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Music, football and nostalgia: How and why Bands FC became a remarkable online phenomenon

What started out as a pub conversation between friends has morphed into one of the best things of 2018.

NICK FRASER IS EXCITABLE when he picks up the phone and for good reason. 

“We’re in one of the most iconic music-related buildings in the entire world – Salford Lads Club,” he proudly declares. 

He’s there for a Bands FC exhibition, the latest step in a pretty remarkable ascent for the online phenomenon. 

It was back in the summer when Fraser met up with some friends – fellow designer Mark Liptrott and Tim Burgess, lead singer with The Charlatans. As usual, conversation bounced between football, music and art. 

Within hours, Liptrott sent Fraser an email attachment based on their earlier chat. It was a football crest but not for a team. For a band.

“I do remember the first time,” Fraser says, the first of many pop puns sprinkled throughout our conversation. 

The basic idea had been planted but then Mark sent this design over and said, ‘Were you thinking of something like this?’ It was Echo and the Bunnymen, a band we both really love. And it’s a badge with a lot of information on it. Obviously, it’s the Liverpool crest but in place of You’ll Never Walk Alone, there’s the opening line of The Killing Moon – ‘Fate up against your will’. There’s the strange logo person that the Bunnymen use, the dancing horses. But that was all counter-balanced by our second badge which was Wu Tang Klan/Wolverhampton Wanderers, which has no words and just one reference. The band is the symbol and the football team is the shape and the colours. And that’s all you need.” 

“As things have developed, we’ve just tried to let it be, if that’s not too much of a music quote to use. We thought we’d just be emailing things to each other, going ‘Heh heh, that’s good’ – like Beavis & Butthead. We were invited to the National Football Museum for an exhibition. We were invited to New York for an exhibition. We never thought there would be exhibitions! And we didn’t think there would ever be 500 badges.”

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There’s a nostalgic quality to Bands FC.

It conjures memories of daydreaming at the back of a classroom. The fact that the product is a badge – wearable and swappable – taps into a bit of a bygone era too.  

“It’s like the cover of an exercise book or your bag,” Fraser says. 

“I’d collect postcards for some reason – not of Torquay or anything – but of bands I liked. They’re accessible and easy to put up and to chuck away. And there’s a bit of that poster culture in Bands FC. Myself and Mark liked Smash Hits as much as the NME because you’d have stuff to pin up and wear, like the stickers or free badges.”

People say that the tribalism of teenage years has disappeared a bit. It seems people are into everything. But in 1983, you’d have gone, ‘He’s a punk, she’s a new romantic’. It was what was written on your bag or on the badges you wore or what was in your record collection. So, all of this seems to hark back to that stuff.”

In many ways, the badges themselves are brain teasers. Some are figured out instantly but others are more nuanced, a testament to the creative process Liptrott and Fraser go through.  

“It is a bit similar to the songwriting process,” he says. 

“Do the words come first or is it the music? Sometimes it’s just a quick Google search: ‘Pinterest football club badges’. But any design we make is like a joke – it has to be shared by at least two people. So I sent Mark the Olympiakos crest and I said, ‘Who am I thinking of?’ And he replied with, ‘Gene’. And I said, ‘Absolutely it is’. Because Gene’s debut album was Olympian. So, we’d be pretty good in a music quiz. We might not be too good in a football quiz unless it was pictures of badges.”

People say Bands FC is a mix of two things but it’s not. It’s a mix of three things: music, football and graphic design. If you loved design and had no care for football and music you’d still be looking at these and either enthusing or criticising. We like it when people say, ‘Why are The Cure done as Nottingham Forest when they’re from Crawley?’ And you just say, ‘Well, they did A Forest on the Seventeen Seconds album.’”

There’s a brief interruption as Fraser hears The Sundays playing on 6 Music in the background and is reminded of their place in the Bands FC catalogue. 

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“Their badge is Reading FC. Why?” he asks. 

“Well, their first album was a bit of a mistake. People think it’s called Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. But it’s actually a joke. The first word is actually the name of the football team. And something like that is why we say that some badges are quick crossword clues and then others are a bit more cryptic. For Spinal Tap we used Shrewsbury Town because of Derek Smalls and his zucchini/cucumber. But then there’s something like Franz Ferdinand. The actual person Franz Ferdinand is linked to a place: Sarajevo. Because that’s where he was assassinated and what kicked off the First World War. So there’s a bit of history in there too.”

The success of the designs has led to some overlap between the artists and the football clubs, however contrasting their styles may be.  

“We did Death Cab For Cutie and their initials are DCFC. Well, that’s Derby County Football Club. So we just switched those,” Fraser says.

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“We imagined the two worlds colliding. An east midlands team and a left-field group from the US. And the amazing thing is that on Twitter, @DCFC is Death Cab For Cutie and @DCFCOfficial is Derby County – they’ve added an ‘official’ to make it less official. Unbeknownst to them, Death Cab would’ve been getting messages saying, ‘That striker needs to go’. But Derby would’ve been getting some saying, ‘I cry every time I hear that record’. Death Cab finally picked up on it and sent Derby a tweet saying, ‘Oh, hi @DCFCOfficial’ and it said so much.”

Fraser acknowledges that without social media, Bands FC couldn’t have happened. 

This has to be shareable, semi-throwawayable stuff. Where would you have advertised it? The back of the NME? On Twitter, things can be shared and the reaction is like, ‘Has anyone else seen this?’ One of the good things of modern times is that utterly useless stuff has a home and we’re in the market of utterly useless stuff.”

“We had about 30 badges when we went to the NME and told them about the project. But it would’ve stopped there and then if they had said, ‘What do you mean? What is it?’ But they didn’t. And then it was the National Football Museum getting in touch within days asking us to do an exhibition.”

And it’s not just badges either.

Bands FC have veered in a couple of different directions over the last few months, buoyed by the popularity and spurred on by some intriguing and worthwhile collaborations. 

“I was with a friend recently and I asked him, ‘What’s the only musical instrument that’s at every football match?” Fraser says. 

“He said, ‘A vuvuzela?’ And I was like, ‘There’s one of those at every game?’ Anyway, the answer is a whistle. It’s an instrument for A Certain Ratio and a big thing in salsa music too. But we made 150 whistles that were given out for free at A Certain Ratio’s gig last weekend.”      

We get asked about our favourites and any of the ones that have led to money being raised for charities or junior teams really stand out. People were asking us to do a badge for Frightened Rabbit, whose singer Scott Hutchinson took his own life earlier this year. We sold a thousand of them in two minutes to give money to the charity that’s set up in Scott’s name. We did another one in the away colours and sold them for 24 hours and sold well over a thousand.”

“When we did the Pulp badge, the band got in touch really quickly and said, ‘We love it, what can we do with it?’ So we suggested doing some shirts but we didn’t want the money going outside of Sheffield and we said we’d donate to Sheffield Children’s Hospital. In 24 hours, we raised over £30,000. That wasn’t what came in. That’s what we raised to give to the hospital. Jarvis Cocker bought one, Richard Hawley bought one. We’ve added it all up and it’s over £50,000 that we’ve given to charities and good causes.”

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“We sponsor Brinscall Juniors and we have this thing that says ‘Love Music, Love Football, Hate Racism’ and they wear that on their sleeve. When we showed the shirt that we made, adults started asking if they could buy replicas. So they put them on sale and they’ve made quite a lot. And they claim to be the junior team with the highest-selling replica shirts in the world, which is fairly undisputed.         

It’s a very music thing: stand up, speak up and things will happen.”   

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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