Popular Beat Combo, Embrace, have been picked as the official cheerleaders for the England World Cup campaign. With the ringing endorsement of Soccer AM there is seemingly no problem with them coming up with a suitably catchy tune to dominate the summer’s charts, as some of the previous efforts by England squads have done so.
The first official World Cup song was the 1970 effort, Back Home, which sat at Number One for numerous weeks and gave the nation their view of the squad in their best bib and tucker, crooning as only footballers can, on Top Of The Pops. A cheery little tune, that sung of giving their all for “the folks back home”, who would be “watching and waiting and cheering every move” but that stiff upper lip attitude came through as modestly the squad proclaimed, “Though we think we’re the best, that’s what we’ve got to prove”. Sterling stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. Not content with a Number One single, an album was spawned from this, “The World Beaters sing The World Beaters”, with the squad murdering hits from yesteryear such as “Sugar Sugar”, “Lily The Pink”, “Puppet On A String”.
Failure to qualify for the 1974 and 1978 World Cups spared us the sight and sound of those particular squads in all their pomp and glory but 1982 brought forth a similar style of ditty that football has long been famous for producing, “This Time We’ll Get It Right”. In keeping with the squads performance on the pitch, it was not up to the 1970 squads efforts reaching its’ peak at Number 2. Kicking off with the thoughtful, “we’re on our way, we are Ron’s twenty-two”, rubbing in the fact that they were considered the pick of the nations footballers at the time and climaxing with, “We’ll Get It Right, This Time, Get It Right, This Time” sung in a manner that in no way could be construed as uplifting. Perhaps despondent would be a better description.
Travelling to Central America, a hop, skip and jump away from lands of Rumba, Samba and Sunshine rhythms, the England Squad of 1986 chose to resort to a reworking of Nottingham Forest’s 1980 European Cup Final song, “We’ve Got The Whole World At Our Feet” and the record-buying public voted with their feet, showing more sophistication than previous generations to leave the song languishing in the Top 75 rather than the Top 10. The song, instantly forgettable, eulogised the various members of the squad and their skills and has nothing else going for it.
1988’s European Championships in Germany heralded a truly low point for English football, on and off the pitch. Pathetic performances against the Republic Of Ireland, Holland and Russia plumbed the depths but never got as low as “All The Way”. A quick straw poll in the office revealed that nobody, and I mean nobody, could even remember hearing the song, let alone knowing any of the lyrics. Where this did change was the use of Stock, Aitken and Waterman in producing the tune – if you do not know who they are, ask your parents. They will. For those who cannot be arsed, they were the first to inflict Rick Astley, Sonia, Kylie on an unsuspecting public. No, I never forgave them either.
The Summer Of Love of 1990 was pure magic for England fans. On the pitch, England got to the Semi – Finals and football took centre stage for the right reasons following two decades of the wrong reasons. Even better, some bright spark at The FA decided that the England Teams World Cup record needed some credibility so they invited New Order to write (with Keith Allen) and record “World In Motion”. Still considered the Daddy of all England records, from the beginning to the end it is proof positive that a decent football record can be made. Perhaps it’s saving grace is that aside from John Barnes “rap”, the only involvement the squad had in the record was singing the chorus. Smart move. Indeed, Pete Davies recalls in his book All Played Out that the England team went into the studio and as soon as it was finished, all disappeared off to commercial activities or the pub. Commercially, the record was a resounding success, helped in no small way by the willingness of New Order fans to buy anything that the band are involved in. There is no doubt that the band could probably record the singing of the Greater Manchester Telephone Directory and it would still get to Number 1 in the Album Chart.
Buoyed by this success, the FA decided that Euro ’96 would be a football festival. As luck would have it, “Three Lions” summed up the mood of the nation perfectly helped by the writers being football fans. Baddiel and Skinner were at the height of their popularity with the TV show Fantasy Football, this being before the smugness of the programme ad become nauseating. A sing-a-long song, it was caught on at the England matches with Wembley reverberating to the crowd chanting this almost tunefully. Add to this mix the Group victories over Scotland and Holland and everyone was bouncing along to this tune. The Quarter – Final win over Spain released more tension and England started believing that winning the trophy could become a reality. Then the Germans went and cocked it up again for us, whereas Waddle’s shot against the post had denied England in 1990 would that Peter Crouch had been stretching for the cross Gascoigne just failed to connect with in 1996. As I didn’t mention Pearce and Waddle’s penalty misses earlier it would be unfair to ask Gareth Southgate to step forward and take a bow for his miss this time around. So I will not be doing that. Oh, bugger.
By now, England’s Governing Body was getting cocky. Believing that they were the Hit Factory of the football family, The FA decided to have collaboration from a selection of the day’s most popular bands, entitled “On Top Of The World“. And they dropped a bollock in doing so. Like many a match in football, the initial line-up pairing Echo and The Bunnymen with Ocean Colour Scene to create a formidable strike partnership seemed commercially and artistically sound. It all went wrong with the midfield of Space being backed up by The Spice Girls. The song itself was a dirge, rescued partially by McCulloch’s vocals but sunk as soon as Chav, Minger and co opened their mouths. Much like the team, having started the tournament with much promise they fell apart at the first knockout phase, the song peaked at number 9. To the chagrin of the FA, two songs they rejected – a reworking of “Three Lions” and “Vindaloo” by Fat Les (Keith Allen and chums) – filled the top two spots of the charts during the tournament. Allen in particular has a canny knack of writing football songs as his involvement with “Three Lions” and “World In Motion” proves.
This experience has however proved too much for the FA to handle. For Euro 2000 and the last World Cup, the squad produced no official songs. Instead the England fans adopted Fat Les’ version of “Jerusalem” for the tournament whilst the last World Cup produced a number of “comedy” records from such luminaries as Ant and Dec, Bell and Spurling, accompanying the third re-working of “Three Lions” into the very depths of the Charts. Euro 2004 saw The Farm reworking their song, All Together Now, to restore the cultural faith in football and music and this was designated as the official Tournament Song for England. Which to me is all a bit of a cop out. If the team are involved in the tournaments, let them be involved in the songs. After all, they make an arse of themselves on the pitch often enough so let them have their fun in the studio and give us all a return to the days when the songs were badly sung by footballers out of their depth.
There is however one constant in all of this. No matter how bad the songs were, they were a damn sight better than anything the Germans could muster. So it can’t be all that bad, can it?
Today’s Tunes ought really to be a celebration of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of English football. But they aren’t, mainly because I don’t have the MP3 files of the truly bad England songs. Never mind, here are some from The Kings Of Leon from their appearance at the Haldern Pop Festival in 2004.