At a five-a-side football venue in Leeds, disability teams from Liverpool and Bradford played each other for the inaugural Red Rum Club Trophy.
The tournament was the brainchild of Liverpool indie band Red Rum Club, who help coach and support the Bootle Bucks Inclusion teams.
They were contacted by Premier League referee Jon Moss, who owns a record shop in Headingley called The Vinyl Whistle, about promoting their new album, The Hollow of Humdrum, in his record store.
As a result, the band brought Bootle Bucks over to Leeds to play Bradford City’s inclusion sides and the Red Rum Club team, with the competition being refereed by Moss and fellow Premier League official Martin Atkinson.
After the football, the band headed off to the record store to sign some vinyl before putting on an acoustic set in the street to the delight of unsuspecting passers-by. That evening a socially-distanced gig took place at Blueberry Hill Studios for an 80-strong audience.
“We thought it would be great to get a couple of games of football played in the morning to make a day of it with the music,” said Moss.
“I was playing golf with Martin the other day and persuaded him to come down.”
Bootle Bucks Inclusion coach John Doran, whose son Francis is lead singer of the band, was delighted to get some competitive football for his players after a tough six months. “A couple of the lads from the band come down and coach whenever they can,” he explained.
“Our kids take great pride in wearing the Bootle Bucks shirt, which is sponsored by Red Rum Club. We want to get other teams involved and we’ll hopefully get Bradford City and a few others over to Liverpool next year.”
Francis showed a few skills and a decent turn of pace during his pre-gig run out on the pitch with the band. “In lockdown everyone has suffered,” he said.
“But for these people with additional needs, all they want to do is play football and enjoy themselves. It’s a great way to develop their social skills and it is how they see their friends.
“Bootle Bucks has over 90 signed players signed up now across seven teams, from ages 6-19 including girls’ teams.
“We know there are a lot of other inclusion teams around the country who have done the same, so we are going to try and get a tournament going every year.”
Atkinson enjoyed officiating, too, but gave the gig a miss. “It’s great to see the kids out here enjoying themselves, just playing football,” he added.
“Jon’s the music man, it’s far too trendy for me. I’m a bit too old for that, I’m more of an ‘80s man, I do like The Jam!”
Red Rum Club have picked up a loyal following since their debut album, Matador, was released last year and Moss is amongst their fans.
“There used to be a band from Leeds called The Bridewell Taxis and they had a trumpeter,” Moss continued.
“It’s very unusual to have a trumpeter in an indie band, it’s a different sound and I think that appeals to a lot of people.
“So with their second album, I asked them to come over to the shop and play a few songs and they were more than willing to do that.”
Many of the referees have a keen interest in music, with four other officials turning up at the Blueberry Hill studios gig that evening, including Premier League referee David Coote. There is a wide and varied taste amongst the men in black, with Kevin Friend known to be a keen trance fan above and beyond all else.
Moss has long been a champion of live music, having settled in Leeds as a student in the early 1990s when there was a varied indie scene thriving in the city at venues such as The Duchess of York, The Faversham and The Cockpit alongside some big house music nights at Back to Basics and The Orbit, in nearby Morley.
The referee has missed the crowds at both music and football.
“Refereeing in the Premier League is completely different without the crowd. That sense of theatre and atmosphere is missing,” he explained.
“It’s the same with gigs. Going to see a band live changes your opinion of a band, for better or worse.
“I’ve been to some great gigs down the years. The government has to support music venues where possible, there’s some fantastic gig venues that are struggling.
“For music and football we’re a little bit lost without the crowd aren’t we?”
Those words will ring true for many of us.
The Red Rum Club gig was a reminder of what we’ve all been missing, but just as important were their efforts to stage the disability football tournament which was a huge success.
The band are due to begin their UK tour in February.
We can only hope there will be fans back at our music and football venues by the time they take to the road.