A song for Andy Dibble

I was in the pub a couple of nights ago and the piano man turned up as he often does and began belting out a few of his tinkled-ivory classics.

A busker playing piano in the heart of York (Copyright Richard Croft: geograph.org.uk)

When he started playing Wonderwall and the drunken lads on the adjacent table provided vocal accompaniment, I found myself contemplating Noel Gallagher's lyrics.  I know this is dangerous territory - Mr G is hardly renowned for his profundity - but I became increasingly baffled.

Just what was a Wonderwall?  I'd never thought about it before, but it seemed a very strange concept.  If it was being sung to (or about) a woman, wouldn't she rather object to being compared to a large, wide, flat structure made of stone or brick?

"You're my Wonderwall, love," he says.

"And just what exactly does that mean?" she replies.

"Erm, you're, erm, lovely and stable and, erm, you hold up my house?"

Oasis: is it wise to reflect upon them for too long?

The more I thought about it, the less likely it appeared.

And then I realized.  It was (even before the Alan Ball version) a football song.  Noel Gallagher had written it about the Manchester City defensive line, and, by analyzing the lyrics, I figured out exactly when he wrote it.

"Today is gonna be the day that they're gonna throw it back to you
By now you should have somehow realized what you've got to do"

This refers to the abolishment of the back-pass rule in 1992 and the goalkeeper not being allowed to pick up the ball directly from a throw-in.  Around that time, the Manchester City stalwart between the sticks was Andy Dibble, and he was famous for this:

As a consequence of this (and injury), Dibble had fallen out of favour.  He barely made an appearance in the 1992-93 season, which was the first year of the new Premier League, but was on the bench for the home match with Everton on May 8th 1993.

Man City were 3-1 down at half-time, and Dibble was brought on to replace Martyn Margetson.  At which point, Gallagher got behind him:

"Back-beat the word was on the street that the fire in your heart is out.
I'm sure you've heard it all before but you've never really had a doubt
I don't believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now"

He clearly felt few fans had faith in the beleaguered Dibble, but that he would get behind him.  This hypothesis is confirmed by the chorus:

"And maybe, you're gonna be the one to save me.
And after all, you're my wonderwall."

Wonderwall is undoubtedly a new term referring to the goalkeeper's position behind the defensive wall at a free-kick.  Gallagher thought that if anything got past Garry Flitcroft, Steve McMahon et al., Dibble would still save it.

He might have been right - I don't know whether Dibble conceded any goals directly from free-kicks in that second half - but the match still finished in a 5-2 defeat for Gallagher's team.

Nonetheless, the song had been written, and a smash hit was guaranteed.  Furthermore, Gallagher's faith in Dibble was vindicated.  Between October 1993 and December 1994, City lost only one game with the Welshman in goal.

I'm sure there were many other things that Noel wanted to say to Andy, but that he didn't know how.  Luckily he could express his feelings eloquently in song then.  And for the rest of us, the mystery* of Wonderwall is solved once and for all.

Andy Dibble: Manchester City's Wonderwall

*ignoring the fact, pointed out to me later on the same night, that Wonderwall takes its name from a film which had a soundtrack by George Harrison.