Sports Team have always treated their success as a joke that got out of hand. The indie-rock group launched 2020 debut album ‘Deep Down Happy’ by taking over their local pub for a gig so chaotic that at least one member of the band needed a trip to the emergency room. Earlier this year on the main stage at Reading Festival, their onstage blimp – essentially, a gigantic balloon – advertised a number for a phone the band had lost weeks before. No matter how big things get for Sports Team (from Number 2-charting albums to a Mercury Prize nod), they refuse to take it too seriously.
Tonight though, something’s changed as the six-piece headline a sold out O2 Academy Brixton. Sure, vocalist Alex Rice walks onstage wearing a faux-fur coat and a hat made from at least a dozen wigs, but the driving ‘Here It Comes Again’ has never sounded better. Likewise, the scrappy ‘Going Soft’ is transformed into a snarling, marching number while the energetic ‘Margate’ is rounded off with a burst of confetti. Three songs in and it’s clear Sports Team are throwing everything they’ve got at this gig.
For ‘M5’, Rice even splits the crowd in half to do the harmonies. He says it’s because he’s had steroid injections to play tonight’s show (in fairness, the band have been on the road since restrictions first lifted) but equally, he seems to be having a great time playing the part of ringmaster. His Mick-Jagger-meets-interpretive-dancer stage presence has always felt eccentric in smaller venues, but tonight, it’s exactly the sort of flamboyance a show like this deserves.
New song ‘The Game’ offers a taste of what’s to come: a frantic guitar-driven track that veers between Oasis’ explosive singalong choruses and The Hives’ garage-punk snarl. For the most part, though, tonight is a celebration of Sport Teams’ journey so far. Producer Dave McKraken is given a shout out for letting the band use his studio for free way back when, and elsewhere, Rice says the years playing small venues weren’t bad because he was onstage with his five best friends every night. Spanning the band’s entire journey, the setlist covers everything from wailing debut single ‘Stanton’ to the furious, sarcastic anthem of ‘Here’s The Thing’ and thunderous recent single ‘Happy (God’s Own Country)’.
“This was the show. This was our dream to play,” says Rice as the confetti settles. “We’ve got the greatest fans in the world and I’ll never patronise you. This means something. This is important.” Later in the set he avoids “coming up here and lecturing you because you get it. Just look after your mates, ok?”
This might be the biggest show Sports Team have played but they inspire the same sort of carnage that they’ve always had at their gigs. Every song sees fans climbing on each other’s shoulders, or crowdsurfing their way to the front but it’s all backed by an academy-wide singalong. The band can now afford fancy lights, CO2 cannons and plenty of confetti, but it never comes at the expense of connecting with the crowd.
Sports Team believe that “guitar music can change things” but have never really treated their own music with the same sort of prestige. Until tonight, that is. Maybe it’s down to the weeks spent on the road reconnecting with fans, or perhaps the fact they’re playing a dream come true headline show. Whatever the reason, tonight Sports Team play like they’ve finally started believing all their own talk about headlining Knebworth. They’ve never sounded better or (wig hat aside) looked more inspirational.
Sports team played:
‘Here It Comes Again’
‘Happy (God’s Own Country)’
‘Long Hot Summer’
‘You & Me Song’ (The Wannadies cover)
‘Stations of the Cross’
‘Here’s the Thing’