Last week the FA confirmed that as the England management intend to focus entirely on the game, there will be no official song for this year’s South Africa World Cup.
The competition is open for whoever wants to have a chance, with a £1,000 prize for the entry with the most Youtube views when the final kicks off- so lets look back for inspiration with our top ten world cup warblers.
10. 2006 – Embrace, World At Your Feet
“With the world at your feet/There’s no heart you can’t reach”
Clean-cut Yorkshire band Embrace may not have been the best choice for a football song, featuring Coldplay-esque high-pitched male vocals and gentle rhythms, but considering their competition included the Crazy Frog we should probably be grateful.
First broadcast by Christopher Moyles on Radio 1, A BBC reporter in a Bristol pub had several people listen to and review the track. They described the track as “Too slow”, to which Moyles and a friend of the band replied live on air, “It’s not too slow, it’s perfect. Shut up and enjoy it.”
So perhaps a good song, but not a good football song, reaching #3 in the charts and well received by music critics if not by football fans.
9. 1982 – England Football Team, This Time (We’ll Get It Right)
“This time, more than any other time, this time/We’re going to find a way”
A promising England squad failed to deliver, returning after getting it wrong in a 0-0 draw with Spain in the second round. The single charted at #2.
8. 1978 – Andy Cameron, Ally’s Tartan Army
“‘Cos England cannae do it/’Cos they couldnae qualify”
Scottish comedian Andy Cameron had already found stand-up comedy success with a football hooligan act. He wrote and performed Ally’s Tartan Army when Scotland qualified for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.
Reaching #6 in the UK charts and gaining him two appearances on Top of the Pops, Cameron put all the profits from the single into an album – which flopped while Scotland went out of the competition. Sales of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina may have risen in England after their dismal display.
7. 1970 – England Football Team, Back Home
“In every game we play/They’ll share every goal we are scoring”
Back Home was the first official world cup song (though by no means the first), beginning the trend of England’s World Cup team recording a celebratory single. It ticks all the boxes for a football song – rousing theme, simple tune, understandable for fans of any age and easy to sing along to.
As defending champions, 1970′s track was less about winning and more about doing your best (which was probably sensible, as it would be twelve years before England would qualify again).
The song stayed at #1 for three weeks and was used 24 years later in Baddiel & Skinner’s BBC football/comedy TV show Fantasy Football League.
6. 2002 – Ant & Dec, We’re On The Ball
“Sven’s our man, he’s got a plan, we’ve found a super Swede”
While they’ve recorded before (as Byker Grove characters “PJ & Duncan”), Ant and Dec have never had a single reach the UK number one, despite international promotion tours (Eternal Love reached #1 in Japan).
Recycled Arsenal chant We’re On The Ball reached #3, losing out to Pop Idol contestant Will Young (ironically, a programme which the duo presented).
5. 1966 – Lonnie Donegan, World Cup Willie
“He’s tough as a lion and never will give up/That’s why Willie is fav’rite for the Cup”
Every World Cup since 1966 has had a mascot, this years being Zakumi, a green haired leopard…thing. The tradition began with English lion World Cup Willie and a song of the same name by “King of Skiffle” Lonnie Donegan.
Willie made a surprise reappearance in 2007 when a marketing company’s attempt to release a series of merchandise bearing the mascot saw a legal face-off. A Deputy Judge ruled that the original drawing, and therefore copyright, belonged to the FA.
4. 2006 – Sham69 and the Special Assembly, Hurry Up England
“It’s been forty years since Wembley/So let’s go and win it in Germany”
A re-working of Sham69′s earlier hit Hurry Up Harry, this pop-punk tune was among the unofficial competition to World At Your Feet and released as “The People’s Anthem” after winning a vote among listeners of Virgin Radio DJ Christian O’Connell’s morning show.
In the end, the track only reached #10th in the charts, two places below Embrace’s official track. It fell quickly, despite proceeds supporting the charity Teenage Cancer Trust.
3. 1990 -New Order, World In Motion
“We ain’t no hooligans, this ain’t a football song/Three lions on my chest, I know we can’t go wrong”
The only New Order track to reach number one in the UK top 40, the track features several members of the England football squad including the infamous rapping John Barnes. Co-written by Keith Allen, it was originally titled E For England which was vetoed by the FA, nervous about a possible reference to the drug ecstasy. Commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme’s re-recorded his legendary “They think it’s all over” quote for use at the beginning and end of the track.
Despite the numerous best football song polls it has topped, a remix in 1996 was cancelled by a late decision. Sadly, when re-released in 2002 the track failed to even enter the top 40 – interestingly, there had been plans for David Beckham to fill John Barnes’ boots for the rap (which, tragically, was also vetoed by the FA).
2. 1998 – Fat Les, Vindaloo
“Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah Bonjour”
Originally written as a parody of football songs for the 1998 France World Cup, it’s simple lyrics were written and spoken by, again, Keith Allen. Some drew darker comparisons with hooliganism that had become prominent news with high media coverage of football riots before the impending international competition.
Yet the BBC (who commission the Official UK Music Chart) believe that the track deliberately invoked the memory of Keith Allen’s 1989 appearance on The Late Show, in which he stormed out of an argument about political correctness damaging comedy, accusing an Asian member of the panel, “It’s not a chip you’ve got on your shoulder, it’s a vindaloo!” He later told reporters that vindaloo (“Goan” cooking that actually originates in Portugal) is faux-ethnic – as are self-appointed spokesmen for minority communities who censor culture to suit their own prejudices.
The video, parodying The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony (which was inspired in turn by Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack), featured Paul Kaye, Matt Lucas, David Walliams, Edward Tudor-Pole and a young Lily Allen. When Fat Les played Vindaloo on Top of the Pops, Collin Pillinger CBE (Principal Investigator for the Beagle 2 Mars Lander Project) appeared on drums.
1. 1996/1998 – Baddiel & Skinner and The Lightning Seeds, Three Lions
“Three Lions on a shirt, Jules Rimet still gleaming/30 years of hurt, never stopped me dreaming”
So at number one, one of the most successful football songs ever written, a nostalgic yet hopeful homage to 30 years of dashed optimism that perfectly captured the popular mood.
By 1996 Britpop had reached its peak, with the Lightning Seeds among its best loved sons, giving Three Lions broad appeal. It went straight to #1 in the top 40 and was even popular among foreign teams. Jurgen Klinsmann mentioned German fans singing the track on their way to their match against England in the semi-final (they sung it again when parading the trophy on the Romer balcony in Frankfurt).
The track’s staying power was such that when re-released in 2006, it still reached #9. Official World Cup ’98 song (How Does It Feel To Be) On Top of the World didn’t stand a chance against the combined might of Three Lions and Vindaloo and disappeared quickly after limping into the top ten.
Dutch group Hermes House Band released their own version, Eagles on the Shirt while German group Die Original Deutschmacher released a cover titled Das W auf dem Trikot (The W on the Shirt). Notts County even have their own version, Two Pies on the Shirt.
However, there was some controversy – rumours at the time suggested that as with the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen in 1977, Vindaloo was deliberately kept from #1 in favour of Three Lions. The video for Baddiel and Skinner’s track featured a kickabout between England supporters (including the comedy duo and Lightning Seeds singer Ian Broudie) and German fans, each of whose shirt reads Kuntz (with one Klinsmann). Though the striker had been vital in defeating England in the 1996 semi-final, the clear innuendo meant the section was cut by many broadcasters.
Still, in the words of John Motson – “As football songs go, Three Lions certainly is the best.”