There’s a saying that sport and politics don’t mix – usually in an attempt to wave away some inconvenient moral issue.
Today though, in my latest missive on British culture:
I’ll be demonstrating that it’s sport and music that don’t mix.
Specifically football (y’know; soccer).
It would have made sense to tie this in with the recent World Cup (there’s those moral issues) but I just wasn’t that forward thinking.
The England 1970 World Cup squad are to blame.
There were football songs before.
But it was 1970 when the charts were stormed, ushering in 30 years of crimes against music.
England were reigning champions. Optimism abounded that this team was even better than the ’66 victors. As usual, expectation and reality didn’t quite meet in the middle.
The squad recorded a whole album, winningly titled The World Beaters Sing The World Beaters.
Its not terrible, its just wholly unnecessary.
But if you want to hear a load of footballers singing the hits of the 60s such as Sugar Sugar and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, dive right in. Its available on streaming services.
The one original composition was jaunty #1 single Back Home. It was written by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter who were (whisper it) Scottish and Northern Irish. A job’s a job, right?
In its favour, it clocks in at only two minutes, and there’s none of the boastful triumphalism that would become a motif. Its quite sweet in its modesty that; “Back home though they think we’re the greatest, That’s what we’ve got to prove.”
And don’t they look smart in their dinner suits?
England failed to qualify for the next two World Cups. But things went better north of the border.
And Scotland got on board.
Their 1974 effort (#20 hit) was also written by Martin & Coulter. But rather than the processional march they gave England, this one has a glam rock vibe that’s actually… not bad.
Though maybe Bill Martin got carried away as a Scot into giving it the title Easy Easy. Outcome = first round exit.
Come 1978 and Rod Stewart was on the scene. The song does suggest a bit of geographical dislocation, as although the tournament was in Spanish speaking Argentina, it’s called Ole Ola (Muhler Brasileira). Which basically translates from Portuguese as, ‘Hello hello Brazilian women’ and has a samba rhythym. Rod perhaps getting distracted by another of his favourite things; the opposite sex. Lack of accuracy didn’t prevent it getting to #4.
In 1982, England were back to go head to head with Scotland on the charts. England went for the standard squad singalong promising that; This Time (We’ll Get It Right). Outcome = what do you think?! The single fared better than the team reaching #2.
Scotland went off in a whole new fever dream of a direction. We Have A Dream was written by BA Robertson, who would later turn up in Tom Breihan’s Number Ones as co-writer of The Living Years.
Maybe he got the choir idea from this. He went over the top and carried on ascending. Front and center was actor John Gordon Sinclair giving a stirring monologue as an ordinary guy, living out a fan’s’s dream of being called into the squad for the World Cup.
While behind him, the Scotland team intone that they have a dream. It all builds to a bagpipe strewn crescendo and is infinitely better than the England effort – but peaked behind it at #5.
We’ll mostly ignore 1986. Just as the record buying public did.
England’s We’ve Got The Whole World At Our Feet limped to #66, while Scotland’s Big Trip To Mexico did even worse at #81, both sounding years behind the times. The most notable aspect is that both were written by Tony Hiller, a man prolific in the world of the football anthem.
Tony made it big as the man behind Brotherhood of Man then carved out a sideline writing singles for Arsenal, Everton, Manchester United, Liverpool amongst others. I can only hope they paid him well.
Then again, having heard them all maybe he was paid too much.
In 1988 England released All The Way for the European Championships. Finally getting with the times, they gave responsibility to the all conquering Stock-Aitken-Waterman production team.
It’s exactly what you’d expect of a SAW single, only with a bunch of blokes singing rather than Kylie. It performed as badly as the team did (three games = three defeats.)
Charting at #64, but leaving this classic of the genre: the uncomfortable chat show performance.
With half the squad multi-tasking with a workout while they mime along.
In 1990 England finally did get it right (although, not quite on the pitch: unlucky semi final defeat on penalties) as New Order were brought on board apparently due to the English Football Association press officer being a fan and despite the band not being particularly interested in football.
The single was based on the theme tune to current affairs show Reportage, that Gillian and Stephen had previously recorded in their The Other Two guise. Comedian/actor (and dad to Lily Allen) Keith Allen wrote the lyrics – and 20 years after their last chart topper, England were back at #1.
Or ENGLANDneworder as it was credited to:
England getting top billing, despite New Order putting most of the work in.
Put off by the shame of that chat show performance in ’88, only six of the squad turned up to record backing vocals and for John Barnes to provide a star turn with a rap.
The positive reviews of his rap more down to amazement that a footballer was able to string sentences together in a coherent manner, rather than Barnes being a Chuck D in the making.
One lost opportunity with the single is that it came out at a time when club culture and Ecstacy were really taking off.
Keith Allen suggested it be called ‘E For England’ with lyrics “E is for England, England starts with E / We’ll all be smiling when we’re in Italy”.
Unsurprisingly, the corporate suits didn’t go for it.
Scotland, meanwhile, went for a turgid rock song, Say It With Pride, featuring the all star talents of Fish (ex of Marillion) and members of Runrig, Love and Money, The Silencers and Deacon Blue. It couldn’t compete with the positive vibes of England landing at #45.
And that was it for the national teams.
England went out on a high. The next time a tournament anthem was produced was Three Lions in 1996, when the vocal talents of footballers were deemed surplus to requirements never to be called on again.
Scotland went the same way. In 1996 a version of traditional folk song Purple Heather was credited to ‘Rod Stewart With The Scotland Euro 96 Squad.’ But despite a video including clips of the squad in the studio, it appears to feature no vocal contribution from them.
Over to the club sides, then:
In the wake of Back Home, a tradition took hold to release singles to mark reaching the FA Cup Final.
Arsenal started us off at #16 in 1971 with Good Old Arsenal featuring a jaunty swinging sixties vibe.
Chelsea and Leeds United stepped it up the following year both reaching the top 10. The Chelsea effort is titled Blue Is The Colour but the video of the recording session suggests 50 shades of brown might be more appropriate.
The chart career of one club in particular is something that plenty bands would be envious of. Manchester United scored seven top 40 hits, four of which made the top 10.
And in 1994: became the only club to reach #1 with Come On You Reds. It was masterminded by Status Quo, lifting the music from their own Burning Bridges single and altering the lyrics to the usual aggrandisement and reeling off of various players.
Unlike most bands, football teams don’t adhere to one genre.
Manchester United have veered from:
- Traditional marching songs that are easy for a group of blokes
- A whole stadium to sing along to
- The rap/rock of We’re Gonna Do It Again in 1995
- The 2 Unlimited Euro-techno of 1996s Move Move Move.
Proving that they were ever adept at being slightly behind the times, their chart career ended in 1999 with Lift It High (All About Belief). Written by Ade Orange, keyboard player for Gary Numan. And whether it was intentional trolling or not, it did a great job of ripping off Oasis.
Who are very firmly in the camp of arch rivals Manchester City.
Some teams adopted the tactic of bringing in a ringer, in the shape of an actual musician to attempt a bit of professionalism. Not all of them in the prime of their careers.
In the late 70s, US #1 alumni Paper Lace had their final top 40 hit alongside the Europe conquering Nottingham Forest with We’ve Got The Whole World In Our Hands.
Another popular football song trope there, taking an already well known song and adapting it to your needs.
There’s also Glory Glory Man United (#13 in 1983) which borrows the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
And Everton’s Here We Go (#14 in 1985) which is based on The Stars and Stripes Forever.
In 1997, Chelsea enlisted Suggs, lead singer of Madness to head up Blue Day, scoring a #22 hit. It owes a big debt to Britpop; its got strings, its a bit Beatles, there’s some Madness styled piano. Its almost passable as a song in its own right due to the footballers being relegated to backing vocals and rousing shouts of “Chelsea, Chelsea.”
Tottenham Hotspur had a long association with Chas & Dave, who are worthy of an article to themselves for their contribution to British culture in the form of cockney pub rock. They wrote and performed four FA Cup singles for Spurs between 1981 and ’91.
The first; Ossie’s Dream (Spurs Are On Their Way to Wembley) is the most iconic and the biggest hit at #5. Ossie is Osvaldo Ardiles, their Argentinian midfielder, whose knees, as the lyrics tell us, ‘have gone all trembly’ at the prospect of going to Wembley.
Ossie gets a starring role, his mangling of the line ‘In the cup for Tottenham’ as Tottingham endeared him further to fans.
Lastly, this is either the pinnacle or nadir of the football song, depending on your outlook.
Liverpool were the dominant force in English football through the 70s and 80s but this didn’t translate to chart success. They had just one top 40 hit to their name, with a retro glam rock take on The Rubettes I Can Do It in 1977, retooling it as We Can Do It.
In 1988 they put that right with The Anfield Rap (Red Machine In Full Effect) getting to #3. It has the ultimate novelty value of being written by a footballer; Liverpool’s Australian midfielder Craig Johnston. It samples LL Cool J’s Rock The Bells with John Barnes (him again) intoning that Liverpool FC is hard as hell, the drums from Funkadelic’s You’ll Like It Too and The Beatles Twist And Shout.
It has lyrics referencing the economic North / South divide and adroitly gives the middle finger to the racist abuse of Barnes, who earlier that year had a banana thrown at him during a game; “When I do my thing, the crowd go bananas”.
Despite all that it is quite remarkably bad. It’s like listening to an alien race learning how to talk, and really has to be experienced with the video for the full horror. As the old joke goes, its rap with a capital C.
As we entered the new millennium the tradition petered out.
The FA Cup became less important, and the same few teams were dominating, lessening the appetite for them to keep churning out songs every year. Clubs and players became more PR savvy, the amateurish nature of a lot of the songs didn’t really fit with the image they wanted to portray.
I’ve listened to a whole lot of these in writing this, many more than I’ve linked too. While they are almost all varying degrees of bad ,they generally share the same qualities of:
- Keep it basic
- Keep it lively
- Tell us how great you are
Just what is needed for a crowd to sing. Or in the case of the Anfield Rap: ignore all that, but make it so bad it’ll stay with you forever.
If this has whet your appetite this website has over a thousand examples from all over the world; https://45football.com/
I’m guessing that there must be similar examples of sports teams crossing over into music in the US but the only one that I’ve heard of is the Chicago Bears: Super Bowl Shuffle.
Any favourites you’d like to share?
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