How Football saved Camus from Bohemian Rhapsody

I’m extremely intolerant to certain music. Some songs irritate me so much I have to leave the room if they come on. Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘El Condor Pasa’; Elton John’s ‘Circle of Life’; Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ are all culprits, as well as pretty much everything by Andrew Lloyd Webber. School concerts are a nightmare, I can tell you!

It might sound ridiculous, but the lengths I will go to, to avoid exposure to unbearable songs can be extreme. A few years ago, I was worried about going to a local festival in case I ended up pitched near an earnest soul, singing ‘Hallelujah’ round the campfire. The only way I felt I could control the situation was to write and perform some stand-up comedy at the festival – about a talking cat – just so I could include my own re-write of ‘Hallelujah’ – now ‘Cod and Tuna’ – in the hope that this would put people off their reverential, eyes shut renditions. I’m relieved to say it worked, although I definitely wouldn’t recommend stand-up comedy as a reliable form of stress relief, and wish in retrospect that I’d thought of the far simpler option of just buying some earplugs.

There is one song which I find far more toxic than any other, and that is ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen. I find the whining nasal guitar, the overblown orchestration and monumental production of all Queen songs excruciating, but ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ carves out a whole new Infernal territory. If Dante was around now, he’d allocate it a special circle of its very own to torture evil badger-baiters, Machiavellian astronomy-deniers and, well, me. Just hearing the first few bars brings me out in hives.

So, imagine my horror when on Sunday, some larking about in the comments section on Lucy’s 100 greatest novels post led to the earth-shattering disclosure that Albert Camus’ ‘The Outsider’ was the inspiration for that most poisonous of songs. I was devastated. ‘The Outsider’, or ‘The Stranger’ if you prefer, is a book that often haunts me, and I find myself thinking about how Meursault, the protagonist is damned in the eyes of society long before his crime. In fact, it seems insignificant alongside his social transgression of failing to ‘perform’ grief at his mother’s funeral.  To think this great novel had become irrevocably tainted by the evils of heinous operatic rock just didn’t bear thinking about.

camus goalkeeper, football

Less than an hour later, browsing through the Twitter feed of my other persona – The Knitted Footballer, I chanced upon a miracle. It was a tweet linking to an article published by football magazine The Football Pink discussing Camus and football. The article, Together and Alone: Camus’ Football Philosophy” by Alex Stewart, totally blew me away, as I had no idea that Camus was not only passionate about football, but had been a goalkeeper for the Racing Universitaire Algerios (RUA) junior team until TB spoiled all the fun.

In an interview in the fifties, he was asked about his time playing football, and is quoted as saying “After many years during which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and the duty of man I owe to sport and learned it in the RUA.” Indeed, when his friend Charles Poncet asked whether he preferred, football or the theatre – Camus is said to have replied ‘Football, without hesitation.’

I like to think Camus would have been far more enthusiastic about an afternoon spent on the terraces than having inspired a panto-rock anthem, even one that’s such a popular pick on Desert Island Discs. So,as far as I’m concerned, at the final whistle, the score is:

Football – 1

Permed Peddlers of Pomp – 0.


Camus, Sartre, Boxer vs Goalkeeper