Remember when Sports Team optimistically booked London’s Scala for a show, despite having a combined social media following which amounted to less than the capacity of the venue? Remember when they did basically the same thing for the Kentish Town Forum (and a certain unnamed Dork writer claimed they’d move house if the show sold out)? Remember when both of those gigs did sell out? At this rate, we’ll be watching them play Wembley within the year, but for now, we’re along for the ride at their third successful gamble – yet another sold-out show, this time at Brixton Academy, for a band that are fast outgrowing their underdog reputation.
It’s a trajectory that opening support act Courting will be hoping to imitate, not that they’d dream of imitating anything else about Sports Team (ahem – Ed.) All jokes aside, they’re on top form, balancing bangers like ‘Grand National’ and ‘Popshop!’ with wonky covers of Nicki Minaj’s ‘Starships’ and…the Friends theme tune? The crowd leap around like they’re seeing the headline act, especially when frontman Sean Murphy-O’Neill breaks out the cowbell.
A little-known band called Wet Leg are up next, fresh off the back of their assumed career highlight so far – a Dork cover feature. If they’re overwhelmed by the size of the stage, the crowd, or the magazine cover, they don’t show it. Instant classics ‘Chaise Longue’ and ‘Wet Dream’ of course get a huge response, but the rest of the set hits just as high a bar. Hype can be a killer for some bands, but Wet Leg are clearly worth all the attention they’re getting and leave Sports Team with a hell of an act to follow.
They seem to get the memo, striding out to Abba’s ‘Mamma Mia’ while clad in more Fiorucci than you can shake a stick at. Alex Rice, ever the centre of attention, is wearing what looks like a black cape and the kind of hat that Cruella De Ville might wear if she was feeling extra glamorous. With the budget blown on clothes, not much is left over for the fairy lights strung from the ceiling, with half falling down before the first track even gets played. It wouldn’t be Sports Team without a bit of chaos, would it?
By the end of the one-two punch of ‘Here it Comes Again’ and ‘Going Soft’, Rice has stripped down to a vest and leather trousers, presumably to better facilitate bounding around stage and dancing like he’s trying to pull a muscle. ‘Margate’ is up next, with the band flexing the biggest show of their career by setting off confetti cannons just three tracks into the set. A pause follows, with the seething masses grateful to catch their breath. Ever the charmer, Rice takes the opportunity to tell them that they’re “the greatest fans in the world”, although we don’t think he’s a very objective source for that.
New song ‘The Game’ gets an airing next, a whisper of album two received like an old favourite. At roughly this point, the venue completely sells out of lager, just to indicate the number of pints being thrown. CO2 cannons come into play, too, in case anyone was under the impression that Sports Team weren’t aiming for arena-level production this time around.
The rest of the set is a whistle-stop tour of every instant classic the band have released, interspersed with a quick rendition of The Wannadies’ ‘You & Me Song’. It’s not all hit singles and pop covers, either, with old favourite ‘Winter Nets’ given an airing alongside album slow burner ‘Long Hot Summer’ (guitarist Rob Knagg taking vocal duties on the latter, while Rice lives out his guitar hero fantasies).
After possibly the least convincing exit of all time, they stroll back on stage for an encore to an almost biblical response. Rice is down in the crowd, Rob is standing in front of the drumkit doing his best Hendrix impression, and even keyboardist Ben Mack cracks a smile. The house lights come on, ‘Angels’ by Robbie plays, and 5000 exhausted fans make their way across the road for the official club night afterparty.
But the real proof that Sports Team have hit the big leagues? Three separate people are selling bootleg t-shirts outside the venue – now that’s fame, baby.