From New Order to Billy Bragg via The Big Man and the Scream Team…Football! Beautiful to watch, not so much to listen to.
Oh sure, the thud of studs on shin guard, the rustle of a ball in the back of the net has a certain sonic poetry to it, but we’re referring to the songs, the audio artefacts that litter in bargain bins across the land.
It’s… not a pretty sight. Or sound, for that matter; we’re thinking of Del Amitri’s 1996 dirge, or Ant and Dec’s awful ‘We’re On The Ball’… in fact, the list is nigh-on endless.
That said, football has produced some gems; whether that’s clubs adopting actual bangers, or songwriters moved to pen a salute to their favourite, football’s songbook does contain a few choice cuts.
Here’s a few Clash writers with their recommendations.
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The Business – ‘England 5, Germany 1’
The Business are known for a multitude of football related songs, yet ‘England 5, Germany 1’ is an underrated classic.
Released in 2003 on the album ‘Hardcore Hooligan’, the former punk rock band’s unashamedly direct lyrics retell the historic story of England’s World Cup qualifying game against Germany in 2001. The match at Munich’s stadium saw England defeat their rivals 5-1, involving a hat-trick from Michael Owen. The light-hearted melody and the infectiousness of the hook will have you screaming ‘England 5, Germany 1 / Michael Owen is number 1’ for hours after you’ve listened to it.
The song also soundtracks a scene with Vinnie Jones on the 2004 film Eurotrip. The actor is in full hooligan mode as he leads a mob of England supporters to scare off a French fan. Apart from Vinnie’s iconic (ahem) acting, the scene would simply not be as compelling and humorous without The Business’ tune.
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‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’
West Ham’s association with the song ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ goes back almost a century. The song debuted in the 1918 Broadway musical The Passing Show.
But how did the song travel from the Big Apple to the Boleyn? The iconic song made its way into the British music halls in the early 20s, including those in London. Years later West Ham adopted the song and made it their incorporating Billy J. Murray, a player for the local Park School who was nicknamed ‘Bubbles’. Cornelius Beal, the headmaster who was a close friend of West Ham manager Charlie Painter would take it upon himself to break into the song ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ when the team excelled.
Over the years, the song has taken various forms, the most notable being The Cockney Rejects punk release in the ’80s.
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New Order – ‘World In Motion’
1990 heralded a new era in music and a feeling of renewed hope for a new decade. The World Cup ignited the nation’s love of football and captured the imagination of us all.
For every major tournament, there is always a song and for this particular campaign it was ‘World In Motion’ by New Order with lyrics written by Keith Allen and featured a guest rap by England footballer John Barnes along with additional vocals by other members of the England squad Kenneth Wolstenholme classic line from the 1966 World Cup final: “Well some of the crowd are on the pitch… They think it’s all over… It is now!”
The rap has cemented itself as an iconic piece of English football culture in its own right along with the squads shouting “Express yourself” in the verses and singing the refrain too. Previously, English football songs were perceived as somewhat less than cool, but ‘World in Motion’ was somewhat of a game changer and shot straight in at Number 2 in the UK singles charts then subsequently attained a number one – New Order’s only number one hit.
Did England attain the top position? Sadly not, but they did get the furthest they’d ever been since winning the World Cup in 1966, by reaching the semi-finals, where they lost subsequently to West Germany on penalties.
Whilst England didn’t win the World Cup, the England song ticked all the boxes for what it required for makes a winning song.
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Gerry & The Pacemakers – ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’
Though the original was a showtune from the musical ‘Carousel’, it’s safe to say that the best known version of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is that from Liverpool beat group Gerry and The Pacemakers.
The track is the undisputed anthem of Liverpool FC, even becoming the club’s official motto and appearing on its coat of arms.
The track itself is motivational and comforting, an offer of solidarity to those feeling alone, a message which rings ever strongly given the pandemic. As one of the most iconic football club anthems to exist, it is one of those songs which is almost mythical, transcending itself.
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Depeche Mode – ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’
Every weekend, when it’s the season, and the ball finds the back of the opposite’s net, the green side of Glasgow bounces to the sound of Depeche Mode’s third single. ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’, adopted as a Celttic anthem at the start of the 10s, doesn’t exactly scream ‘football chant’. Yet this contagious, camp, keyboard-led classic – written by Vince Clark about his unrequited love for a girl from Basildon – has found new life on the stands, sung with lung-busting gusto and palm-blistering claps.
A flash of genius from the (admittedly provocative) Green Brigade – the bongo-playing, flag-waving guardians of Parkhead’s North curve – it booted the shared ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ down to Liverpool, becoming the soundtrack to Celtic’s nine-in-a-row rout. Football stadiums sometimes feel the only place certain men lower their straight-jacket defences to sing, or cry, or hug their pals. At Celtic Park, they have a little synth-pop too.
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The Fall – ‘Theme from Sparta F.C. #2’
When I think of songs about football ‘Sparta FC #2’ by The Fall is the first that comes to mind. I have nothing against ‘Sparta F.C.’ or ‘Sparta F.C. #3’, but they reminded me of watching a lower league team get mauled by an EPL team in the FC cup. They are playing the same game, but one is more clinical, better drilled, and aggressive than the other.
There is something about the frenzied playing, Mark E. Smith’s drawled like vocals and the rich lyrical imagery that makes the blood pump pre-kick off (I used to play it regularly on the walk across East Brighton Park to see Whitehawk play). But what it really does incredibly well is evoke the tribal mentality that being a football fan is effectively about: Us vs. Them never sounded as good as this. The fact it was used as the music for Final Score on the BBC for years is just the cherry on the cake.
Oh, if you haven’t check out the video of MES reading out the football scores. It’s possibly the best video on the internet!
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Primal Scream, Irvine Welsh and On-U-Sound – ‘The Big Man and the Scream Team Meet the Barmy Army Uptown’
In 1996 a football song was released in conjunction with Euro ’96. It wasn’t ‘Three Lions’, it wasn’t ‘Vindaloo’, it wasn’t even ‘Eat My Goal’. It was Primal Scream, Irvine Welsh, and On-U-Sound with ‘The Big Man and the Scream Team Meet the Barmy Army Uptown’.
In a nutshell it’s a funky Primal Scream instrumental produced, and tweaked, by Adrian Sherwood; the main hook is a sample of lads shouting, “Who are ya!” However, the star of the show is Irvine Welsh. At the time Welsh was at a cultural high, as Trainspotting was conquering the world and his column in Loaded was the sole reason to buy the magazine.
What Welsh does is capture 100% what it feels like to be a football fan. Lines like:
“The mystery of Scottish sport is why we hate the English so
I love the English very much
As long as they don’t fucking beat us
In the European Nations Cup”
“In every hick town in Caledonia
Across this pseudo nation
You can see the most fucked up scum
Ever shat into creation
Where a blue McEwans Lager top equals no imagination”
“Remember the banner
‘Alcoholism beats Communism’
Well it beats the fuck out of football as well”
The killer line is: “Think of a success / Your psyche is a mess / Your economy is in distress…”
The Premier League was only a few years old at this time but making the connection between fleecing football fans proved why Welsh was as in demand as he was.
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Billy Bragg – ‘God’s Footballer’
A songwriter who so often hones in on notions of class identity and Englishness, Billy Bragg was never going to pen a triumphalist football ode. ‘God’s Footballer’ – taken from his 1991 set ‘Don’t Try This At Home’ – is a kitchen sink narrative, an attempt to channel the true tale of Peter Knowles, who turned his back on the professional game in 1970 to focus on his activities as a Jehovah’s Witness.
In Billy’s hands, the song becomes a requiem for working class sport, its use of concrete details – the Wolves player bidding adieu to Molineux – becoming representative of a broadening social split within professional sport. A track writ in black and white, ‘God’s Footballer’ is simple and touching; curiously, 1991 would also witness the birth of the Premiership, which launched the following year.
The demise of the old First Division would see Sky Sports light blue torch paper, which would irrevocably alter the game, and with it English identity. Robin Murray
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Tony Britten – Champions League theme
For most clubs, the Champions League is almost a dream, a mirage far off beyond the horizon. For my own Dundee FC, well, we might have reached the Semi Finals of the old European Cup in 1963, but it’s doubtful if we’ll be scaling the heights any time soon.
As a result, there’s something special about tuning in to the competition. It’s literal fantasy football, an arena for the Messi’s and Zidane’s of the world, a place for glitz and glamour, a haunt for the imagination.
The instantly recognisable Champions League theme was crafted back in 1992 by the English composer Tony Britten, and it’s lit up the dreams of every schoolkid since. Lifting large elements from Handel’s Zadok the Priest, it’s a truly universal, multi-lingual blast of sound that never fails to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
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