The little known story of how Albion recorded “Sgt Pepper”THE sad passing of George Martin, fifth Beatle, might not immediately seem to have an Albion connection, but hold on there. For in thinking about his life and work, there are important lessons to be taken about the wider world and about this football club if we choose to draw on them.
Sophisticated, intelligent, urbane, Martin was the least likely revolutionary you could imagine, but, in tandem with John, Paul, George and Ringo, he transformed the world, largely because he held to the most important dictum of all – to thine own self be true.
The Beatles’ success did not come by the modern method, espoused by Simon Cowell and his ilk, of seeking out the lowest common denominator and aiming squarely for the centre of it while dragging it just a little bit further down.
Instead Martin and the Fabs did what they believed in, followed the path that they saw and heard in their heads.
They demanded that the world around them raised its game rather than them lowering theirs and they dragged the planet behind them to a place that nobody had hitherto imagined.
Football isn’t dissimilar when it’s at its incendiary best and this football club has done plenty in that field to illustrate the importance of doing the right thing rather than the easy thing many times down the years.
We might, for instance, point to Vic Buckingham, a character not unlike George Martin himself, suave, intelligent, a figure that carried an innate authority, yet one he imposed kindly. Most important of all, he had an open mind and, as Frank Zappa once famously remarked, the mind is like a parachute – it only works if it’s open.
century’s first FA Cup and First Division double by the reactionary forces at the FA. Another story for another day…thBuckingham’s mind perennially was, absorbing influences from wherever they made sense, amalgamating them into a uniquely Albion synthesis that, building on the work of another pioneer, Jesse Carver, and boldly thinking where few English coaches had thought before, created the celestial “Team of the Century” in 1953/54 that was only denied the 20
Buckingham, assisted by the fab four of Ray, Len, George and Ronnie, invited the insular English game, cloaked in post-war austerity, to marvel at this new technicolour conception of what football might be about, all pass, move, pace, bright, sharp intelligence, football’s “Rubber Soul” moment.
Vic, like Carver before him, could not be constrained by this island and had to go out into the wider world to spread his footballing gospel, most famously in two spells with Ajax where he fostered the total football concept that would revolutionise the game again, becoming the guiding light for Johan Cruyff, a footballing John Lennon if ever there was one.
We followed our beliefs again a quarter of a century later when, against the prevailing trends, Ron Atkinson unleashed a whirlwind of a side on the English game after it had first been carefully nurtured by another of the game’s great original thinkers, John Giles.
That side was cavalier in the extreme, albeit that we had the most powerful of foundations at the back. But we did what we thought was right, we flew in the face of a decade where convention screamed “defend, defend, defend” and we got the greatest reward of all from it. Not silver pots and pans but a team that shimmers down the ages and continues to illuminate our lives.
More than that, it was a team, a football club, a support base, an ethos that transformed our game. At a time when black footballers were seemingly only there to be abused and spat on, we put Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson at the centre of our XI, faced down the racists in our own crowd and elsewhere and helped drag English football, kicking and screaming at times, to a place it had never before imagined.
We believed in ourselves, in the voice in our head, in our heritage, in the strength we take from one another.
We believed that just because nobody else was doing it, there was no reason why we shouldn’t.
We believed that doing what everyone else was doing was simply dull, boring, wrong.
We believed if we went somewhere interesting, we’d take people with us.
We believed we had something special, unique to offer.
And if that’s not an explanation of how it was that Albion came to record “Sgt. Pepper”, I don’t know what is.
Rest easy George.