, but the surfeit of colour that plagues the modern peloton suggests that it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the regulation was reinstated. Where clothing is concerned, chromatic colour – as distinct from achromatic colour, which has no hue – is something to be used sparingly; humans beings are various enough without throwing a riot of iridescence into the mix.
There are exceptions, although not many. The all-red garb Bill Shankly conjured up for Liverpool is one of them. When they favour it, Roma’s strip is another.

A.S. Roma’s history may not be as illustrious as those of Juventus, Milan or Inter, but they’ve not done badly. Some statistics: Roma, alongside Juventus, have competed for every Scudetto bar one (only Inter have a better record, having played every season in Serie A since its inception in 1909). They have triumphed thrice and finished as runners up on 14 occasions. Nine Coppa Italia victories have been recorded, second only to Juventus with 13. I Giallorossi – ‘the yellow and reds’ – have also played their fair share of European football, although they failed to win either of the two finals they contested.
All things considered, being a Roma supporter has been worth the bother, and especially so during the 1980s. They kicked off the decade with two consecutive Coppa Italia victories – both won on penalties against the same opposition, Torino. Concurrently, Roma’s league form gradually improved. They ended the season in sixth place in 1979/80, came second in ‘80/81, third in ‘81/82, before finally securing their second ever Serie A title in ‘82/83, wearing gear manufactured by Belgian sportswear company Patrick.
Despite failing to defend their scudetto, Roma made a good go of it in 1983/84: they came second in the league, bagged their fifth Coppa Italia, and were runners up against Liverpool in the 1984 European Cup final (Liverpool decked out in red, A.S. Roma in white). By now Roma’s shirts were supplied by Kappa, an association that would last three years, culminating in yet another Coppa Italia triumph in 1986, beating Sampdoria over two legs. Thereafter, Roma formed an alliance with Ennerre that would run until 1991, whereupon they switched to Adidas.
Mutatis mutandis, the Ennerre kit was neither very different to the Kappa strip that preceded it nor the Adidas version that came after: coloured Tyrian purple, which inclines towards red, with shorts and socks to match. The most significant disparity between the Kappa shirt and the Ennerre iteration was the tone of the trim – orange in the first instance, a golden yellow in the next. The difference between the Ennerre and Adidas shirt was even slighter, the only discernible change being the addition of Adidas’s iconic stripes upon the shoulder. All three shirts even brandished the same sponsor – pasta producer Barilla.

Ennerre hooked up with Roma during what was supposed to be Sven-Göran Eriksson’s third season in charge – 1986/87. The corresponding jersey – more than likely made from Ennerre’s infamous cotton/wool blend ‘lanetta’ – bore the coccarda but failed to inspire anything higher than a seventh place finish in the league and a second-round exit in the Coppa Italia (courtesy of Bologna). Eriksson was shown the door in May, Angelo Sormani took temporary charge before Nils Liedholm – the man who had guided A.S. Roma to their title win in 1983 – re-joined the club, no doubt intent on resurrecting past glories.
Notwithstanding the loss of Carlo Ancelotti to AC Milan – from where Leidholm had just came – Roma looked a decent proposition ahead of ‘87/88. Club legends Giuseppe Giannini and Bruno Conti were still present and correct, Polish midfielder Zbigniew Boniek had another season left in him, and the new coach was able to lure promising defender Gianluca Signorini from Parma (who would leave after one season for Genoa) and the highly coveted German striker Rudi Völler from Werder Bremen. And so it proved to be. Völler took time to settle but Giannini rose to the occasion scoring 11 times from his position in midfield, helping Roma to secure third place behind Napoli and AC Milan, thus qualifying for the UEFA Cup.
1988/89’s campaign failed to meet the expectations the previous one conferred upon it. Roma were knocked out in the third round of the UEFA Cup by East German minnows Dynamo Dresden, only made it as far as the second round of the Coppa Italia, and finished a disappointing seventh in Serie A. Nils Liedholm was sent packing, as were the under-performing Brazilian pairing of Andrade and Renato. On a brighter note, Rudi Völler appeared to be finding his feet, having scored 15 goals in all competitions.




Perhaps conscious that A.S. Roma’s form had begun to stagnate, Ennerre switched the configuration of the club’s crestthe classic ‘wolf’s head’ emblem the club introduced in 1977, abandoned in 1997 – with their company logo; the badge was transposed to the right, Ennerre’s logo to the left. It seemed to have the desired effect. Roma finished the season in sixth place and made it to the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia, losing narrowly to eventual winners Juventus. The slight improvement in the club’s fortunes may more realistically be attributed to the appointment of Luigi Radice as coach.
At any rate, club president Dino Viola had already decided he wanted Ottavio Bianchi to assume coaching responsibilities, and would have employed him a year earlier if Bianchi’s contract with Napoli had allowed for it. (Radice had not been made aware of this and it left a sour taste in his mouth when it became clear that he’d merely been hired as temporary cover whilst Roma waited for Bianchi to become available.) Ottavio Bianchi, when he finally arrived in the summer of 1990, enlisted the services of his ex-Napoli employee Andrea Carnevale, who was very quickly caught out on a doping violation, along with goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi, and banned from competing for the next 12 months. Brazilian defender Aldair signed from Benfica, shoring up a defence that already included the German centre-back Thomas Berthold.
Meanwhile, Ennerre had finally decided to ditch the lanetta and embrace polyester. In every other respect the shirt was pretty much the same, save for two strands of yellow piping running diagonally from the neck down to under the arm. Further, as at Napoli, the manufacturer appeared to supply two versions of the same shirt: one in unembellished polyester and the other micro-patterned to create a motif out of Ennerre’s magnificent logo.
Roma’s league form was subsequently erratic and they could only manage ninth place. However, in the UEFA Cup they ran riot and lost only narrowly over a two-legged final to Italian rivals Inter (Rudi Völler was the competition’s leading scorer with 10 goals). Then, less than a month later, Roma sealed an empathetic 4-2 aggregate victory over Serie A winners Sampdoria in the Coppa Italia.


Rudi Voller, 1990/91

The Curva Sud faithful would have to wait another ten years before their team lifted another trophy – A.S. Roma’s third scudetto – by which time they’d reverted to wearing white shorts and black socks. Actually, Roma’s kit has fared better over the years than many of their rivals’, but there’s something untypically attractive about the all-red, collared iteration they wore throughout the 1980s.


[This article also features in The Gentleman Ultra.]

Friday, 19 October 2018

THE SARTORIAL ELEGANCE OF SERIE A: A.C. MILAN, 1987-92





What makes for a good football strip? A number of things, but distilled to its essence there are four primary concerns: colour, array, trim, fit. Colour can be problematic as it can't really be tinkered with (unless your team’s majority shareholder has other ideas). The array – or pattern, if you prefer – tends to be more mutable, although radical alterations may invoke the ire of any football club’s loyal fanbase. Embellishments, such as those to the collar and neckline, will vary from season to season, normally without so much as a raised eyebrow. Finally, the way a kit is cut will only ever come under close scrutiny if it’s noticeably out of keeping with prevailing trends – for example, the shirt Kappa presented to the Italian national team for the 2000 UEFA European Championship, which had the players so spooked they insisted on sizing up.
But wait, there’s something else to consider, something that football purists would rather wasn’t there, but is so we must: the football team’s sponsor writ large across the chest. It might seem odd that something as ostensibly functional as text should amount to anything more than a mere distraction, until one remembers that such monograms were in the first instance designed to hold the eye. This is one of the reasons why the football shirts A.C. Milan wore from 1987 through to 1992 are superior to those that came immediately before and after.

The A.C. Milan of the early 1980s was in bad shape. Saddled with debt, they’d not won a major trophy since their Serie A triumph of 1978/79 and had been relegated to Serie B twice (once as punishment for their involvement in the Totonero match-fixing scandal of 1980) which for a club of Milan’s standing represented failure (not to say ignominy). That being said, the thinly striped jerseys they played in during this period looked pretty good, especially the Oscar Mondadori sponsored edition that the English paring of Ray Wilkins and Mark Hateley had the pleasure of wearing in 1984/85. Whether this woollen sark was particularly comfortable is another matter.
Then in 1986, the media tycoon, politician, and former crooner, Silvio Berlusconi decided to buy the club, paid off its debts and set about the business of reviving its fortunes. Within a year he’d offloaded Wilkins and Hateley and added the Dutch internationals Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten to a squad that already contained the likes of Franco Baresi, Roberto Donadoni, Pietro Virdis, Mauro Tassotti and a youthful Paulo Maldini. Only then did Silvio Berlusconi consider who he wanted as coach, sacking the incumbent Nils Liedholm in April and appointing Primavera manager Fabio Capello as caretaker while he made up his mind. More than likely, Berlusconi had Arrigo Sacchi’s card marked from the moment his team dumped Milan out of the Coppa Italia in the second round. By the summer, the former Parma manager was in charge and proceeded to bring in Carlo Ancelotti from Roma and Angelo Colombo from Udinese.
A.C. Milan won the league in 1987/88 by a three point margin over reigning champions Napoli. They did this wearing a jersey provided by Kappa that was quite different to the one the firm was supplying to Juventus over in Turin. Made from polyester, rather than cotton, the Milan version had a shorter collar and a shallower neckline. Moreover, whereas the sponsor’s name on Juve’s kit was flocked, on Milan’s it was printed by way of a process known as dye-sublimation. (It should be noted that Italian sportswear manufacturers were behind the curve in this respect, and I wonder whether Berlusconi might have recognised this and persuaded Kappa to utilise more up-to-date methods.) Then there was the sponsor itself – financial servicing firm Mediolanum – with its name written in a sans-serif, uppercase font, and the company logo hovering above, all in white. This simple text, resting neatly beneath the Kappa logo sewn to the right and a gold star (denoting 10 titles won) on the left, is almost as recognisable as the colourway of the strip itself; one cannot conceive of the shirt without it.
In 1988 the Italian football authorities allowed for an extra foreign player, and Frank Rijkaard was invited to join his fellow Dutchmen in Milan. All three of them had been instrumental The Netherlands victory in the 1988 UEFA European Championship in Germany that summer. With the scudetto now adorning their chests, they must have felt like a million dollars.
The 1988/89 season didn’t go entirely to plan. City rivals Inter won the title, and comfortably so, while A.C. finished third behind Napoli. But Serie A was no longer Berlusconi’s priority, the European Cup was, and in that regard the season was a huge success. Despite wobbling against Red Star Belgrade in the second round, the rossoneri went on to beat Steaua București 4-0 in the final. Perhaps even more revealing was the 5-0 demolition job they did on Real Madrid in the second leg of the semi-final.
Ostensibly, Milan’s strip remained the same for the following year’s campaign, but there were a few subtle changes. As with Juventus, Kappa still didn’t feel the need to append anything like a club crest (although they afforded Sampdoria the privilege), but they did see fit to attach an embroidered, celebratory image of the European Cup in place of the previous season’s scudetto. Then there was the material itself, which now incorporated a micropatterned matrix made up of hollow, inverted squares. (Juventus’s shirt received the same treatment, but not Sampdoria’s.) AC Milan finished 1989/90 second in the league, again behind Napoli, and retained the European Cup, beating Benfica 1-0 in Vienna.

In 1990 Milan ended their association with Kappa and signed a contract with Adidas. Under normal circumstances I’d finish this article here but the shirt Adidas came up with was so similar to Kappa’s that I feel compelled to go on. Adidas didn’t have much of a presence in Italy at the time so maybe they didn’t feeling like making too much of statement. They didn’t even bother adding their name beneath their – admittedly, instantly identifiable – trefoil logo. The micropatterning was removed and the neckline trimmed, but in every other respect the jersey was very much the same: same colour, same collar, same width of stripe, same patron, same embroidered European Cup motif.
The move to Adidas did not immediately pay dividends. A.C. Milan were Serie A runners-up for a consecutive season – this time trailing Sampdoria – and were knocked out of the European Cup by Marseille in the quarter-finals. (Arrigo Sacchi subsequently accepted an offer to manage the Italian national team, and Fabio Capello was appointed in his place.) This meant that for 1991/92 Milan’s shirt would for the first time in three years be reduced to displaying a solitary star.
Or it would have had they not decided to fill the void with a depiction of the Intercontinental Cup that they’d won the year prior, positioned beside the star rather than under. When Red Star Belgrade beat Chilean side Colo-Colo in December to claim the same trophy, A.C. were obliged to get rid of it. Instead, they saw out the season with club crest attached to the jersey. By May, the rossoneri had been crowned champions again, unbeaten and eight points clear of second placed Juventus.


Marco Van Basten, 1990/91

Italian confectioner Motta succeeded Mediolanum as club sponsor, and the year after Italian sportswear manufacturer Lotto wrestled control from a reticent Adidas. ‘Motta’ lacked the graphic subtlety of ‘Mediolanum’, whereas Lotto relied too heavily on dye-sublimation, refusing to sew key details into the fabric the way their predecessors did – be it the Kappa or Adidas logos, the scudetto, the European Cup that solitary star – which made their shirts look cheap.
But five years in pretty much the same shirt was good going, even back then. If you had to narrow it down then the Kappa version probably edges it over Adidas’s effort – the 1988/89 iteration in particular, with the scudetto contrasting nicely against the red and black stripes of A.C. Milan. In any case, Arrigo Sacchi’s team more than lived up to the standard this iconic top conferred upon them.


[This article also features in The Gentleman Ultra.]

Friday, 14 September 2018

THE SARTORIAL ELEGANCE OF SERIE A: NAPOLI, 1986-90





Precocious footballing talent from poor suburb of Buenos Aires makes professional debut, just 19 days shy of 16th birthday, for Argentinos Juniors, who play in red. Displaying admirable loyalty for one so young, Diego Armando Maradona remains with the club for the next four years, after which he is sold to Boca Juniors. Boca Juniors’ strip is legendary: all blue save for a horizontal yellow band wrapped around the middle, and during Maradona’s tenure, three yellow stripes upon each shoulder indicating Adidas as the supplier.
Maradona wins the Primera División with Boca Juniors but is then sold to Barcelona. The Meyba branded kit he now wears is another classic, but will not prove as auspicious: the Argentine’s spell in Spain is marred by illness, injury, mass brawls and a nascent cocaine habit. Within two years he is transferred to Napoli, where the locals receive him with an enthusiasm bordering on mania.
On the face of it, Maradona’s latest uniform is a disappointment. Nothing wrong with the sky blue shirts and white shorts of Napoli, but the 1984/85 effort is manufactured by Linea Time, who also make cycling jerseys, which shows. It makes no odds; despite Maradona’s 14 goals, Napoli finish in eighth place.
Maradona’s second season with I Ciucciarelli is more successful. Napoli place third and so qualify for the UEFA Cup. They do this wearing kit manufactured by sportswear manufacturer Ennerre in a shirt sponsored by Buitoni, an Italian food producer specialising in pasta. Brand insignia is displayed on left breast, club crest on right, the collars and sleeves bear white trim. The strip is an improvement on the one worn the previous term, but there’s something not quite right about it. It’s more than likely that trim.

1986/87: Ennerre decide to ditch the trim. Napoli sign Andrea Carnevale and Fernando de Napoli, and Ciro Ferrara has by now established himself as a centre back to be reckoned with. Twelve games pass without defeat, including a 3-1 away win against reigning champions Juventus. Napoli go on to claim their first ever Serie A championship. They follow this up with a comprehensive victory over Atalanta in the Coppa Italia – 4-0 over two legs. The strip in which they achieve this double-winning feat borders on the sublime. Cut from a fabric Ennerre call ‘lanetta’, it’s actually a pig to play in, but the hue of blue it begets is visually pleasing. Then there’s the classic collar, the simplistic club crest wilfully adorning the right breast, Ennerre’s ‘nr’ emblem on the left, and the sponsor’s name in white. Shorts are white, socks sky blue.




1987/88: As testament to their recent achievements, Napoli are obliged to sport both the scudetto and the coccarda: a shield and a roundel respectively, incorporating the colours of the Italian flag. The club’s badge is shifted to the right shoulder, which is fine, and the coccarda takes its place. Above this, Ennerre reposition their logo; where the logo once was, now the scudetto. It’s all too much and the red and green detracts from the purity of the blue. Despite the arrival of the Brazilian forward Careca, and the ten goals he contributes, Napoli finish their campaign as runners up to AC Milan. (Maradona is the club’s top scorer with 15 goals.)

1988/89, and a change in sponsorship. The confectioners Mars will now pay to have their name printed across Maradona’s chest, for it is surely Maradona they wish primarily to be associated with. It’s worth noting that ‘Mars’ is inscribed in white. It also appears that Ennerre are toying with new materials. In certain games Napoli will be seen adorning silky, polyester based shirts, and in others heavier lanetta iterations. One assumes that the weather determines which version is worn.
Luca Fusi is signed from Sampdoria and the Brazilian midfielder Alemão from Atletico Madrid. Careca is on fire and ends the season with 19 goals, but it is Inter who finish as champions, amassing a record breaking 58 point along the way. Napoli come second again but secure their first ever European trophy with a 5-4 aggregate win over Stuttgart in the UEFA Cup.

1989/90: No significant change to the strip, except the word ‘Mars’ is now black. Napoli win their second scudetto, thanks in no small part to Maradona’s 16 goals. They win more games, score my goals, amass more points than during their previous title-winning season, although their title-winning margin is actually less: two points, ahead of AC Milan, compared to three, ahead of Juventus.




1990/91: Maradona’s final season at Naples is also Ennerre’s. Next year Umbro will supply the shirts, while Diego will be serving a 15 month ban for testing positive for cocaine. In the meantime a few subtle changes. The scudetto once again adorns the jersey, but this time it need not vie for attention alongside the coccarda. Further, it now occupies the more traditional left side of the chest with Ennerre’s insignia relocated to the right. Ennerre have also decided to employ micro-patterning techniques, creating a motif out of their own logo. The effect is that the blue looks paler, slightly softer, than it did before. Napoli finish in eighth place, the same position achieved six years earlier.

Excepting the addition of the scudetto and the coccarda, Maradona wore five distinct jerseys during the seven years he spent in Naples. The best of the lot was probably the strip he wore in 1986/87, but there’s not much in it. You might equally fancy the shirt worn from 1988 through to 1990, which featured Mars as its sponsor rather than Buitoni – it might simply come down to whether you like your fonts with or without serifs. Or maybe you prefer the contrast in colour the scudetto and the coccarda bring, even if the overall effect is a bit busy. Whichever version you favour, they’re all representative of a specific moment in time: Maradona in his pomp, and the fairy tale he bestowed upon the city of Naples and its people.


[This article also features in The Gentleman Ultra.]

Friday, 10 August 2018

THE SARTORIAL ELEGANCE OF SERIE A: FIORENTINA, 1988-91





In 1980, construction magnate Flavio Pontello assumed control of Fiorentina and appointed his son, Ranieri, as president. Within a year, they’d changed the club’s badge and struck a deal with the clothing company JD Farrow’s to sponsor the kit, which was not the done thing back then. The new circular emblem comprised of half a fleur-de-lis (a stylised lily, or giglio) appended to the letter F, taking on the appearance of a halberd, and was displayed in the middle of a red-trimmed shirt, occupying a fair proportion of it, with the club’s sponsor transcribed above.
Fiorentina’s new look was not popular, but when Pontello & Son started investing in actual players, opinions softened. In 1981/82, the club finished in second place, and would probably have won the championship had a goal not been controversially disallowed against Caligari in the last game of the season. Thereafter, Fiorentina’s form was inconsistent: in 1983 they placed fifth, in ‘84 third, and in ‘85 ninth. Meanwhile, Ennerre had taken over as kit supplier and set about reducing the size of the club’s inflated crest, whilst also accommodating car manufacturer Opel as the team sponsor.
1985/86’s strip could itself be considered iconic. The red trim was discarded and the badge moved to the more usual position over the left breast. This made room for Ennerre’s wonderfully minimal (green) insignia on the right, while the sponsor was set against a white band that wrapped around the trunk of the shirt. (Unfortunately, Sócrates didn’t hang around long enough to play in this strip, although there are images of him wearing it, presumably on the training field before returning to Brazil.) Fiorentina managed a respectable fourth place that term, although it’s probably worth pointing out that they drew 13 of their 30 matches, which wouldn’t now place them quite so high (at the time, two points were awarded for a win, inflating the value of a drawn game). Moreover, their top scorer was the defender Daniel Passarella, prompting Inter to divest Fiorentina of the player’s services.
For what would be club captain Giancarlo Antognoni’s final year at the club, Ennerre handed over shirt making responsibilities to the their subsidiary brand, N2. As good as Ennerre/N2 shirts looked, the conglomerate was slow to embrace contemporary textiles, preferring a cotton/wool blend called lanetta, which wasn’t suited to either hot or humid conditions. Fiorentina finished a disappointing tenth in 1986/87, although new signing Ramon Diaz had impressed with 10 goals, Nicola Berti was looking like good value after his transfer from Parma in 1985, and it appeared that Roberto Baggio had finally recovered from the injury that had hampered him for the best part of a year.


Socrates in training

The situation for 1988/89 looked precarious. Antognoni had moved to Swiss club FC Lausanne-Sport to see out his career, while Berti and Diaz both signed for Trapattoni‘s Inter. Incoming players included defensive-midfielder Dunga, signed from Pisa, and striker Stefano Borgonovo, taken on loan from AC Milan.
At the same time, sportwear firm ABM succeeded Ennerre. Entirely purple, the new shirt was micro-patterned, creating subtle shifts in the fabric’s texture to make a pattern out of the manufacturer’s logo. The club had a different sponsor too – non-alcoholic aperitif Crodino. There was, however, a problem. The purple shirt was to be worn with purple shorts. Moreover, these shorts, as is often the case, were made from a contrasting material. The effect was that Fiorentina weren’t actually playing in the same colour, but in two shades of the same colour, and two shades of a colour as vivid as purple. Mercifully, socks remained white.
Fiorentina did all right, finishing Serie A in eighth place and reaching the quarter finals of the Coppa Italia. Rather fortuitously, AC Milan went on to win the European Cup and Sampdoria the Coppa Italia, effectively freeing up an extra place in the UEFA Cup, which went to Fiorentina after they defeated Roma in a play-off. Even more auspicious was the fact that Baggio and Borgonovo had formed a very effective partnership – as well as a close friendship –  scoring 15 and 14 goals respectively. Or it would have been if AC Milan didn’t then recall their man to provide cover for Marco Van Basten.

For 1989/90, Fiorentina were furnished with white shorts and purple socks. It is this iteration of the ABM strip that is by far the best. Local rag La Nazione took over as sponsor, their uppercase, serif-font emblazoned in yellow (yellow being the complimentary colour of purple). This being the end the 1980s, the shirt was nether tight nor overly baggy, and could flatter a variety of physiques. Finally, the red parallelograms that constituted ABM’s logo complemented the simplicity of the giglio, as well as making its presence felt against the whiteness of the shorts.
Fiorentina replaced Borgonovo with Argentine striker Oscar Dertycia, as well as bringing in Czech midfielder Luboš Kubík, winger Renato Buso, and defender Giuseppe Volpecina, among others. The results were mixed. On the one hand, Fiorentina only just avoided relegation after beating Atalanta in their final game. On the other, they reached the UEFA Cup final, controversially losing to Juventus 3-1 over two legs; Fiorentina were forced to play their home leg in Avellino, despite having played the rest of their European campaign in Perugia, which was far closer to home (Stadio Artemio Franchi was undergoing refurbishment prior to the 1990 World Cup and judged unfit for European competition). Nonetheless, the images of Roberto Baggio and the rest of the team, resplendent in purple and white, are some of Fiorentina’s finest.


Fiorentina line up prior to the UEFA Cup Final against Juventus

ABM hung around for another year but reverted to issuing purple shorts, as well as adding white trim to the neck-line. In 1991, Lotto took over, and all was lost. Not only did the white shorts go for good, but so did Pontello’s giglio. In an era where clubs re-design their insignias with mild regularity, one can only hope it might one day make a return.


[This article also features in The Gentleman Ultra.]

Friday, 3 August 2018

LINER NOTES: TIED UP IN NOTTZ [2016/17]






1.    Nissim – The Gaslamp Killer (with Amir Yaghmai)
2.    The Zoo – FEWS
3.    Deceptacon – Le Tigre
4.    Low – Traams
5.    Sunday’s Coming – Eddy Current Suppression Ring
6.    Lake Superior – The Arcs
7.    Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings – Father John Misty
8.    Sketch for Summer – The Durutti Column
9.    Hard Hold – Jaala
10.  Tarantula Deadly Cargo – Sleaford Mods
11.  Excitissimo – William Sheller
12.  Soul Vibrations – Dorothy Ashby
13.  Balek – Placebo
14.  More Mess on My Thing – Poets of Rhythm
15.  All My Tears – The Frightnrs
16.  Nightbird – The Brian Jonestown Massacre
17.  The Wheel – PJ Harvey
18.  All I Wanna Do – Splashh
19.  Tied Up in Nottz – Sleaford Mods
20.  Gosh – Jamie XX
21.  Get Innocuous – LCD Soundsystem
22.  Star Roving – Slowdive
23.  Come Over – Chain & the Gang
24.  In the Mausoleum – Beirut


The Gaslamp Killer is the stage name of a hip hop producer and DJ from California. Nissim is a reworking of an instrumental track called Yekte by Turkish guitarist Zafer Dilek, which itself seems to have been influenced by a track entitled Gurbet by singer/songwriter Özdemir Erdoğan. To capture the flavour of the source material, The Gaslamp Killer worked with a guitarist named Amir Yaghmai, who in turn brought in a number of Middle-Eastern musicians he knew to really nail it. The tune takes a while to get going, suggesting that it might have worked better further down the playlist, but Spotify introduced me to it very early in 2016.
FEWS are a Swedish band that play post-punk, although The Zoo also echoes the sound of shoegaze. It was issued as a single first, in 2015, and then surfaced on the album Means a year later. The Zoo is reminiscent of British band TOY, but with a greater sense of urgency. Unfortunately for both acts, I get the feeling that the post-punk/garage rock revival has just about run its course. Or perhaps we’ve reached a state of ‘perpetual revival’ where nothing ever really goes out of fashion but is recycled again and again by way of the internet.
To add to that thought, you wouldn’t believe that Le Tigre recorded Deceptacon as long ago as 1999. There are a few clues – the use of an Alesis HR-16b drum machine, a spot of sampling – but it wouldn’t feel out of step played next to anything around today. The same could be said of Low by UK band Traams, released in 2013, and Sunday’s Coming by Australian group the Eddy Current Suppression Ring, released in 2008. What does this all say about the evolution of music? Is Devo’s theory of devolution being played out before our very ears?
There are subtle differences. As I said, I detect the hint of shoegaze in FEWS; Le Tigre are quite lo-fi; Traams are sort of punk revival mixed with indie rock, as are the Eddy Current Suppression Ring. All emanated from Discover Weekly on Spotify, bar the Eddy Current Suppression Ring which the Australian at work accurately identified as something I might appreciate. What these songs all have in common is that they’re quite noisy, loud and faintly aggressive. Such sonic qualities can be sustained for only so long.
The Arcs are the side-project of Dan Auerbach of blues-rock band The Black Keys. I don’t mind the Black Keys but I prefer the lo-fi dreampop of The Arcs. Or rather, I prefer the lo-fi dreampop of 2016’s Lake Superior, because the record put out the previous year by The Arcs does sound quite a lot like The Black Keys. Perhaps this is the type of thing that’s now in fashion? Whatever, Father John Misty (real name: Josh Tillman) inhabits the folkier end of the spectrum, which isn’t surprising given his involvement with Fleet Foxes. Yet Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings is no folksy ditty: it stomps along, demanding your attention. Only the vocals recall Tillman’s work with his previous band, for whom he played drums.

The Durutti Column derived their name from the Durruti Column, a phalanx of anarchists who fought against Franco’s Falangists in the Spanish Civil War. The name ‘Durruti’ acknowledged one of the column’s most admired commanders, Buenaventura Durruti, who led a pre-emptive attack on General Goded’s barracks in Atarazanas/Drassanes, ensuring that Barcelona remained under Republican control. Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus intended the group as a sort of art statement and set about gathering musicians to implement their vision. By the time Wilson and Erasmus had established Factory Records and arranged for The Durutti Column to cut an album, only guitarist Vincent Reilly remained. Vini Reilly is one of those talented types who struggle within the music industry (see Syd Barrett, Dan Treacy of the Television Personalities, Lawrence from Felt) and the delicacy of his work reflects that. I’d given his music a go before but didn’t get very far with it. Discover Weekly offered up Sketch for Summer, which is an oddly beautiful instrumental backed by the sound of tweeting birds.
Jaala: another Australian band, again from Melbourne, but this time The Australian had nothing to do with it. Singer Cosima Jaala’s delivery is reminiscent of Lene Lovich – she of Lucky Number fame, which I included on 2007/08’s Harmony in my Head. Hard Hold jumps about in a way that can be divisive. Personally, I like their playful time signatures, but my lady friend can’t stand it.
I used to share a similar antipathy towards to the Sleaford Mods. A chap who I worked with during my days as a transcript writer inadvertently brought ‘the Mods’ to my attention after he posted a video on his blog of them performing Fizzy outside of Rough Trade West. It’s not entirely comfortable viewing. To start off with, one of the crowd – perhaps mistaking the occasion for an open-mic event – attempts to get in on the act, and for a moment it looks like it’s about to turn nasty. Then there’s the way the group presents itself. Andy Fearn, bedecked in a baseball cap, nods along nonchalantly. Meanwhile, Jason Williamson’s twitches angrily, constantly rubbing the back of his head and flicking the end of his nose like he might be on amphetamine. I think I watched it about three times on the bounce. This was in October 2015. At first I tried to suppress the memory but soon found myself watching videos for Tied Up in Nottz, Tarantula Deadly Cargo, Jolly F*cker. I met up with one of the guys who hadn’t turned up for last year’s Dickensian Pub Crawl, and when I asked if he’d heard of Sleaford Mods I saw the same glint in his eye that there must have been in mine. Before long, I was sharing my experience with my bouldering buddies. Even my managing director was intrigued (although The Australian and the South African sales manager weren’t – I’m not sure it’s the sort of music that travels well). Come November, I’d bought tickets to see them play live at The Roundhouse in Camden.
I try to avoid doubling up on artists but I’ve made an exception for the Sleaford Mods. Tarantula Deadly Cargo is taken from the album Key Markets, which was released in 2015. Like most of their music, it’s fairly minimal: a deep, plodding bass-line layered over a brisk, repetitive beat. Their other contribution comes later.




An opportunity had been missed to visit Florence whilst we were out in Tuscany for a wedding in 2005. Instead, we’d been persuaded that Siena better catered for day-trips: it was smaller, slightly nearer, and parking more convenient. Florence is certainly the more prodigious town, and an afternoon would have never done it justice. Not that it did Siena justice either, but I was glad now to be going to Florence rather than Siena.
Walking through Piazza Pitti, we turned down a narrow street – Sdrucciolo de’ Pitti – and came across the sort of shop my lady friend likes to browse around. Not much to interest my eye, but they had a working record player, playing a compilation entitled Wizzz! French Psychorama 1966​-​1970, Volume 1. I made a note of details in the back of my guide book and spent the next few months looking for a copy. Couldn’t find one anywhere, so ended up ordering it directly from the record label, Born Bad Records, in France. The track that had been playing in that small shop in Italy had been an instrumental, which means it could only have been Exitissimo by William Sheller.
Wizzz! French Psychorama 1966-1970, Volume 1 isn’t listed on Spotify, so I settled for playing the Blue Break Beats series at work, which had previously given rise to the inclusion of Ain’t it Funky Now by Grant Green on my 2000 compilation The Ladies of Varades. The algorithm switched into gear and before long Discover Weekly was offering up tunes as delectable as Soul Vibrations by Dorothy Ashby, a jazz harpist who recorded for the Chess Records subsidiary Cadet. Ashby had struggled to find acceptance within the jazz community; the harp was a ‘classical’ instrument, and a novelty one at that. Fortunately, in-house arranger Richard Evans, who had been given carte blanche to work with pretty much whomever he desired, saw potential and signed Ashby up. Afro-Harping was the result, released in 1968, garnering positive reviews, and where you’ll find the tune Soul Vibrations. (Ashby went on to add the koto to her repertoire, specifically on 1970’s The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby.)
Balek is not an obscure B-side by alternative-rock act Placebo but an obscure album track by a Belgian jazz combo of the same name. A guy called Marc Moulin was the prime mover, and his version of Placebo recorded three albums: Ball of Eyes in 1971, 1973 in 1973, and Placebo in 1974. Balek is the fourth track on 1973 and it also makes a showing on It’s a Rocky Road: Volume 2, a ‘mix’ compiled by that man The Gaslamp Killer, which might explain how it ended up here. We’re talking jazz-funk. I might have let it go if it weren’t for the fact that the second blast of the trumpet is truncated and set slightly ahead of the beat.
The Australian used to put on The Poets of Rhythm, often when he couldn’t be bothered to look for anything else. They play funk, but as the guy who used to own a pager was quick to point out there’s something not quite right about it. This is because they are German. Or rather, it’s because they’re not black Americans recording in the 1970s but white Europeans performing in the 1990s. This was not something I was entirely sure of, but the guy who used to own a pager, who is a musician, immediately was. More Mess on My Thing is typical of their album Practice What You Preach, and if you like this sort of thing then don’t let my friend’s musical snobbery put you off.
The Frightnrs [sic] had me completely fooled. When Spotify generated them, I assumed I was hearing original rocksteady music from the late 1960s, when in fact it had been recorded as recently as 2015. The effect is deliberate: the band’s Brooklyn-based record label, Daptone Records, eschew digital recording techniques and work using analogue equipment (it’s where Amy Winehouse recorded Back to Black). Moreover, The Frightnrs’s debut LP, Nothing More to Say, was recorded monophonically. Tragically, their singer Dan Klein died from motor neurone disease while the record was still in post-production. His vocal possesses a delicacy that seems all the more poignant in light of this, but he leaves a powerful legacy.




Another track from The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Revelation. The acoustic Nightbird is slower and more melancholic than Vad Hände Med Dem? but either tune would justify purchasing the album, which I have yet to do.
I was excited to discover that PJ Harvey had a new album on the way and bought it almost on the day of release. Plenty of good tracks to choose from but I plumped for The Wheel with its epic 1 minute-plus overture, replete with Iberian hand clapping, wailing guitar and saxophone. The lyric concerns Kosovo and the atrocities that have taken place there.
The single All I Wanna Do by Anglo-Antipodean band Splashh appeared on Discover Weekly, despite being approximately four years’ old. It seems the group were a victim of what’s often termed ‘difficult second album syndrome’. By the time their sophomore effort hit the shelves in April 2017 I’d completely forgotten about them, yet All I Wanna Do remains one of my favourite tunes on this compilation – and I consider this to be a very strong compilation.
The Sleaford Mods in a more urgent mood: the ‘Nottz’ they’re tied up in refers to Nottingham, a town that gets a bad press these days but which I thought was quite pleasant when I went there some 20-odd years ago. (Take a drink in Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem if you’re ever passing through).
I don’t like The xx. My primary objection is Oliver Sim’s vocals, which sound like they’ve been cut four sheets to the wind. This is particularly evident in the song VCR. So when my Australian co-worker went to put on In Colour by Jamie xx, who’s the principle songwriter for The xx, I wasn’t expecting much. How wrong I was. Gosh is a very odd tune, at once industrial and harmonic, that draws you in slowly. As The Australian rightly pointed out, it’s best played at a very high volume.
The Australian returned to Australia in early 2017. Before leaving he made a final, unwitting contribution to my playlist by utilising some sort of function on Spotify that randomly plays songs by the same artist, in this instance LCD Soundsystem. Daft Punk Is Playing at My House was massive in the UK, but I never liked it enough to include it on 2005’s aka Devil in Disguise. Had I come across it, I would certainly have made room for Get Innocuous! on 2007/08’s Harmony In My Head, but I never did. At seven minutes and 11 seconds, it’s quite a long track and serves as a kind of payoff. Stylistically, it sounds like David Bowie doing disco.
In October, my bouldering buddies and I travelled to Fontainebleau for a third year in succession. I again roomed with Mr Wilkinson, who brought along a musical device and the means by which to amplify it. Star Roving by Slowdive was subsequently amplified, from their new album, their first in 22 years. The chap who introduced me to Sarah Records and I once found ourselves hanging out with Slowdive at a party in Islington  this must have been around 1995. I wasn’t familiar with their music back then and didn’t even realise who they were. It was an awkward situation. We went outside to consider our options just as Donna from Elastica arrived bearing wallop. She smiled at first, and then, realising that she didn’t recognise us, regarded us with complete disdain. Elsewhere, Jarvis Cocker played records to an empty room. After about an hour the guy who invited us still hadn’t turned up, so we decided to leave and proceeded to walk the five hours back to Hounslow. Slowdive seemed nice though.
My enthusiasm for Chain & the Gang was reinvigorated after 2014’s Minimum Rock n Roll and I made a point of buying their new album upon its release. It proved impossible to get hold of on vinyl, and I would have to wait until the band toured the UK in February 2018 to obtain a copy. In the meantime, I familiarised myself with the record by way of Spotify and downloaded the track I wanted for my compilation: Come Over.




After numerous trips to Spain, Italy and France, I advocated for a return to central or eastern Europe. And so in the summer of 2016, my lady friend and I flew to Krakow for what should have been a relaxing four days and nights. On the third night we ate bad goulash, and the rest of the holiday was spent in bed, in the bathroom, or tentatively wandering around the city’s main square, Rynek Główny.
Before consuming the offending meal, I had been privy to Krakow’s ‘Fair of Folk Art’ (Targi Sztuki Ludowej), centered around Rynek Główny, which consisted of artisanal market stalls and traditional live music. These musical performances were a delight. They were more like plays really, acted out by players of various ages wearing traditional costumes, sang in that distinctive timbre that often typifies the vernacular.
The following Easter and we were back in Spain, just in time to celebrate Holy Week in Seville (Semana Santa de Sevilla). This was not a deliberate move on our part, but it made for an interesting holiday. We arrived on Holy Monday and departed on Good Friday, and on every day we were there, at about 16:00 the festivities would commence. Large floats called pasos, depicting various scenes pertaining to the crucifixion, were paraded around the city by their respective cofradías (brotherhoods). In front, cloaked nazarenos holding candles; behind, brass bands playing a maudlin sort of mariachi.
There must be so much music from around the world that’s worth listening to, but who has the time – or even the ear – to sift through it all and decide which of it is any good? There was a new guy at work who generally played stuff that didn’t interest me. One day he put on an album called The Flying Club Cup by a group called Beirut. ‘Balkan folk’ is how Wikipedia describes it, but the band are from the state of New Mexico. In the Mausoleum was the track that jumped out at me, and I made a note of it. Although sung in English, it feels authentic, even though it can’t be. Or can it? Band leader Zach Condon travelled around Europe in his early teens, and he cites the films of Federico Fellini, the mariachi music he was exposed to growing up in Sant Fe, and French chanson as influences. He’s not appropriating anything but absorbing various influences and reinterpreting them. And now, like Bombay Bicycle Club did, he’s stopped doing that, and Beirut’s music, like Bombay Bicycle Club’s, has taken a very average turn.


Seville

Friday, 27 July 2018

THE SARTORIAL ELEGANCE OF SERIE A: INTERNAZIONALE, 1988-91





1987/88 was not a good year for Internazionale Milano. Karl-Heiz Rummenigge had recently left the Lombardian capital to be replaced by Aldo Serena, who the coach Giovanni Trapattoni brought in from his old club having purchased him from Inter in the first instance while still at Juventus, but the Italian striker only managed six goals in 22 matches. The Belgian attacking midfielder Enzo Scifo also disappointed, scoring a mere four times over 28 games. Alessandoro Altobelli managed a respectable nine goals in what would be the aging forward’s final year for the Nerazzurri, but it wasn’t enough for the club to finish the season any higher than fifth – two places down on the previous season.
But the feeling was that Inter were on the brink of something, and Trappattoni reacted accordingly. Scifo was sold to Girondins de Bordeaux, Altobelli moved to Juventus for one final fling in Italy’s top flight, and Daniel Passarella returned to Rive Plate. In their place came established German internationals Andreas Brehme and Lothar Matthäus, two promising Italians by the name of Allesandro Bianchi and Nicola Berti, and the proven Argentine, Ramón Díaz (Díaz was actually a late replacement for the Algerian Rabah Madjer, who failed the club’s medical exam.)

The arrival of these new players coincided with the appointment of Uhlsport as kit supplier, taking over from Le Coq Sportif. Excepting the fabric from which it was made, the home shirt did not change much: the sponsor remained the same, the club’s crest, the number of vertical stripes, the hue of blue. Only the manufacturer’s logo was noticeably different – square instead of triangular. Nor was the all-white away shirt radically altered, save for this: a band of alternating, blue and black parallelograms, slightly out of sync with each other, wrapped around the jersey’s trunk with the sponsor’s name – biscuit manufacturer Misura – printed over the top. It is not possible to appraise a football shirt without observing its concomitant accoutrements, and the black shirts and socks that accompanied this jersey augmented its appeal.
Internazionale dominated in 1988/89, winning 26 matches, losing only twice, and accumulating a record-breaking 58 points, at a time when two points were still being awarded for a win and Serie A only accommodated 18 teams. Aldo Serena racked up 22 goals – the highest number in any one season since Paoli Rossi’s 24 for Juventus over the course 1977/78 – Lothar Matthäus provided nine, Nicola Berti seven, and Ramón Díaz contributed twelve, many of them absolute screamers. In total, Inter Milan scored 67 times, which is an impressive number in a league renowned for its defensive acumen.


Inter 'away'

Inter began the 1989/90 season with the scudetto sewn upon their shirts and the club’s badge relegated to the shoulder. But it wasn’t the same badge. Inter had ditched the biscione – a graphic of a serpent, representative of the city of Milan – in favour of their original emblem, which had never previously graced the shirt on account of the fact that Italian clubs only began to display their crests sometime towards the end of the 1970s. (Why, when they did, Inter opted for the profile of a snake, rather than their traditional insignia comprised of the club’s initials, I am unable to ascertain.)
Most Italian jerseys come alive when bearing the scudetto. AC Milan’s handles it very well, whilst for Juventus the opportunity to inject some colour into that achromatic strip of theirs must come as something of a relief. Strangely, Inter’s away shirt carried it better than the home equivalent; the away shirt was improved by it, whereas the home shirt suffered. It could be that the blue and black stripes combined with the red dots incorporated into the word ‘Misura’ detracted from the scudetto’s visual impact, whereas the predominantly white iteration offered something of a blanker canvas.
Inter were unable to reproduce the imperious form that had secured their 13th domestic title. They started well, beating Sampdoria in the Supercoppa Italia (Italy’s version of the Community Shield, except held in higher regard), but exited the European Cup in its early stages, losing to Roy Hodgson’s Malmo, and finished the season seven points behind champions Napoli, in third place behind cohabitants AC Milan. The problem? New signing Jürgen Klinsmann, brought in to replace Ramón Díaz, failed to combine with Aldo Serena the way the Argentine had the previous season. Despite this, the German striker finished the season as Inter’s top scorer with thirteen league goals, compared to Serena’s nine and Matthäus’s eleven. Meanwhile, Díaz scored fourteen times for Monaco playing three games less than Klinsmann.

In 1990, the Italian colours of the scudetto now absent, Internazionale’s badge shifted from the right shoulder to the left breast. Tradition prevailed, as any temptation to revert back to the ‘serpent’ badge was resisted, a decision that stands to this day. Inter went on to repeat their third place finish of the previous year, albeit by a slighter margin. This time it was Sampdoria who were victorious, with AC Milan again finishing in second place. But all was not lost. Inter made it to the final of the UEFA Cup, beating eventual Coppa Italia winners Roma 2-1 on aggregate. (English readers may recall Inter knocking out Aston Villa in the second round, courtesy of goals from Klinsmann, Berti and Bianchi during the second leg at the San Siro).
Giovanni Trapattoni returned to Juventus in 1991 in an effort to curtail the club’s gradual decline (he partially succeeded, winning 1993’s UEFA Cup, before moving on again to manage Bayern Munich). In an act that can be seen as retrospectively symbolic, Inter turned to Umbro to supply their gear – an association that would last the next seven years. During this period, Inter won the UEFA Cup for a second and third time… but nothing else. Moreover, their league form became erratic. Placed second in 1992/93, followed by thirteenth in 1993/94, it would be more than ten years before they were again crowned champions of Italy.


Inter - 1990/91

The Uhlsport strip represents something of a high-water mark, a three year period where Inter were more than equal to whatever AC Milan or Napoli could throw at them, but which didn’t quite lead to where it perhaps should have. It is not the point of this article to reason why but merely to delight in how fortuitous it was that Inter’s brief resurgence, as the eighties turned into the nineties, corresponded with shirts that were worthy of the moment.


[This article also features in The Gentleman Ultra.]