Call Yourself a Football Fan? With Damian Cowell

Now. My fanzine Munster, has always focused on Music, but i/ve always tried to get in as many football references as I can. When I was younger I used to read a great soccer rag called When Saturday Comes, and it had this great segment called Call Yourself a Football fan, which had interviews with celebrities and their love of soccer. Google it and you/ll find some great chats with Michael Palin and Mark E Smith. So anyway I decided id do something similar, i.e. steal the idea, so much I even stole the name, im not even trying to hide it.

Anyway, my first victim is one of my favourite songwriters in Damian Cowell, a fella who has made plenty of football references in his career playing with TISM, ROOT! The DC3 and Disco Machine. When I told Damian what my intention was with this segment and considering the strong link with Melbourne when it comes to music and football he replied:

“Interesting that you mention Melbourne musicians talk about football, it doesn’t strike me, as football and music are usually two anti-matter universes that connect. I certainly know a lot of people that I meet in music and art that couldn’t give a shit about football. But I suppose there are the odd weirdos out there”


Munster: now before we get to some footy talk, if can ask how have you been going in these odd and uncertain times?

Damian: I’m certainly not going to complain Matt. There’s been a lot of people losing their jobs and a whole lot of other shit going down in the world. So I’m very lucky I have a job. No idea how it will affect my musical career but we’ll see what happens further down the track. I rarely do any kind of endorsement but I have sent around the Save our Scene information, which is about venues in Melbourne. It’s a little bit hard to know what’s gonna happen, certainly they seem to be facing dire circumstances unless something changes which obviously effects a lot of people and their lively hoods. For me personally I may struggle to do a live gig again. So that something worth shearing, otherwise I just have cabin fever like most people.

Munster: I interviewed you a few years ago and I asked you about Disco Machine, and you said the music was different to your other bands, but the theme was the same, which is the band is full of songs that are anthems to dystopia, now this is as close to a dystopia as I’ve ever seen so do you think your songs would be perfect for these times?

Damian: (laughs) I don’t know about that Matt. You probably would need some more uplifting themes at the moment. Sometimes I find things I wrote about in jest somewhat comes true, which somewhat scares me. Dystopia is obviously a word for graphic novels. There is some pretty weird shit but my music is meant to be treated with a certain liberty of the imagination.

Munster: well let’s get to football right now, for the record can you please state the team you support, and I know you’re a big soccer fan so I’ll also include soccer teams as well.

Damian: my grandfather played for St Kilda so I inherited this curse, and there’s never been a question about it. That’s probably the only sporting team I really get weird about, because it somehow feels like its apart of my family. And even though quite often the people that represent it and wear the colours don’t strike me as the people I would want to spend any quality time with. For some reason, I take it very personally, my interest and fanaticism has waxed and waned over the years, I don’t go to a lot of matches at the moment, well, certainly not at the moment. Over the last few years it’s dropped off for me. But that’s the one team that I embarrass myself over. I go for Tottenham Hotspur in the EPL. It’s a weird team to support as they are kind of like the bullies who win all the time but not quite. I’ve always been really interested in soccer but more as an  appreciator. The only time, my passion is stirred is in my righteous hatred for teams that are above Tottenham Hotspur. And actually this goes through all sports, but it’s certainly compounded through soccer, you look at teams like Manchester United, Real Madid, and Barcelona. These are teams that people that know nothing about sport barrack for. So, and my passions are aroused in my desperate dire for schadenfreude, that these teams get relegated. Never happens of course. I also have a passing interest in the Cleveland Browns in NFL. For two reasons, one reason they seem to be practically shit. But not always, when I first got interested in them they were a mid table team, but it seems the last two decades they have been the laughing stock of the NFL. But I also love a team, called the Browns, but not because of the colour, which is part of their uniform but it seems coincidental. But there named that way because the person who founded the club was called Paul Brown. So if his name was Dick Wetter, I presume they would have been the Cleveland Dick Wetters. Anyway, I have that kind of passing interest, but it’s mainly in St Kilda and English football in general. I’m quite a fanatic about British football in the 70s, which was when I first discovered soccer. I was obsessed as a kid, I’m drawn to watching YouTube clips of soccer from the 70s.the quality is shithouse and there playing on terrible pitches, but it’s full of kind of nostalgic opium for me. That’s a long answer to your question but I support St Kilda mainly

Munster: So with your interest in both AFL and soccer which one would you refer to as football?

Damian: I call AFL football and the other one soccer. I know that’s probably terrible but it makes it simpler for me. I played soccer at a pretty reasonable level, I played state level soccer at the age of 15, I was a terrible disappointment to my father because I think he wished I would play football for St Kilda like my grandfather. For whatever reason I ended up playing soccer. So I have a lot of that in my blood system but I still call it soccer. So I apologize to the spirit of Johnny Warren whose somewhere wafting above me.

Munster: Tell us about your grandfather. How long did he play for?

Damian: his name was James Cowell, he played in the early 1900s. I don’t think the average footballer had a long career back then, but he managed to represent Victoria. He also played for Melbourne. I think he had four seasons at St Kilda and one for Melbourne. He then told my father who was a talented footballer at a local league level, he grew up in Richmond so was playing for Burnley and was offered to train with Richmond, and I think that would have been the Jack Dyer era. And my grandfather said to my dad don’t bother there’s no future in it. Which is funny as I guess he was right at the time. But you wouldn’t be telling your kids that these days if they were asked to play for Richmond today. You’d say pay for my superannuation.

Munster: When I interviewed you a few years back I mentioned Les Murry and you said that World Soccer hosted by Les was a big part of your formative years. Aside from that was there any other way you could get your fix of soccer? Was there any other TV shows, did you read magazines or papers that catered to soccer?

Damian: Oh Christ Matt I devoured it all. The first TV program, was called Star Soccer, and it was on a Saturday morning, so that was when I first saw a game of soccer, and I think that was on Channel 7, then the Big Match came on channel 2. So you had two highlights package programs of soccer. Star Soccer eventually went to a late night slot like 11PM, you’re going to regret asking me this question Matt as I’m so keen to ramble on, so Star Soccer moved to a Saturday night, which consisted with my mid teenage years. My treat was sitting up after my parents went to bed on a Saturday night, this is how much of a rock n roll guy I was, instead of roaming the streets of Springvale with a Molotov cocktail like I should have been, I was sitting at home waiting till 11:30 watching Star Soccer. The commentator was a guy called Hugh Johns, he remains my favourite commentator of all time in any sport. He had this beautiful clip style of announcing a goal. He would always say 1-nothing, never 1-nil. He had this fabulous expressive style and a tamper to his voice which I loved. So I partially love clips of Hugh Johns commentating. So that was a big influence, back in primary school when I first became aware of English soccer, you used to be able to get English comics, and there was one called Scorcher, which was a kids comic based around soccer. And there was another called Tiger which used to have features on soccer and had a famous strip called Roy of the Rovers which sort of became a figure of speech in England, they talk about a Roy of the Rovers style ending, sort of a heroic sort of ending. Then there was Shoot magazine, sort of, not quite a grown up magazine, and that was a glassy magazine. So I used to devour those, I once got in trouble from my mum because in Scorcher and Tiger and some other comic I never brought they had soccer playing cards. But I only got two out of the three or the four. So in the newsagents I was slipping the cards out of the magazines I wasn’t allowed to buy into my one copy, and of course I got sprung and had to go and apologize to the newsagent. So that was my early memories. It’s hard to explain to anyone who has grown up in the internet age, its like music I guess, its all a journey of exciting discovery. The information wasn’t at your fingertips at any one moment like it is now. So I was learning about England at the same time while following this sport. I was learning about a whole country that was particular to English football. It took me ages to figure out what caps where, because they were always going on about caps. He’s played 20 caps for England, he’s won 20 caps. I honestly thought as a kid it was bottle tops. It never accrued to me it might be a cap you put on your head. That sort of thing, there were so many turns of phrase or references I didn’t understand which I figured out later. But because I grew up with all that I became encyclopaedic about a very specific part of England. Places where they had 1st to 4th division football clubs. Even Scottish football, they had such fabulous names, in Scotland, there was a team, I think there non league now, or maybe even got kicked out, but the name was Third Lanark. And Third I think was a reference to a royal thing, some kind of ancient title. I thought it was hilarious a team was named after third. What if Third could never be as high as third? Another was Hamilton Academicals. Of course everyone makes reference to Sheffield Wednesday as a fabulous name of a team, but we’ve lost all that now. I can’t get into Australian soccer for that reason, because there’s no weird history behind it. Teams all have stupid names like Glory and Victory and Shove the Bastards up there arse. All heroic stuff. Whilst I hope in my musical career I can continue to push forward, certainly my interest in sport is trapped in a time warp of the 70s.

Munster: I found a clip on YouTube on Stephen Walkers show where you run the quiz, and you ask a question regarding a Brazilian soccer player that has a name similar to Johnny Marr, the answer being Josimar, and I thought bloody hell that man knows his soccer.

Damian: (laughs) that was a shithouse joke we had sitting on the BBQ long after everyone had gone home. That’s a little microcosm of me, and, well mainly me, I’m the only person I know that can put Josimar and Johnny Marr in the same sentence. People who like the Smiths tended not to be the sort of people that where into English football.

Munster: Now TISM and all the other bands you have been in have made a lot of football references, was that something that the groups you’ve been in have wanted to reference or was that something you pushed?

Damian: certainly in TISM, my famous other front man college was a very fanatical football supporter, as fanatical or even more then I.  I suppose the two loudest mouths in the band were football fans. I don’t think the football aspect ran through the band, but it was the two of us that pushed it the most. But I have to say the thing about TISM and football, and sporting songs, and I think what distances TISM from other bands doing songs about sport, is TISMs songs aren’t really about the sport. In the case of the song about Glen McGrath, it’s a backdrop. It’s a misleading title because, well its not it is about the parable of his haircut, but most people would look at that song and see the words Glen McGrath and think its about him, but he makes a cameo towards the end. And that is a perfect example, like when I hear song about football, I can’t think of a cricket song, most of them are shit. You know its like One Tony Lockett, I mean really its pretty bad. And even TISMs worst song of all time, which of course is Shut up the Footy’s on the radio. I’m reasonably confident in saying that and its got a few competitors Matt let me tell you there’s some pretty terrible stuff that got out, like a sneaky bit of gashouse emission. Even that, I know it was used, and I think it still is being used by Triple M, but it doesn’t say anything about football. It talks about other stuff. Even though I hate that song, I think it’s 6 billion times better than the one 3AW use, which I think might have been written by some guy who used to write for Draculas Theatre Restaurant. It feels like a commissioned jingle. And that’s kind of my point about songs written about footy, they leave me cold, a bit boring. I suppose this might sound odd coming from a musician, but I don’t find that music and sport mix. I like sport for sport and music for music, it’s a waste to put the two things together really and more than a waste when you have to endure music when you’re going to watch sport, particularly as it usually is the Foo Fighters being blasted from a shithouse speaker from the scoreboard. People who make YouTube clips of Yohan Kroft and I go ah great then I put it on and I hear some fucking song, and I think no they’ve just ruined it. Let’s just hear the cadence of the crowd, and the commentator who may add something, but that’s another topic you don’t want to get me stated on. So to put this terribly long winded answer to bed, TISM and my other bands references to football are generally bleak. I did a song in the DC3 called I hate football except when my team is winning. Perhaps that’s an exception to the rule because I spend most of the song saying why football is terrible. You probably wouldn’t have that playing as Lenny Hayes accepts his hall of fame nomination.

Munster: I agree there’s few footy songs out there that are good, and when Port Adelaide blasts Never tear us Apart by INXS I usually bolt for a smoke

Damian: yeah I’ve managed to avoid that I’ve never been to a Port Adelaide game, or not since they’ve been doing that, but yes I would probably start pulling out my own finger nails if I had to go through that. Actually a big part of the reason why I don’t go to the footy anymore, I get emails from St Kilda with all these surveys and I always feel like such a grumpy old cunt, and I’m sure they think  well this old fuckwit is not our target audience and he’s gonna die soon. So there after the kids. I keep telling them the match day experience is not as good as the couch experience because the match day experience involves me having to listen to loud shithouse music at every point the game isn’t being played, they have shithouse competitions. Then they’ll have some kind of ridiculous imitation of some imitation of something some club did first, you know banging the drums, or, I’m sure someone has copied the Iceland supporter’s thing of going OOHHH. All that sort of behaviour makes me nocuous. I have been to a few Melbourne Victory games a friend of mine was very kind to take me along. And that was pretty fascinating, its sort of moronic but in a more interesting fascists sort of moronic way, where’s the moronic aspect of seeing live AFL is just dumb shit, at Melbourne Victory its way more scary and dystopic

Munster: Tell us about your experience watching footy at suburban grounds.

Damian: I suppose was I fortunate, or unfortunate, whichever way you look at it, when I was little. My first game was at Lake Oval. My friend in primary school, I must have been in grade 1, my friend was a South Melbourne member like his family. I went there and that was fantastic. I went to Glenferrie Oval at the height of the Peter Hudson era I always remember my mother who barracked for Essendon, she was a big follower of football in the 40s and 50s, and she said in those days Hawthorn, she used to go to home and away games, she said going to Hawthorn used to be unpleasant because the mud used to smell, but you would always be guaranteed a win. I think that’s been reversed you don’t really get the mud smell. That’s such a bizarre oval, if you go there now you cannot believe top level state level football with crowds of 20,000 people went to it. The boundary perimeter on both sides is so close to the road. It’s like there’s room for three rows of terrace. This is another kind of trainspotting overcoat wearing birdwatching sort of side to my personality. I’m very interested in old suburban football grounds, only if they have a grandstand that’s where I cut it off. If there big enough for a grandstand I love them I love the look of them. I depress my wife greatly just standing there looking at them, like we’ll go for a day trip to Bendigo and there’s a fabulous art gallery there, well we used to in the old life, and the Queen Elizabeth Oval is next door. And I have to go and have a peak and I love looking at the latest work on the grandstand. So I wasn’t that fond of the suburban grounds as a kid, they were frighting places full of grownups and the threat of violence seemed to be hanging in the air at times. I never found Moorabbin had a sort of character as a lot of the other grounds, maybe because it was a late arrival on the scene it was only turned into a top level ground in 1965. It had these boring looking concrete grandstands. I had a period when I was really interested in AFL probably until mid teens, then the soccer bug was so big it took over. But around the late 80s, for maybe five or six years I tried to see St Kilda every week. And it coincided with the Tony Lockett era so was pretty exciting. I used to stand in Moorabbin behind the goals at the Nepean Highway end. I have fond memories of those times, you’d see some of the regulars and you’d always nod all that kind of stuff. So I had a wholesome experience. Not sure I’d like to return to those grounds, standing up all day is a bit harsh when your old like me but I did like the experience

Munster: Father and Son is one of my favourite TISM songs and references Tony Lockett and Nicky Winmar, did you write that and was it about your experiences going to the footy?

Damian: no not at all. I didn’t even write it, that’s what makes it more hilarious it was written by a Richmond supporter. Is it written about me? Kind of but not. Its sort of a strange song really, I would never write a song that references St Kilda like that and attempt to pass it off as a TISM song I would have felt as if I was pushing my own stupid little agenda. So I don’t having backstory into that song sorry Matt, but again, as you spotted its not really about Winmar and Lockett, they just turn up in the chorus

Munster: Now you mentioned Springvale before. I’m from Dingley.

Damian: Oh really? Home of Jet

Munster: And the soccer team the Dingley Stars, were you aware of the match fixing scandal that occurred there a few years back?

Damian: oh no I was only vaguely aware of it but that was recently wasn’t it? Putting Dingley on the map.

Munster: there you go, Jet and match fixing.

Damian: yeah, I love a bit of match fixing, if the Italians can do it why can’t they do it in Dingley? I’m also disappointed to note rather irrelevantly Matt that the Dingley International is no longer called the Dingley International. That’s so disappointing, I’ve been cracking jokes about that since its been built. Sort of like where would you like to go for our special anniversary weekend darling? What about the Dingley International. It doesn’t ring the same way. No I can’t elaborate on the Dingley match fixing scandal. I did have some interesting years playing state league under 15/16 soccer in the was ethnic wars back then. Soccer was very much a part of that ethnic group association. I think they served a purpose for migrants who had some kind of thing that could hang out or a place they could go to and met other people because white Australian where such cunts. I saw it first hand, I used to play for Prahran Slavia which was a motley collection of ethnic ethnicity at the time. Like so many of the teams in the state league they had the same name and colours, so we had the same colours as Slavia Prague. So the connection was Czechoslovakia But I think we only had one Czechoslovakian kid in the team. We would go up against South Melbourne Hellas who were all Greek and had the Greek flag, and Polonia who wore red and had the Polish coat of arms. Juventus same as the famous Italian club. Footscray J West T as well. It was a fascinating world to grow up in at the time. There would be all these old blokes yelling obscenities at you in a foreign language. Was pretty fantastic. Once we were told, there was a team called Melbourne Hungaria, so you can guess what their ethnic background was. Someone told us if you yelled Hungarian for gypsy it would put them off as apparently was a terrible insult. But I never brought into that sort of stuff, as a was a whitey Australian and I felt like I was an imposter in that whole scenario, but hair raising and fascinating stuff

Munster: before I let you go as mentioned these are odd and uncertain times but are you working on any music, maybe a Christmas gig coming up like you have in the last few years?

Damian: (laughs) wow a Christmas gig Matt, do you think we’re gonna have Christmas gigs?

Munster: well that might be wishful thinking

Damian: yeah, well its only June, so I’m not ruling it out, if not for this situation I would be planning something gig wise, will wait and see. I would love to do something but it depends. It’s hard for me to slot myself for a gig even pre Covid. I like to play certain venues at certain nights, it might be hard to get it up before Christmas but we won’t rule it out. But yes I am working on something, I’ve been working on my forthcoming album for that last two years, it is still a little while off and I’m not saying too much but its gonna be pretty massive, probably the biggest thing I’ve ever attempted personally, that will take up all my time till the end of the year. If we get a gig in fantastic, let’s see what Mt Covid will let us do.

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