David James: why the footballer trains to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

The former England goalkeeper revealed his love of Beethoven symphonies and Saint-Saëns operas in his new programme for Scala Radio

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 02:  David James during the  #GAME4GRENFELL at Loftus Road on September 2, 2017 in London, England. The charity football match has been set up to benefit those who were affected in the Grenfell Tower disaster.  (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

Footballer David James has revealed that he listens to classical music to help him stay calm, prepare for a game or gear himself up for working out. The former England goalkeeper told The Times, ‘I can very honestly say that classical music has kept me sane. It’s always been there for me and I will always listen to it.’

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James also shared the classical music he listens to on a regular basis, with works by Beethoven, Holst and Saint-Saëns appearing among his favourites. Many of these works were featured on his new programme for Scala Radio, in which he explored the relationship between football and classical music.

‘The whole length of Beethoven’s Ninth is just long enough to do a good session on a gym bike,’ he told The Times‘s deputy arts editor Neil Fisher. He tells a story on his programme for Scala Radio about how the England football team created a playlist for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. ‘My fellow goalie Paul Robinson went for a Neil Diamond song; Peter Crouch chose Get Up (Everybody) by Byron Stingily. And I decided to have the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which is about 24 minutes long.’ Unfortunately however, his track was skipped over. ‘Paul was the No. 1 goalkeeper,’ James admits. ‘If I had been the No. 1 goalkeeper I might have got my music played and pulled rank.’

Find out more about the story behind Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony here.

David James is not the only famous Beethoven fan: others include former British PM Margaret Thatcher, tennis star Rafael Nadal and poet Sylvia Plath. We name some of the most famous fans of Beethoven here.

Read our reviews of new Beethoven recordings.

He also chose to feature Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Dalila, which he ‘imagined filming a match set to some of the score’ and the hoedown from Copland’s Rodeo. He suggested that if England win the Euros this year, ‘it would be wonderful if someone could compose a new piece – an English Ode to Joy? A proper, classical salute to England.’

Saint-Saëns appeared several times in David James’s round-up of favourite classical music, as he remembered hearing Danse macabre when he was first learning the cello at school.

James also sung the praises of the BBC Proms, which start next month at the Royal Albert Hall. Find out what’s being performed at this year’s BBC Proms here. ‘I’ve seen Jupiter from Holst’s The Planets performed at the Proms; to hear that live was just immense,’ says James. ‘At the Proms I’ve also seen the Chinese-born pianist Yuja Wang play Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto, which absolutely blew my mind.’ James appeared in the coverage of the 2020 Last Night of the Proms, which took place with a virtual audience and no live audience in the hall. Find out more about this year’s Last Night of the Proms here.

David James told The Times about his enduring love of classical music and how it intersected with his footballing career,’ he says. ‘I could be quite ritualistic about my music before big matches. To use a musical expression, you’d need to orchestrate the moments before a game to be in your best position — from time in the hotel room where you could play music, to getting on the bus. Some managers didn’t mind loud music in the changing room, but Fabio Capello was very against it. He wanted quiet.’

David James is not the only famous fan of both football and classical music. We recently named some of the most famous composers and musicians who loved football.

If you want to find out more about the music of Beethoven but aren’t sure where to start, check out our guide to the best Beethoven pieces of music for beginners.

What is the relationship between football and classical music?

David James explores the similarities between top performers in the worlds of classical music and football. ‘It goes beyond choice: when you realise the amount of sacrifice, or the amount of time you have to put in — like nine hours practising the piano. Only a certain kind of person can do that.’

What instruments does David James play?

Although he started out playing the violin, he moved onto the double bass and ended up playing the cello, which he played until he was about 14 when sport took over.

What music did David James feature in Football Scores on Scala Radio?

Lerner & Loewe: Main Title from Paint Your Wagon
American West Orchestra/Nelson Liddle

Handel: Zadok the Priest
Royal Choral Society/London Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Davies

Verdi: La Donna e Mobile from Rigoletto
Jonas Kaufmann (Tenor), Orchestra of the Welsh National Opera/Carlo Rizzi

Francis Poulenc: Gloria from Poulenc’s Gloria
Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood Festival Chorus/Seji Ozawa (Conductor)

Saint-Saens: Danse Macabre
London Symphony Orchestra/Bernard Haitink 

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9, 4th movement
London Symphony Orchestra/Bernard Haitink

Rodgers and Hammerstein: You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel

Alfie Boe (Tenor), Crouch End Festival Chorus, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/John Owen Edwards

Elgar: Pomp and Circumstance No. 1 (Land of Hope and Glory)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko

Jerry Livingston & Ray Evans: Que Sera Sera
Andre Rieu (Violin), Johann Strauss Orchestra

Klaus Badelt: Pirates of The Caribbean: Suite
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Tolga Kashif

Parry: Jerusalem
Leeds Festival Chorus, English Northern Philharmonia/Paul Daniel

Puccini: Nessun Dorma from Turandot
Luciano Pavarotti (Tenor), John Aldis Choir, Wandsworth School Boys Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta

Barry Stoller: Off Side (Match of the Day Theme)

John Rutter: Lord of the Dance
Cambridge Singers, City of London Sinfonia/John Rutter

Karl Jenkins: Palladio
London Philharmonic Strings

Holst: The Planets Jupiter (The Bringer of Jollity)
London Symphony Orchestra/Colin Davis

John Hughes & William Williams: Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer (Cwm Rhondda)
Fron Male Voice Choir, Czech Film Orchestra/Cliff Masterson

Eric Coates: The Dambusters
Central Band of The Royal Air Force/Duncan Stubbs

Monty Python: Always Look on The Bright Side of Life

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Where can you listen to David James’s show on Scala Radio?

Football Scores with David James is now available to listen back to on the Scala Radio website.