"I always say, rather flippantly, but it’s not a million miles from the truth, that football supplies many of the requirements that other people seek and find in religion, with the difference that you can actually see the truth of it being demonstrated on the pitch every Saturday afternoon, and that’s enormously satisfying." - John Peel[1]
"I find that football provides any number of useful analogies for life." - John Peel[2]

Listeners to John Peel’s radio shows were unlikely to miss his fanatical devotion to Liverpool football team,[3] which went as far as wearing a red and white suit at his wedding and giving his four children names that included references to the Anfield club.[4] Favourite players, such as Kenny Dalglish, also inspired something close to worship.[5] As a fan, Peel attended many Liverpool matches – including three European Cup finals – and was deeply affected by the disasters of Heysel and Hillsborough.[6] In later years he went to fewer games, mostly those involving Ipswich Town, his local side, but his on-air comments left little doubt that his heart remained firmly with the Merseyside club.[7]

From a wider perspective, the DJ seemed heartened by the emergence of the new fan culture that grew up around the game from the late 1980s, epitomised by the popularity of football fanzines.[8] Nevertheless, he remained distrustful of the increasing commercialism of the modern game,[9] along with the motives of those who ran it, drawing a parallel with music:

Although both are run by vulgarians with nothing but contempt for the paying customers, the product itself in both cases retains the capacity to play upon the emotions in a matter entirely beyond the understanding of said vulgarians.[10]

In both football and music, Peel appeared reluctant to dwell too much on the past:

I’m more concerned about what Liverpool do next Saturday than what they’ve done in the past. Their past history, although matchless, isn’t of particular interest to me … It’s the same with the music, when I say I’m more concerned about those records that I have in the back of the car that I’ll listen to this weekend than I am really even in the ones I’ve played in this week’s programmes.[11]

Peel also played football from an early age and frequently commented that his only unfulfilled ambition in life was that he had not played for Liverpool.[12] When asked to name a luxury as part of his contribution to Desert Island Discs, he chose a football and a wall to kick it against.


Liverpool FC

Main article: Liverpool

Peel began supporting Liverpool in 1950 at the age of ten, when the team met Arsenal in the FA Cup Final and lost 2-0. Among other consequences, this caused him to place a ban on that team's supporters coming to Peel Acres (with the exception of Robert Wyatt and Alfie), which was "lifted" only in the mid 1990s. [13]

Manchester United were another club that quickly earned the enmity of the youthful Peel:

At the first boarding school I went to, there were about 80 boys. Seventy-eight of them supported (Manchester) United, I supported Liverpool and there was one boy who wasn't interested in football. So my prejudice against United has been lifelong.[14]

Everton, Liverpool's local rivals, were also on the blacklist, with Peel apparently deciding at an early age he would never go to their Goodison Park ground, even if Liverpool were playing there.[15] This animosity, though, did not stop him from pulling on an Everton shirt during his appearance on TV's Room 101 in order to ensure one of his suggestions was accepted by host Paul Merton. He also remained on good terms with indie music fan Pat Nevin, even after the Scottish winger joined the Goodison club from Chelsea.[16]

Meadowbank Thistle

Main article: Meadowbank Thistle

Peel had shown an interest in small Scottish teams when he decided to give his short-lived show on Radio Luxembourg the name 'Stenhousemuir 2 : Cowdenbeath 2'. But his preferred team in Scotland were lowly Meadowbank Thistle, who were admitted to the Scottish League in 1974 (they later relocated and became Livingston FC in 1995) and whose matches he would try and catch if he could.[17] Why?

Entirely because a group of extremely droll supporters invited me to join them for a match and subsequently took me to Hampden Park where 300 benighted souls - and that 300 includes the Queens Park enthusiasts - huddled together on the open terraces across which snow stormed and the wind shrieked in a manner that would have had Amundsen sucking his teeth apprehensively. "Give us an F," they roared. "Give us an I, give us an S, give us a U, give us an L," they continued. "What does that spell?" they wanted to know. "Fisul!" they concluded. How could I have doubted, even for a moment, but I stood and suffered with the very cream of mankind?[18]

In 2003, he also graciously accepted (and wore) a Hibs shirt given him to as a Christmas present by members of ballboy.[19]

Ipswich Town

Main article: Ipswich Town

Peel also followed the fortunes of the nearest club to his home in Suffolk from the 1970s, particularly after his wife Sheila became a big fan, and occasionally went to their matches, including a 6-1 win against Barnsley on his 60th birthday.[20]

FC St Pauli

Main article: FC St Pauli

In Germany, Peel appeared to favour Hamburg-based FC St Pauli. After attending a home game in 1996, he noted with approval their supposedly "leftward leaning" fans and adoption of the Rubbermaids & Gegengerade Allstars version of Anfield anthem You'll Never Walk Alone.[21]


Weeks out 1979 002football

In 1977 Radio 1 management decided on a Week Out in February in Manchester, ostensibly to allow listeners to meet their favourite DJs. It kicked off with a Sunday football match between those of BBC Radio Manchester and Radio 1, at which this team photo was taken. (Peel on front row, far left.)

Peel played football at public school in Shrewsbury, as a right winger.[22] Many years after ending his education, he continued to take part in organised matches, including for the Radio 1 team, and often used to refer to his exploits on the field during his shows.[23]

Nevertheless, when interviewing Ian Rush in 1992, Peel was modest about his own abilities as a player:

I was great at just kicking the ball against a wall, but not much else. The one thing that I could do was kick a ball fairly hard and accurately, so I used to take all the corners and free kicks and stuff like that, but I was never good at anything else.[24]

John Peel at Prenton Park, home of Tranmere Rovers, circa 1982.

The DJ, though, was able to boast to the Liverpool striker that he had himself once scored a winning goal at Wembley.[25]

Despite the thwarting of his youthful ambitions to be a Liverpool player, Peel never seemed to quite gave up his dreams. At a special gig to celebrate his 50th birthday, however, he finally admitted:

Think my chances of making the Liverpool side are gone now. Might still be able to get a game at one of those London clubs, though.[26]

Football and Music

You'll Never Walk Alone

Main article: You'll Never Walk Alone

The second act ballad from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel was adopted by the Liverpool FC fans as an unofficial anthem in the early 1960s. It held great significance for John, generating in particular (unrealised) plans for an LP of cover versions by session bands.


Main article: FabricLive.07

When Peel was asked to compile his first-ever mix album, it wasn't altogether unexpected that he included personal favourite and live set staple You'll Never Walk Alone, sung by the Kop. Perhaps even less welcome for non-Reds supporters, though, was FabricLive.07 kicking off with the BBC radio commentary of Alan Kennedy's winner for Liverpool in the 1981 European Cup Final, played over Asa-Chang & Junray, while 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' by Joy Division also featured Kenny Dalglish's strike in the 1978 European Cup final at Wembley - both goals that Peel had witnessed live.

Football Songs

Sharp as a Needle - Barmy Army

Sharp as a Needle - Barmy Army

Pepe kalle- Roger Milla

Pepe kalle- Roger Milla

Serious Drinking - Love on the Terraces

Serious Drinking - Love on the Terraces

Colourbox - The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme-1

Colourbox - The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme-1

Strachan by The Hitchers

Strachan by The Hitchers

"In the past couple of years, football songs have achieved a sort of curious respectability. Apart of course from those featuring Chas & Dave." (John Peel, TV Hell: Rock Bottom, 1992)

While Peel was always more than happy to play football-related records such as 'All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit' by perennial favorites Half Man Half Biscuit[27], he also enjoyed the more esoteric side of football music, with selections from compilations such as Flair 1989 and the Bend It series finding regular plays on his show; in April 1993, he introduced a regular slot for such items when sitting in for a week on Radio One's Jakki Brambles daytime programme.[28]

Tracks linked to Liverpool were invariably given airtime.[29] A Peelenium 1987 choice, 'Sharp As A Needle' by Adrian Sherwood's Barmy Army project featured the winning combination of samples from You'll Never Walk Alone and radio commentary of a Kenny Dalglish goal. It also reached #17 in the 1987 Festive Fifty.[30]

A major live set favourite, not featured on FavricLive07 but played on numerous occasions on JP's radio shows,[31] was 'Roger Milla' by Pepe Kalle, which celebrated Cameroon's goalscoring sensation of the 1990 World Cup. In The Ingerland Factor Playlist, written in 1999, Peel described 'Kicker Conspiracy' by The Fall as "probably the best football record ever, apart from Pepe Kalle’s ‘Roger Milla’.”[32]

Festive Fifty entries with football themes also included 'Love on the Terraces' by Serious Drinking (#38 in 1982), 'The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme' by Colourbox (#46 in 1986), 'Strachan' by the Hitchers (#21 in 1997), and 'Bob Wilson Anchorman' by Half Man Half Biscuit (#13 in 2001). 'Sparta FC' by the Fall made the listeners' annual chart twice in different versions in successive years (#2 in 2003 and #1 in 2004).[33]

On 22 January 2002, Peel played 'Sweet Water' by Jeff Astle, "one of the few footballers who made a half-decent record", to mark the passing of the former WBA and England striker.

From an earlier era, 'Pass! Shoot!! Goal!!!' by Albert Whelan was picked by Peel for the posthumously released compilation The Pig's Big 78s: A Beginner's Guide. [34]

Band Names

Perhaps predictably, the Welsh indie band who wisely named themselves after Liverpool striker Ian Rush were quickly rewarded with a Peel session.[35] Other bands he played with names related to the beautiful game include Accrington Stanley, Arsenal, Saint Etienne, Sultans Of Ping FC,[36] Boa Morte, Red Star Belgrade, (John) Salako, Van Basten, Kempes, Lorimer, Lofthouse, Ormondroyd,[5] Bocca Juniors (sic) and Waddle(?), as well as two called Pele.[37]


In parallel with the Peelenium, the years of the 20th century were counted down on shows from 1999 to early 2000 with additional Footballenium listings provided by listener Mick Ashman.

John Peel World Cup

An annual tribute five-a-side charity tournament was held from 2008 as part of Liverpool Sound City. This followed the John Peel Memorial Trophy event, also organized by Peter Hooton from The Farm and Phil Hayes from the city's Picket venue, which was held on Peel Day from 2005. In 2016, the John Peel World Cup became a table football tournament featuring Liverpool Sound City artists.

See Also



  1. Interview, When Saturday Comes, issue 10, Sept/Oct 1987, reprinted “The First Eleven”, a retrospective of the football fanzine's first 11 issues. Perhaps more regularly, Peel made similar comments drawing a comparison between religion and supporting Liverpool. See for example, Peeling Back The Years 5 (Transcript).
  2. Peeling Back The Years 5 (Transcript).
  3. See preliminary listing of his comments on Football (Matches Mentioned).
  4. His children were named Alexandra Mary Anfield Ravenscroft; Florence Victoria Shankly Ravenscroft; Thomas James Dalglish Ravenscroft; and William Robert Anfield Ravenscroft.
  5. Peel claimed to have celebrated "Dalglishmas" for many years and said Sheila had to dissuade him from asking the Scottish striker to "bless" their children. (Guardian article, 1994, republished Olivetti Chronicles, hardback, pg. 47-8). Meanwhile, a newspaper flier signed by Billy Liddell, the LFC hero of Peel's schooldays, was kept in his father's old desk and referred to as 'perhaps the most sacred item I own.'
  6. After being present at Heysel, he stopped going to matches for several years. On his 10 April 1989 show, in the week before Hillsborough, he told listeners he had just been to his first match since Heysel - a non-League game between Stowmarket and Histon that ended 1-1.
  7. Liverpool-Ipswich matches were never easy, though, for reasons of family harmony. See for example, 15 February 1992, 11 April 2001, 12 February 2002, 14 May 2002.
  8. In Peel's foreword to 'The 1st Eleven", he wrote that fanzines "have rekindled and redirected my enthusiasm for football in a manner I would have gauged impossible after Heysel.
  9. In Peel's foreword to 'The 1st Eleven", he wrote that the proposed Super League [Premiership] "still looks like a load of shite to me" and was scornful about the holding of the coming 1994 World Cup in the USA. See also his 30 July 1979 on-air comments about shirt advertising.
  10. From foreword to 'The 1st Eleven". See also Peel's letter to WSC about meeting FA chief Graham Kelly outside the BBC (WSC 57, Nov 1991, also available online).
  11. Peeling Back The Years 5 (Transcript).
  12. For example, see both Chain Reaction: David Gedge Interviews John Peel (Transcript) and Chain Reaction: John Peel Interviews Ian Rush (Transcript).
  13. Margrave Of The Marshes, p. 72.
  14. BBC online: Funny Old Game. Peel's anti-United instincts, though, did not prevent him from selecting the Wedding Present album "George Best" as his favourite LP of 1987 (see 30 December 1987). The record was not only named after the former Old Trafford star but also featured a vintage picture of him on its cover.[1] For more, see George Best.
  15. See 03 April 1979.
  16. This extended to playing the track "Pat Nevin's Eyes" by The Tractors. See Pat Nevin page for plays.
  17. See, for example, 29 December 1980, 23 March 1981, 17 August 1981
  18. Foreword to 'The 1st Eleven".
  19. See 23 December 2003. Photos of the event, including Peel wearing his Hibs shirt, can be found on ballboy's official site.
  20. See Football (Known Matches Attended).
  21. See 02 November 1996.
  22. , He admitted, though, that his preferred position would have been wide on the left, like the Liverpool hero of his schooldays, Billy Liddell. (Margrave Of The Marshes, Corgi edition, p. 71-2).
  23. On the Sunday before his show of 29 September 1980, for example, he apparently played in Norwich, where Peter Powell scored a great goal and Peel himself had a few unsuccessful "digs" but also executed a brilliant cross.
  24. See Chain Reaction: John Peel Interviews Ian Rush (Transcript). As related in Margrave Of The Marshes (hardback, p. 52) the ability to kick the ball hard was something Peel had also practiced in the garden at home with younger brother Alan in goal: "With the ruthlessness and, I like to think, skill of a practiced executioner, I would turn and whack the ball straight at Alan. It usually hit him and carried him into the hedge. and when he had pulled himself out, he would run sobbing into the house..."
  25. Chain Reaction: John Peel Interviews Ian Rush (Transcript).
  26. 29 August 1989. Nevertheless, three years later, after LFC lost 5-1 against Coventry, he was wondering whether his services still might be needed (19 December 1992).
  27. See also FourFourTwo: Half Football, Half Rock, All Genius for a discussion of football in HMHB lyrics, as well as the HMHB Lyrics Project, including the Lists page for footballers mentioned and the Shit Band, No Fans page for HMHB lyrics inspired by football chants. 'Bob Wilson Anchorman' reached #13 in the 2001 Festive Fifty. Many examples can also be cited from The Fall, from 'Kicker Conspiracy' to 'Theme From Sparta FC'. The latter, #2 in the 2003 Festive Fifty and #1 in a different version in the 2004 Festive Fifty following Peel's death, was included on the posthumous release John Peel: A Tribute. It was also used as the background music for the BBC's Saturday afternoon football roundup and Mark E Smith was subsequently invited onto the programme to deliver that day's scores, as you can see here. .
  28. See Peel Is Brambles and Football Compilations.
  29. See Liverpool page for further details.
  30. Peel praised its inclusion in the annual chart in an article (probably in the Observer available online at On the 19 December 2000 special quiz show to mark 25 years of the Festive Fifty, he commented that the record should have been higher than #17 in 1987. Back on 29 December 1987, he had suggested he would have made it #1.
  31. See 08 November 2001
  32. The Fall track was played twice during the 24 June 2004 show, after coinciding with an England goal in the Euro finals knockout match against Portugal that England eventually lost on penalties.
  33. After Peel's death, 'Seven Nation Army' by the White Stripes (#10 in 2003) became popular at European football stadiums and other sports venues, following its adoption as an unofficial anthem by Italian fans at the 2006 World Cup in France.[2]
  34. The original record had been played on the 03 March 2004 show. According to Sheila's sleevenotes, the inclusion of 'Tom Hark' by Elias & His Zig-Zag Jive Flutes on the same release reflected its use for a chant by Ipswich Town supporters ("Top of the league at Portman Road...").
  35. See Ian Rush(2).
  36. See Rapido interview with the band.
  37. Meanwhile, the moniker of punk-era stalwarts Sham 69 apparently came from a fading piece of graffiti celebrating the successful 1969 season of Walton & Hersham FC.[3] In more recent times, former Peel show faves ballboy found themselves trending on Twitter after Chelsea player Eden Hazard was sent off for kicking a youthful volunteer member of the ground staff during an away match against Swansea.[4]