A World Cup conversation with Kasabian frontman Tom Meighan (2010)

Kasabian are in Germany this weekend performing at Rock am Ring. But the big-selling British band’s first love isn’t music – it’s football. Nick Amies talked to singer Tom Meighan about the World Cup.

KasabianThe connection between football and music is not a random one. Both occupy similar neighborhoods in the sprawling metropolis of popular culture and share many of the same traits, making them more than just nodding acquaintances. Both instill a loyalty in their followers which borders on obsession, both have supporters bound by a gang mentality and both can play havoc with emotions. They are so intimate at times that it can be difficult to separate them.

For musicians, tapping into terrace culture can help their music reach a much wider audience and few current rock acts have so successfully blended fan bases than British band Kasabian. When it comes to ticking the cross-over boxes, the Leicestershire four-piece are streets ahead of many of their rivals: they’re dyed-in-the-wool Leicester City fans (so no evidence of glory hunting there), guitarist Serge Pizzorno once had schoolboy trials with Nottingham Forest and as a celebrity team they’ve taken on the likes of Oasis and won.

Their credentials as Britain’s premier soccer-rockers were further enhanced in February when the English Football Association chose them to launch the new England away shirt for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

“I was really honored,” singer Tom Meighan told Deutsche Welle. “But I had a few reservations about where they wanted us to do it.” The FA, in their infinite wisdom, had chosen the band’s gig at the Olympia in Paris for the launch of the red shirt, modeled on the design of the 1966 World Cup winning jersey.

“They asked me to do it and I said okay but I told them, ‘it’s all on you – if it backfires, if it all kicks-off then it’s on your head.’ I wanted to know that if there was a riot, they would get us out. We got booed a bit, but then we played another song and everything was cool.”

Kasabian’s links to football culture are not confined to the British Isles and European audiences find it just as easy to slip into a stadium mentality at their shows, which made debuting the new England shirt in front of a partisan French crowd a risky proposition.

Thankfully, apart from some heckling, the only other abuse the band and the FA got was from sections of the British press who questioned the intelligence of the whole stunt. “It was a laugh,” Meigan says. “We did it, no-one died so what’s the problem?”

When pressed on his football allegiances, Meighan makes it very clear where they lie. “I’m Leicester City first, then England,” he says proudly. “We all are. Serge even wore Leicester socks under his Forest kit when he was a boy. But when the World Cup is on, it’s all about England for me.”

The World Cup. As ever, the Three Lions depart for South Africa with the huge weight of expectation following in their vapor trail. It’s the same with every major tournament England qualify for – regardless of what history has taught them, that going out on penalties in the quarter-finals is the best most of us can hope for. The majority of England fans just can’t help getting carried away.

The singer, however, puts himself squarely in the realist camp when it comes to England’s chances in South Africa. “I really hope we’ll win it, I really do, but I don’t think we will. (Coach Fabio) Capello is the man, and he’s made a huge difference, but I just don’t think we’re good enough.”

“A lot of people are tipping Spain to win it and when you look at the players they’ve got, it’s hard to see who’s going to be better,” he says. “If Torres and Villa are on song, then there’s no better strike force. They have Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Alonso – the midfield is just unreal. The way they took people apart at the Euros…Who is there out of the non-Europeans who can beat them? Brazil? Past it. Argentina? Too mental.”

So is the Kasabian front man putting his next album advance on Spain lifting the World Cup this year? Nope.

“I’m telling you, man,” he says conspiratorially. “Keep an eye on the Dutch. You talk about the Spanish midfield but look at Robben, Sneijder, van Bommel… Then they’ve got Huntelaar, van Persie, even that carthorse Kuyt does wonders in an orange shirt. Mark my words…The Dutch.”

And what about England’s nemesis, Germany? “You’d be stupid to right them off even though their squad is lacking star power,” he says.

“But it never matters to the Germans, does it? They could be crap for months and scrape through in qualifying but when it comes to the tournament, they’re always in the final. I don’t rate them but they’ll probably go and win it now just to show me up.”

Kasabian’s summer festival dance card is booked through the World Cup but another happy event planned for June could mean an opportunity comes their way for some concentrated football watching.

“Chris our bass player and his wife are having their baby right when the World Cup starts so we’ll take a week off for that and settle in for some serious viewing. But then we’ll have to go back on the tour after that so we’ll try and see as much as we can.”

First published on Deutsche Welle: www.dw.de