It can seem a bit silly to think of the intense rivalry that brewed between Oasis and Blur. Looking back from 2021, the spats seem, at the very best, childish. In reality, they were more akin to pantomime fisticuffs than anything of any real value. Of course, as Britpop raged on through the mid-’90s and Britain began to crawl out of the dark depressive days of the 1970s and ’80s, there was a sense of reclaiming the rock and roll crown from America’s alt-rock contingent.
Though most of the work truly adored by the Gallagher brothers, Liam and Noel, and Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree, was enjoyed on this continent, for a moment, it felt like the whole world was watching.
Not only did the bands duel it out in the singles charts, with the famous battle of Britpop taking place between, eventual winner, Blur’s ‘Country House’ and Oasis track ‘Roll With It’, but they broke out into the media continuously throwing out jabs at one another.
Most of it was in good fun, Liam Gallagher, playing the classic villain of the piece, while doe-eyed Albarn took on his role of Prince Charming, but there were more than a few instances where tempers flared, and outrageous remarks were made — Noel Gallagher even publically hoped the band contracted AIDS. All of this sentiment had the opportunity to bubble up on one lowly football pitch some 25 years ago.
Soccer Six was a charity match, in benefit of Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre, that invited the great and the good of the British charts to participate in a charity football tournament. It would see a host of bands like Reef, Dodgy, and the Bluetones (their song ‘Put Your Hands Up’ is one of the ’90s undying anthems) take on other groups like Pulp, Massive Attack, Blur or Oasis.
Having spent the previous years fighting with one another in tabloid newspapers, with Liam Gallagher even using Oasis picking up an award at the BRITs to make another “Shitelife” joke a few weeks prior, the white lines were drawn, nets hung, and a battle felt like it was looming over the pitches in London’s Mile End stadium.
At the time, it was unusual for rock stars even to admit they like sports, let alone be so involved in them. It meant that this event wasn’t only exciting for the fans, of which 5,000 turned up and frequently caused hysteria, but for the stars in action too.
Popstar Robbie Williams pointed out: “Footballers want to be pop stars, and pop stars want to be footballers. The adulation of being on stage and of scoring a goal is the same, it’s a feeling of ecstacy.” He even had a prediction for the future, “Football is going to get even more trendy, as long as they keep buying foreign players to add a bit of spice.”
Usually, such an event wouldn’t garner much press, but, for this event, swarms of snappers and journalists made their way pitchside to try and catch a glimpse of the only on-field battle anybody cared about: Liam Gallagher vs Damon Albarn.
Operating as part of two separate teams, Oasis played in sky blue for Manchester City while Albarn and Blur would adopt Chelsea’s royal blue kit. It may not have been quite as anticipated as the upcoming Champions League Final but the world got its wish when they finally faced off against one another in a quarter-final grudge match. It was, for all intents and purposes, the Britpop derby.
Not unlike El Classico, or the Old Firm, it not only produced some of the most iconic images of the era, and suffered spectator delays through pitch invasions, but also saw stars take to the field in the name of helping their team. Jarvis Cocker of Pulp and Robbie Williams played for Oasis after their security guard (also playing sweeper) limped off with an injury. But it was Blur who, as in the chart battle, would emerge victorious once more, beating Oasis 2-1 and claiming the bragging rights,even if they were knocked out the following round by Reef.
Of course, football was and still is a huge part of both the band’s lives. The groups have contributed to the sport’s very culture with ‘Song 2’ and ‘Wonderwall’ sung at grounds across the world. They’ve also rightly conquered the music world, having moved on from the squabbles and squalor of the mid-90s.
But there’s no better reflection of the brutal Britpop battle, a culmination of culture, courage and commercial success, than the scenes of one fateful sunny day in 1996 when the Britpop derby took place.