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Why I ❤️ punk rock, by football legend Stuart Pearce

Stuart Pearce gestures on the touchline
(Image credit: Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Anyone with a keen interest in punk rock and football knows about Stuart Pearce. The former England star and current first-team coach at West Ham United is one of The Stranglers' biggest fans - he's seen the band live over 300 times and stars in their video for This Song - and introduced The Sex Pistols onstage when they returned to action at Finsbury Park in 1996. 

Pearce was given a rapturous reception, almost as much for his punk credentials (can you name another footballer who's appeared on the artwork of a Lurkers album?) as for his fearless appearances in the Three Lions shirt.

Below, Stuart "Psycho" Pearce talks about his love of punk.         

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What would you say makes a great singer – is it charisma as much as ability?

Totally. It was the raw energy that drew me to punk music in the seventies, and it was also the personalities of the singers.

Was punk the first music that really made an impact on you?

I started off with David Bowie in the early seventies. He was outstanding. And then in ’77 I got really into punk. I’d be thrashing around my bedroom with a baseball bat in my hand, pretending to play guitar.

Who were your biggest heroes?

John Lydon. And The Stranglers are my all-time favourite band, so Hugh Cornwell was another hero for me. Plus Joe Strummer, and Jake Burns from Stiff Little Fingers.

Are lyrics as important as the voice?

Definitely. For me, most of the top singers and songwriters sing about where they come from, experiences they’ve had in their lives, so the words of those songs are absolutely vital.

What was it that made The Stranglers so important to you?

It was their menace. They came up and flourished in the punk era, but they always had more about them musically. Punk was all about ‘any fucking idiot can pick up a guitar and play’ – three chords and all that. But there were some good musicians in punk, and The Stranglers were a cut above anything at the time, with Dave Greenfield on keyboards and the way JJ [Jean-Jacques Burnel] played bass.

What was it like meeting The Stranglers?

I’ve never met Hugh, but I’ve got to know the others pretty well over the years. Last time I saw them I turned up backstage at a festival in Surrey, and they put the kettle on and made a cup of tea for my mate. He said to me: “Fucking hell, is that punk these days?” I said: “Listen, sometimes the reputation goes before the whole movement and the individual.”

Jean-Jacques Burnel had a reputation in the seventies as a tough nut who’d beat up anyone who crossed him.

Well, even to this day I’m acutely aware of his reputation, don’t worry about that!

Was he acutely aware of your reputation? You’re not known as ‘Psycho’ for nothing.

My reputation is only on the football pitch; I think his follows him around. But I know he’s mellowed a little bit with age.

Have you met John Lydon?

Yes, at the Sex Pistols’ Finsbury Park gig in ’96. I never caught the Pistols in their heyday. Lydon likes his football – he’s an Arsenal fan.

Not many footballers are into punk.

No. But I always enjoyed having a musical taste that was different. And from the late eighties, when teams started playing music in dressing rooms, I was the captain of Nottingham Forest, so I could influence what was played.

What do you sing at karaoke?

My favourite three – songs that encompass the whole punk ethos – are Anarchy In The UK by the Pistols, White Riot by The Clash and No More Heroes by The Stranglers. But I’m an absolutely crap singer.

What do you listen to in your mellower moments?

I can listen to Rod Stewart if I’m feeling a bit lovey.

So when you put a Rod album on at home, the missus knows where the evening is heading?

I see where you’re going with this one. Let’s say yes.


This feature originally appeared in Classic Rock magazine in July 2014.