A different kind of FA: Hans Keller and football

Keller's notes of the draw for the 1966 World Cup. [From the Hans Keller Archive, Cambridge University Library]

Keller’s notes of the draw for the 1966 World Cup. [From the Hans Keller Archive. Reproduced with the kind permission of Cambridge University Library]

No, we’ve not taken leave of our senses here in the Music Department, we simply can’t resist the opportunity of a Certain Sporting Event taking place at the moment to highlight yet another facet of the multi-talented Hans Keller: that of football fanatic.

Extraordinary to think that this man was almost as prolific in his writing on soccer as he was with the output he achieved in his “day” job in the music world. Keller wrote regular columns on the subject for the Spectator, the Sunday Times and also in The Listener, attended matches pretty nearly as frequently as he attended concerts (well, maybe not quite so intensively) and was friends with many of the top players in England at the time. His passion for the game didn’t escape the satirical gaze of Private Eye either which dubbed him “Hans Killer, Professor of Soccer Hooliganism at the University of Schoenberg” as one of their “Pseud’s corner” contributors. An anti-accolade perhaps?

"Football passacaglia" by Hans Keller. [From the Hans Keller Archive, Cambridge University Library]

“Football variations” by Hans Keller. [MS Add.9371/8. From the Hans Keller Archive. Reproduced with the kind permission of  Cambridge University Library]

In his Archive here at the UL, not only do we have typescripts of many of the articles on football he wrote, but also two large boxes brim full of other “socceralia”which show that he was just as meticulous, thorough and  detailed in his obsession with football as he was with musical issues. He kept match programmes, often annotated, and notebooks crammed with close analyses of the games he attended – who played in which position, who scored goals and the series of moves which brought each about. At times music and football are interwoven, where drafts of articles for either happily rub shoulders in the same notebook. At other times, if there was no proper notebook to hand he would hijack anything suitable, such as the two bound libretti with built-in pages for notes he was provided with as a member of the jury of the Prix Italia for 1964 which he has used as scrapbooks for programmes, newspaper cuttings and his own analysis of matches. Last, but by no means least, there is the manuscript of his Football variations, or football passacaglia, for voices (referee, spectators), violin, cello, piano [MS Add.9371/8] where you can clearly both hear and see the ball as it is passed between the players.

His passion for The Beautiful Game (I’m running out of synonyms here) began in his childhood in Vienna where he was an avid supporter of the Hakoah team (which means “strength” in Hebrew). He gives a memorable account of this early experience in 1975 (1984 minus nine) [727.c.97.183] as he recounts conversations with two Viennese taxi-drivers as they whisk him from airport to the offices of Austrian Radio and back. Once settled in England, he transferred his affections especially to Spurs and West Ham.

His writing on football is utterly absorbing, even for a complete ignoramus in the soccer department like me – knowledgeable (of course), insightful (naturally) and with an ability to articulate the inspired virtuosity required of players for success at the highest level (true also of course in the music world). The underlying thrust in his articles and in the chapter on football in Criticism is that all too often the individual genius of players like Greaves, Blanchflower and Best was sacrificed on the altar of the great inhibitor of talent: “team spirit” resulting in what he dubs “The New Mediocrity” (which he doesn’t confine to football, I might add, but extends across the whole of society). I’m surprised that the Football Manager doesn’t appear on his list of the phoney professions set out in Criticism [M568.c.95.63]!

Keller's analysis of a Spurs v Fulham match played on 19th February 1966. {From the Hans Keller Archive, Cambridge University Library]

Keller’s analysis of a Spurs v Fulham match played on 19th February 1966. [From the Hans Keller Archive. Reproduced with the kind permission of Cambridge University Library]

Here he is in the Spectator on 29 October 1965: “I am not saying that ‘we shall win the World Cup’ if we use all the real talent at our disposal: but we shall certainly lose it if we continue to depend on our hard-working nonentities.”

And again in the same journal on 13 May 1966, just a few short weeks before THAT World Cup: “Our World Cup hopes, such as they are, depend on Greaves the genius, and Bobby Charlton the steadier master.”

Who will emerge as the virtuosi of 2014, I wonder? We’ll probably know by the time you are reading this…



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