Dreams never end: Manchester's music and football obsessions

Monday 06 November 2023 16:00

Following the of launch another collaboration between Manchester United, adidas and legendary designer Peter Saville, Mancunian music journalist Luke Bainbridge explores the city’s everlasting obsession with the worlds of football, music and culture...

Cantona knew. The United legend, recently reborn himself as a singer-songwriter, instantly recognised, when he arrived in Manchester in the mid-’90s, that this was a city driven by the twin obsessions of football and music. This is the place, realised football’s ultimate renaissance man, this is home.

“I feel close to the rebelliousness and vigour of the youth here,” Cantona said. “Perhaps time will separate us, but nobody can deny that here, behind the windows of Manchester, there is an insane love of football, of celebration and of music.”

Those twin cultural obsessions are now being embraced and celebrated again, with a second collaboration between United, adidas and Peter Saville, the legendary designer of Factory Records. Following the success of their first collaboration on last year’s Pulsebeat of Manchester collection, adidas, United and Saville have worked together again on season two of Manchester United x Peter Saville.

New Peter Saville collection launched


Inspired by Manchester’s cultural heritage, this is what happens when music and football combine.

Where Pulsebeat took Saville’s artwork for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures as inspiration, the second Saville season, entitled Concilio et Labore (‘By Counsel and Work’) the motto from the Manchester Coat of Arms, is inspired by the iconic artwork of the sleeve of New Order’s Blue Monday, which included Saville’s use of a colour bar to communicate the titles and catalogue numbers, and was recently recreated on the cover of United Review. Like Pulsebeat, the second season is a nod to the cultural rebirth of Manchester in recent decades, powered in no small way by the iconic cultural institutions of Factory and Manchester United.

From the late ’70s to the ’90s, straddling punk and acid house, Factory was the most important record label in Britain, if not the world. It kickstarted the cultural rebirth of Manchester and the finding and rebuilding of a new civic identity. Even Factory’s name was inspired by a wilfulness to reinvent the post-industrial city – “We kept seeing signs everywhere saying, ‘Factory closing’, so we thought ‘why don’t we have a Factory opening?’”.

Like Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson, Factory’s civic attitude reflected that of the ancient Greeks; the lofty ambition and determination to leave behind something greater, better, and more beautiful than that which they inherited. There’s myth in the national press and London that the IRA bomb in the summer of 1996 started the regeneration of Manchester, but the truth is the rebirth and renaissance of the city had started much earlier. At that point, Manchester was already a city in transition. It may have suffered in the 1970s, like all British post-industrial cities, but by the late ’80s and early ’90s, the republic of Mancunia was rediscovering its zeal. As were United... and then some.

Coming of age in Manchester at the time, I witnessed the city reinvent itself around me, drawing inspiration and confidence from its art and artists. Culture and football replaced cotton as the city’s greatest export, and the foundations for both its excess of civic pride and its international reputation. The buoyant music scene and domination of United put Manchester back on the global map and enthused the population. You don’t get a town like this for nothing.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven. Or, as Mani from The Stone Roses, a huge United fan put it: “It was great when the music and football just seemed to come together, because what else is there?... what else is there?!”

The week after United won the Treble in 1999, I spent the afternoon in the Oxnoble pub in Castlefield with Tony Wilson, Granada TV presenter, co-founder of Factory Records and the Haçienda, discussing how music and football had redefined Manchester. Wilson explained to me, at length (the only way he knew how), that in his eyes: “The idea of the city as an attractive vibrant place to be begins with rock’n’roll. Why is that even more true in cities like Manchester? When it comes to popular culture, you’re talking world, global level.”

This was the foundations of the contemporary Mancunian excess of civic pride. How could you be living in a dump, Wilson argued, if when it came to rock’n’roll and football, which meant more to you than anything, your city was more important than Tokyo, Berlin, and Paris? You couldn’t. As an Old Trafford season ticket holder, Wilson knew United were key global ambassadors for the city he loved so much. “That’s the way it’s always been, ever since the era of Best, Law and Charlton. It’s great because United’s football reflects the style and arrogance of the city, and that’s the way it should be, instead of this dour image of an industrial city.”

The civic pride in Factory and United was infectious. The city began to think big again, staying true to the forward thinking and liberal traditions that made JB Priestley comment: “What Manchester thinks today, the rest of England thinks tomorrow.”
Tony Wilson's influential role in Manchester culture is memorialised by this Northern Quarter mural.
Oscar-winning Mancunian film director Danny Boyle – who directed the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games and is currently directing a modern dance adaption of The Matrix within the biggest cultural building in Britain, Manchester’s new Aviva Studios (initially named after Factory) – watched this reinvention of the city as he grew up in Radcliffe, north of the city. 

“Manchester reinvented itself,” he explained in the film The Class of ’92. “It didn’t wait for a leader to do that for it. In fact, it took the lack of interest that was clearly shown to it by Margaret Thatcher’s premiership as the signal to do things for itself.

“There are some great northern cities that actually aren’t beholden to anyone. And no matter how bad it gets they will always regenerate themselves.”
New Order's iconic 12-inch single, 'Blue Monday'.
Football and culture continue to redefine and power Manchester to the modern day. The Warehouse Project is now the biggest nightclub in the world and its first home was the old Boddingtons Brewery, with Sacha Lord and his fellow directors, like Factory before then, inspired to turn the loss of the city’s industrial gems into a positive cultural regeneration story.

Meanwhile, rapper Aitch and NQ Records are championed by The Face as the heirs to Factory, the city once more leading the way musically. Aitch, a huge Red and best mates with Marcus Rashford, headlined this year’s Parklife festival and when he took to the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, he was wearing the new United home shirt.

Season two of Manchester United x Peter Saville embraces the twin Mancunian obsessions of football and culture, with a new interpretation of the legendary graphic designer’s colour bar from Blue Monday. It is probably the most famous 12-inch sleeve of all time, with Saville’s design based on a floppy disc which he picked up in New Order’s rehearsal studio. Blue Monday also became the biggest-selling 12-inch single of all time. Due to the use of expensive die-cutting and specified colours in the production of the sleeve, Factory famously lost money on every copy sold at first, although production of the sleeve was later modified.
Aitch unveiled our 2023/24 home shirt when he rapped at Glastonbury in June.

The collection includes a T-shirt, long sleeve T-shirt, track top, half zips and track pants, all of which feature a new interpretation of Saville’s colour bar down the sleeves or leg. The collection was worn by the United players on the way to the home match against Newcastle, as well as for the pre-match warm-up.

The most unique and covetable item is the release of a limited edition United x Saville concept album entitled Sound of Manchester. One side of the album features iconic Salford poet and lifelong United fan John Cooper Clarke, talking about the history and power of Manchester culture, and the flipside features a previously unreleased recording of the crowd from Old Trafford from the season-defining game against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993, when United came from behind with two late Steve Bruce headers, and went on to win the inaugural Premier League title. There is also a short Clockwork Orange-inspired film which features members of United’s men and women’s first team supervising the pressing and mastering of the bespoke vinyl.

Everyone knows Manchester kids have the best record collections and this unique Peter Saville x United album will be a covetable addition to any Mancunian vinyl collection.