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Football Songs

Football Songs

James Ketchell

England have won the World Cup! Not the football (or ‘soccer’ as you yanks may call it) World Cup but the World Cup of music. With over one hundred different football themed songs, England has broken all records in 2006. But why has this become a music/sporting phenomenon? Why do people feel the need to buy a song which more often than not is complete drivel? Where and when will this insanity end?

In 1966, England won their only World Cup. World Cup fever gripped the country and England’s victory is widely acknowledged to have been the beginning of the end of the post-war austerity and 1966 became known as the year the swinging sixties really came into their own in London. But what accompanied the start of this World Cup? An official song. Not by the chart-topping Beatles, not even by their rascal cousins, the Stones. But a song called “World Cup Willie” by skiffle musician, Lonnie Donegan. This was the first song to accompany the World Cup (it also was the name of the mascot of the tournament). Lonnie started a trend that has had serious repercussions throughout the years. Had it not been for Lonnie, we may never have had the John Barnes rap, or the Spice Girls and Echo and the Bunnymen singing together.

Fast-forward a few year to 1990. This was the year that the football song excelled itself. New Order were asked to write a song and came up with “World in Motion”. This must surely be remembered as one of the greatest world cup songs ever. With the England team adding their backing vocals to the song, this was the soundtrack to the tournament in Italy in 1990. It had catchy lyrics but musically it was a song that never veered to the ridiculous. This was a world first as far as World Cup songs go.

“Were playing for england {in-ger-land}
Were playing the song
Were singing for england {in-ger-land}
Arrivederci its one on one”

“World in Motion” is also famous for the John Barnes rap. Seeing John Barnes rap is a delight to behold. The lyrics are cheesy and corny yet at the same time demand respect. It capped off a truly momentous song and for me makes it one of the ultimate football songs. Had England won the World Cup, it would have become the unofficial national anthem. Remarkably, it was New Order’s first, and to this date, last number one.

In 1996, England hosted the European Championships. This was the first major sporting championship to take place in the UK since the World Cup in 1966. Expectations were high, and the England team, as it always so often did, failed at the last hurdle by losing a penalty shoot-out against the Germans. But the England team and their on the field exploits were accompanied by a song. Some call it the ultimate football song. It is perhaps the only song that has been a hit on both the radio and on the stadium terraces. “Three Lions” by comedians Baddiel and Skinner and AOR band the Lightening Seeds became an English hit. The song worked because it was the perfect mix of comedy, a catchy chorus, a nod to England’s footballing history, and it had the ability to inspire supporters. But most of all, I think that it worked because it was written by true football fans.

“It’s coming home
It’s coming home
It’s coming
Football’s coming home” (repeat)

The chorus, was chanted by the fans at Wembley and it has since become a favourite. Even some German teams have cheekily adopted the tune! The song is timeless and at every major footballing tournament where England are playing it echoes from the stands. In 1998, it was re-released with updated lyrics and it is set to be re-released again in 2006 as a double A-side (with both versions of the song). It already has two number ones, in 1996 and 1998.

Baddiel and Skinner’s song was the springboard for a range of artists to attempt the release of a football themed record. The Spice Girls and Echo and the Bunnymen released “Top of the World” and it was a stinker. The bizarre combination of ‘talent’ never really worked and it all looked a bit awkward. Fat Les is a band which consists of Blur’s bassist Alex James, actor Keith Allen and mega-rich artist Damien Hurst. They released “Vindaloo”, the first of many poor attempts at re-creating the magic of “Three Lions”. The song will best be remembered for the video which parodied the Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony” video to the extreme. Again in 2000 they released “Jerusalem” for the European championships. This song was even worse. In 2002, there were so many poor football songs that there isn’t enough room to list them all here. Bell & Spurling’s “Sven Sven Sven” was a particularly awful tribute to the Swedish manager of the English team. There was even a slight parody of Nirvana, in the shape of a song entitled, “Smells Like Team Spirit” (groan!).

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In 2006, this has been taken one-step further. There are now just too many England songs. The official tune is penned by Coldplay wannabes, Embrace, and predictably it is awful. The Football Association really do need to get some better music consultants in. Crazy Frog has blessed us with “We are the Champions (Ding a Dang Dong) which will no doubt make an absolute fortune in ringtone sales, despite being complete rubbish. Interestingly Bez from the Happy Mondays has a tune, as do Basement Jaxx but you just can’t help feeling that it’s all getting out of hand when the Sun newspaper backs a parody of the theme tune to TV comedy Dad’s Army entitled, “Who do you Think You are Kidding Jurgen Klinsmann”. This song also has tried to emulate the John Barnes rap with a rap by 1966 world cup winner, Geoff Hurst. Another contender may be Sham 69s remake of “Hurry Up Harry!” called somewhat unsurprisingly, “Hurry Up England!”. Finally, the Cumbrian Tourist Council has even got in on the act and released a tune based on sheep ‘baaing’ the hymn, “Land of Hope and Glory”. The name of the band: The Baaarmy Army.

For me, my money is on Tony Christie’s parody of his own hit, “Is this the Way to Amarillo” entitled, “(Is this the way to) the World Cup”, becoming the football song of the summer. Like “Three Lions” it is immediately catchy. As comedian Peter Kay proved at London’s Live8, it has the ability to be sung by a crowd of thousands, it also has all the comedy necessary to propel it to the top of the charts and to the hearts of England’s supporters.

So what does all this tell us about the football song. Ultimately, it has to be said that most England songs are pure drivel. They are heat of the moment songs, that are attempting to tap into a nation’s support for their team but generally are never quite able to do so. I think that for a song to be successful it has to be: 1) funny; 2) catchy; 3) easy to sing on the terraces, at home and in the pub; 4) written by a football fan, and most importantly; 5) accompanied by a relatively successful showing by the England team. The fact is that very few songs have been able to do successfully fulfil the above criteria is as much testament to the difficulty of such writing songs as to the performance of the England team.

But no matter what happens in 2006, you know that the charts will be alive with similar songs for both the European championships in 2008 and the World Cup in 2010. I think that we need to realise that every two years or so, we will be bombarded with these football based songs. The only thing that can stop them is if we don’t qualify for these major tournaments. For most football fans, enduring a little bit of ear ache is worth far more than the heart ache of not qualifying. Now sing with me, “It’s coming home, It’s coming home, It’s coming, Football’s coming home”…

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