November 02, 2021
It was one of the most thrilling nights of his life. Composer Mark-Anthony Turnage explains why he wrote a soundtrack, full of terrace chants, to a legendary Gunners victory over Liverpool
They shoot, he scores! The composer who set a legendary Arsenal match to music
I started having piano lessons aged six in 1966. The year the England men’s Football team won the World Cup. It’s a fanciful notion, but maybe these two significant events in my life were for ever entwined. My family were not football fans, so I tended to flit from one team to another. I was promiscuous with my loyalty. Usually, whoever was top of the league that season. So ironically, I liked Liverpool for a while. Never Tottenham, I’m proud to say. I hated practising the piano, yet by the age of nine my music obsession took hold. I used to improvise around the little piano pieces I had to learn and that’s how I started composing. Before then, I thought I was going to be a professional footballer. The trouble is, I was hopeless. I had zero ability. At some point I realised all of my mates were better than me. So music took over. Well, at least composers, unlike footballers, don’t have to retire at 35. In fact, I thought then that being old was a positive advantage.
During my teens my obsession with football waned, and I have a big knowledge gap from the mid-70s to mid-80s. I am at a loss in a pub quiz if I get questions about Don Revie’s Leeds United or which year did Ipswich win the FA Cup? But in the mid-80s I moved to a home that was within a mile of the hallowed Highbury stadium in north London, then home to the Arsenal (as they are known). From my rented top-floor flat in Highbury Fields (in fact, five doors down from the home of the eminent conductor Colin Davis, who I never met) I could hear the siren call of Arsenal supporters singing. Lured by these distant voices, I just had to go and see a game. My first match was a drab League Cup game, I’ve forgotten who against. So I don’t have that sentimental memory that most fans have of always remembering their first match, but the atmosphere was intoxicating. I was hooked.
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