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PopMart live from Mexico is the best thing U2 ever did. -- Bono

U2's Passion for Football (Soccer)


Every four years, the whole world celebrates one of the most popular sports: football, or soccer for Americans. I’m Brazilian, so this is the most important sport in my country. It’s rare to find someone who doesn’t like football, because we usually learn to love it from our parents. That was what happened in my family. My dad has influenced me and my brother, and my grandma’s brother was a professional football player. I always mention the Football Museum to anyone who visits São Paulo, and I was born on July 7, 1982, during the World Cup in Spain, which makes me happier and love the tournament even more!

U2 share this same passion for football, and Ireland supporters are known as some of the most excited fans. It’s a pity the country did not qualify for the World Cup in Russia. I’m sure we’ll miss their parties during the games.

The start of the World Cup is a great opportunity to remember U2’s connections to football. Since the early days, they’ve shown their interest in it. In 1982, U2 appeared on MTV on St. Patrick’s Day playing football. They did it again in the “Walk On” video, shot in Rio de Janeiro. And at the opening of PopMart Tour, the letter “o” from Pop became a ball.   

The band members were spotted for several times watching games, like this one on St. Patrick’s Day in 2015, in the South of France, when they were all together rehearsing for the tour that followed. It’s also quite common to find shows in which they wore local team’s jerseys and photos of the group with famous players. See here some photos with World Cup champions: Pelé, Maradona, Ronaldo and Kaká:

Larry Mullen Jr. is probably the biggest football fan in the band. I found a video of Kevin Kilbane, a former football player, talking about Larry’s regular support for Ireland team. 

For sure, the biggest link between U2 and football was Larry’s contribution to the Irish national team during the 1990 World Cup. He helped to write and produce “Pu ’Em Under Pressure,” the official song of Ireland’s squad. U2, in fact, flew to Italy at that time to see a game. Bono told Propaganda: “Where we were sitting at the match with Italy, the atmosphere was very Italian. There was a giant Italian mascot dressed as a sort of bullfighter with a World Cup on his head and two cymbals, one on each arm, which on every Italian offensive were bashed together... I think Larry wanted to put his head between the cymbals.”

“Put ’Em Under Pressure” was so remarkable that this song is still considered one of the greatest during game celebrations. Even after many years, it still has a tremendous impact among Irish fans.

But “Put ’Em Under Pressure” is not the only U2 music used as a football soundtrack. In 2001, ITV’s The Premiership — the U.K.’s leading football show — chose “Beautiful Day” as its signature tune. A new mix of the song was produced especially for the program.

At the 2006 World Cup, FIFA invited the band to be part of the “One Game Changes Everything” campaign to promote football across the U.S. U2 gave their voices to several short films broadcast by ESPN and ABC Sports. Watch them here: “Once Every 4 Years,” “Ivory Coast,” “Football Tartan Army” and “Sick Days.”

“This is just a warm-up for the one that really matters: South Africa,” Bono told ESPN senior director of sports marketing Seth Ader. But a few months before the World Cup, the (RED) organization co-founded by Bono teamed up with Nike and launched the “Lace Up. Save Lives” campaign. The proceeds of red shoelaces were donated to the Global Fund and football-based community initiatives that provide education about HIV/AIDS prevention.

“It was important to me to be involved in the (RED) campaign because I’m from Africa,” said Ivory Coast footballer Didier Drogba (pictured below; photo by Dave Hogan, Getty Images Europe). “It’s a big honor and pleasure for me to be linked with Bono and try to help him save some lives.”

During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, ESPN used music by the Soweto Gospel Choir with U2 music and live footage for a series of commercials. Here are some videos featuring “Magnificent,” “Where The Streets Have No Name” and “Get On Your Boots.”

During the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Larry supported the Street Child World Cup, an organization that uses the power of the sport to improve the lives of street children worldwide. He expressed his admiration for Pelé, the Brazilian footballer regarded by many as the greatest player of all time: “When I was a kid in the '70s growing up in Artane, Dublin, Pelé was my hero. When I slept I dreamt of being a full forward, being up front, the striker. When I woke up I was the goalkeeper for a rock 'n' roll band. Never stop dreaming.” 

Something interesting happened last year during The Joshua Tree Tour. The show in Buenos Aires took place at the same time as Argentina’s qualifying match that would set the future of the country for the World Cup in Russia. The band delayed the show for few hours and broadcast the game on the stadium screen. I was in charge of the coverage of the Latin American leg, and as a football fan I decided to live-tweet the game as well. It was a very nice experience to see the fans following it and celebrating at each goal. It was clear to everyone how passionate South Americans are for music and football. At the end of the show, Bono praised the player Lionel Messi and offered a toast with Champagne: “Thank you, Lionel Messi, who surely proves that God exists.”

In the same way I could listen to U2 all day, I could also watch football games one after the other. This month ahead will be very exciting with both the World Cup and Experience + Innocence Tour shows happening at the same time. But unlike what happens in the sport, U2 fandom is not a competition. No fans are better than others. After 40 years, I feel we’re all fortunate to see the band still rocking. As a U2 fan I must say we’re all champions here.

(c) @U2/Bottini, 2018