“This is VERY ill conceived,” warned guitarist Henry Young’s mum when she heard about Sports Team’s latest idea. “Heh heh heh” came the response as the band shared her concern on Twitter. To celebrate the announcement of their debut album ‘Deep Down Happy’, the band invited everyone down their local for a gig via a tweet. With less than 24 hours notice, fans travelled from as far as Scotland and the Isle of Wight just to pile into the South London boozer.
“There’s a bit of apprehension,” says vocalist Alex Rice on the phone a few hours beforehand. As with most things Sports Team, it’s already threatening to get out of hand. From selling out venues that hold more people than they have followers on Twitter (they’re currently a few hundred shy of a Brixton Academy-filling 5000) to their now annual coach trip to Margate, the band announce first, and work out the details later. It’s chaotic, unpredictable but relentlessly exciting. This is no different.
The idea was sparked over the weekend after a day demoing new music for album two. Rob and Alex went to the pub, had a few pints and ranted about the label wanting to manage every aspect of the album launch. Fuck it, they decided, and announced the gig on Twitter. “I think it’ll be chaos,” Alex grins. “The pub seemed happy as well. ‘I think we’re going under if we don’t do something, so just do whatever you want.’”
The Nag’s Head, Camberwell is packed before Sports Team even get there. The pub’s televisions have Radio 1 on ahead of the premiere of their new single ‘Here’s The Thing’, a riotous track written while the band were on tour, watching all the political coverage and poking fun at hearing nothing but absolute statements. “You can trust a man who wears a suit and tie,” Alex sings. “It’s all just lies, lies, lies, lies.”
An hour later at 8:45pm, the band take their positions dotted around the pub. There’s no stage, the closest they manage is Alex standing on a table, and it’s carnage from the start. The floor flexes under the weight of the whole room jumping, kids jump off tables and crowdsurf about the place while the bar staff try and keep them away from a giant mirror. The likes of ‘M5’, ‘The Races’ and ‘Fishing’ inspire a bubbling hysteria. Midset drummer Al Greenwood takes a cymbal to the face. A quick patch up job that involves someone holding tissue to her bleeding head as she heroically powers through the remainder of the set. Sports Team’s wonky indie is eclectic but infused with a buoyant energy. It’s conversational and scattergun – the room hangs on every word. You know that scene in World War Z where all the zombies clamber onto of each other to scale a wall? Yeah, the pics from this show look sort of like that.
“We’d play the same way playing to 50 people in a pub as we would to half a million people,” says Alex. The band has never shied away from wanting to be big, they’ve mentioned playing Knebworth more than once and the announcement for ‘Deep Down Happy’ came alongside the warning that, “the campaign for Number One starts here.”
“It’s an ambitious album. It’s an album of the decade contender,” Alex says. “We say we’re ambitious but we also realise all the graft that’s gone into it. This album is three years of our lives, coming home from a job in an office then staying up late working on music and coming up with an excuse to miss work the next day so we can drive to Milton Keynes to do something. When we say our ambitions, we work really hard at it and hope that’s where we get to with it.”
There’s something relatable about the way Sports Team throw themselves into every situation. They never pretend to be perfect but they never settle for half-cocked. It’s part of the reason people latch onto them so whole-heartedly. It’s why they travel hundreds of miles to go to a pub in South London on a Monday night. “Our fanbase seems cultish. I mean, there’s probably been thousands of memes of us made in the last month. Everyone feels a part of it and we feel like we want to do them all justice, everyone that’s devoted time to this band or really brought into it as an identity movement. There are six personalities in the band. We are genuinely very different, which is why we don’t get on all the time, but you’ve got someone who is like you in this The Breakfast Club-style band. Whether we’ve fallen into it or consciously done it, we give people a sense of identity. All the people at the gig tonight, it means a lot. When someone says they like Sports Team, you know a lot about them just from that.”
“I hate it when we’re called crazy capers or jolly funsters though. Making yourself accessible and being prepared to meet people and do stuff that’s a bit silly, that’s just fun. People see the genuine joy in that. They can see the genuine apprehension and anticipation. They’ll want to be a part of it, and then can be. What we want to be is accessible. And maybe we’re too accessible on nights like this, but it feels like you’re coming up with a community of people around you.”
Sports Team are aspirational. People see the band and think “that’s a gang I’d like to be part of.” After the gig tonight, Sports Team head to the smoking area along with most of the room who just want to hang out and drink together. It’s a real mates fest and everyone is welcome. While other bands in the scene like The Murder Capital or IDLES are talking about ways to change the world, Sports Team are frank about their position: “we don’t have the answers, our solution has been to form a band and all move to London. It feels really exciting but actually, it is quite aimless. What are we doing with our lives? Is it sustainable, is it going to work, do we still actually enjoy it after sleeping on a living room floor for six months?”
From the grins on display tonight though, Sports Team are still having the time of their lives. “It’s the best thing in the world being in a band with your mates. The thing we’re doing tonight, it’s the way we always used to release music. We’d write a new song and then put on a flat party to play it, probably quite badly. We love playing live together, it’s brilliant.”
The band are already working on their second album, “because we feel a responsibility to the people who do feel so invested In it.” and they believe “what we have to say is important. Guitar music is bubbling away again. Fontaines D.C., Squid, Sorry, there’s an appetite for it. It got cool again. Oli and I were talking about all these iconic gigs we saw when we were kids, and they were the best nights of your 16-year-old lives. We come at it from that point of view. We want to create that feeling at gigs. You are giving people formative experiences. Going to Sports Teams gigs is where they’re meeting their new friends, it’s where they’re having their first drink. It’s important for them. It’s important for us. For better or worse, we’re all in.” It’s the only way Sports Team know.