Remembering Frank Sidebottom

by Chris Ledger

There is one day that some football fans will always remember: Monday 21 June 2010. They were in mourning because a cult figure in football had passed away – a unique personality that could never be replicated or replaced. But it was not a footballer or manager, nor was it a chairman or broadcaster. It was Chris Sievey, a musician and comedian, who was most famous for his character Frank Sidebottom.

For those who have not heard of Frank – or Francis, as his mother called him – he was a happy-go-lucky pop star based in his beloved Timperley. He released several records, became the president of a Sunday football team, had his own comic strip in the children’s comic ‘Oink!’ and presented his own ‘Fantastic Shed Show’. Frank even managed to record the definitive version of The Fall’s ‘Hit the North’. And he still found the time to do the shopping for his mum.

But, alongside his large papier-mâché head and warped interpretations of classic songs, Frank is best remembered for his association with football. During the 1980s, for instance, he made an appearance on ‘Match of the Day’ during one of Altrincham’s giant-killing FA Cup runs, whilst wearing his big shorts. Frank then wrote a song, called ‘Guess Who’s Been on Match of the Day?’, which was all about appearing on the show in his big shorts.

Like many of his songs, ‘Guess Who’s Been on Match of the Day?’ was musically questionable – with its automated drum-patterns and discordant chords – despite his obsessive eye for detail. But it also showed his qualities as a football supporter. He saw the sport as a bit of fun and a chance to play up to his camp demeanour. Frank never took football or anything else seriously; he would remain cheerful and optimistic, whatever the result, as being there was the important thing.

It did not mean that football was not important to him, though. He liked nothing more than spending a Saturday afternoon watching some fantastic goals at Moss Lane. This was when his blind optimism became most apparent. As seen in the track ‘Six All-time Great Footballing Chants’, from his 1988 LP ‘5:9:88’, his taunts at away supporters included: “you’re going home on an organised football coach”, “there’s only one referee and there’s two linesmen, but there’s only one referee” and “nil-nil, nil-nil, nil-nil, nil-nil”. This showed Frank’s child-like enthusiasm for the game, but in a mischievous way with no malice.

There was also no cynicism in Frank. Whilst some supporters have grown tired of the constant commercialisation of football over the years, Frank would never become depressed about the game. The ‘World Cup Mexico 90′ EP, for example, contained an ‘interview’ with Bryan Robson stating that his preparations for the game involved getting a new hairstyle, shirt and shorts. But Frank did not feel frustrated by these preparations. He was delighted, in fact, by declaring that Robson is “all dolled-up ready to play football for his country; let’s have a fantastic sing-along to end the show”.

This is what Frank’s character was about, as few things were “bobbins” in his world. He may have been blissfully oblivious to the failings of his own talent and teams like Altrincham, but he was happy. After all, what he enjoyed most about the game was “going to Mexico and scoring lots of World Cup goals; it is very brilliant, on the Mexican football pitch”.

What was really unique about Frank and football, though, was that he did not support one specific team – he followed many clubs. He was most famous for supporting Altrincham and Manchester City but, in 1990, he founded Timperley Big Shorts and they were soon elected to Division Three in the Manchester Publicity Sunday League. He also frequently sported a Timperley Big Shorts kit when he was a regular fixture on Saturday morning television programmes for Children’s ITV – such as ‘Motormouth’, ‘A Beetle Called Derek’ and ‘What’s Up Doc?’ – during the early 1990s.

He even followed Manchester United in a set of trailers for the BBC’s coverage of the 2000 FIFA Club World Championship. And whilst many supporters criticised the Old Trafford outfit for abandoning the FA Cup to appear in the tournament, which was held in Brazil, Frank embraced it. He said that he was not able to go because he “can’t fit me head inside the passport photo” but, with his Casio keyboard parched onto an ironing board, he sang:

“Did you know that me cousin Martin worked at the Georgie Best boutique? And now he’s just nipped over to Brazil, to support Man United for a couple of weeks. But for those of us that can’t afford to go – like Posh and Brooklyn and the ginger-haired Scholes – just keep tuned into the BBC for all the thrills and spills and the action and the goals. Thank you.”

This was a man who could support three teams from the North West – or four, if you included his affiliation with Manchester United for the sake of a television promo. But that was the best thing about Frank, he had no hate. He never showed any hostility towards other teams, supporters or players – except his long-suffering sidekick Little Frank, of course, because Frank thought that puppets were “bobbins” – as he just enjoyed the game for what it was. His overall view of the world may have been naive, but Frank’s innocence was endearing and his most significant character trait.

Like Frank, football should never be pretentious; it should be enjoyed as something that has dollops of inspiration. And if that did not make Frank Sidebottom the perfect football supporter, nothing will. You know he was, he really was. Thank you.

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