For those of you not following football, apologies, but this week I (finally) turn my attention to the beautiful game. I’ve actually covered sport before (100: Now Sports), which coincidentally I posted just before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and I featured a handful of football songs, but there are many more to talk about.
This week’s post was actually inspired by a post on Thursday on the Guardian website, where Michael Hann was talking about just how imporant music was to marketing this tournament:
Today’s World Cup opening ceremony is just the spearhead of a month in which the music business will expect to make serious money. Robbie Williams and his label, Universal, will be hoping for the massive increase in sales and streams that traditionally follow a globally televised appearance (as will classical stars Placido Domingo, Juan Diego Florez and Aida Garifullina); the official World Cup song – Live It Up by Nicky Jam featuring Will Smith – will doubtless get it little boost after getting a run-out at the ceremony. But away from the Luzhniki Stadium, the industry is gearing up for a month of money making.
I’m not actually looking at team anthems, or World Cup songs specifically. I’m just looking at songs that are about or related to football in various ways – and in various ways track my love of the sport. In case you were looking for them, neither Three Lions or Lightning Seeds feature. There is also no World Cup song for England this year, and for that we’re probably all breathing a sigh of relief.
In a sense of full disclosure, too, the one-and-only song I’ve ever been involved in recording (I’m a writer and a critic, not a performer!), was actually to do with football. As many of my readers will know, I’ve played for Real Gothic FC for many years at Whitby (and most recently captained the team to a 4-3 victory over our rivals Stokoemotiv Whitby in April). In my early years with the team, a group of us from the team got together with Mike from Manuskript, and we covered World In Motion, with appropriate lyrics. Said song soundtracks the highlights to our previous 4-3 victory in 2007.
One song to avoid from this summer, by the way: Rapsutin Rebooted. Really, just don’t.
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The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme
The first World Cup, and indeed any football event, that I can remember was Mexico ’86, which happened not long before I turned seven – a World Cup that had Danish Dynamite, impressive French, Brazilian and Belgian teams, and of course a certain Diego Maradona beating England nearly single-handedly by means both foul and sublime. I don’t remember what actually turned out to be the BBC theme music whatsoever, but how much cooler would Match of the Day have sounded if this had been used, as the band intended it to be? Colourbox, of course, were part of the electro-supergroup that released Pump Up The Volume by M|A|R|R|S, which saw them reach crazy levels of success for just one song.
Probably the only football song worth hearing this year, the summery, fast-paced new single from Texan band Parquet Courts offers an interesting analogy between the individual and the collective, by way of football – the Total Football ideal best known for it’s spectactular use by The Netherlands and Ajax in the seventies saw all players on the pitch capable of playing any position, meaning that the team as a whole was more important than any individual.
In addition, this single has *amazing* cover art and an equally impressive video, referencing Panini sticker albums. I fondly remember collecting these and a kid, and swapping them in the playground…
All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit
Back in the D.H.S.S. / The Trumpton Riots EP
This song, from the eternally smart and insightful Half Man Half Biscuit, is more about childhood memories, but is importantly about those filtered through football fandom (and Subbuteo). When I was younger, my step-brothers and I would regularly play Subbuteo – although I don’t recall being particularly good at it, and I’ve not played it in decades. That said, I’m not sure I’d like to put my nails and fingers through the shredding that the game would give you. Obscure kits, though, like the Dukla Prague one mentioned in this song? I can help there. Nowadays I own a Venezia ’11-’12 shirt (Black, with Orange and Green flashes, which has a story behind actually getting it in the first place) and four Real Gothic shirts (all of the latter with my preferred number 7 on the back). Why do I have 7? I’m a right-sided midfielder (or winger, if you prefer), and Cantona was my idol when I was younger (who also wore 7).
Touched By The Hand Of Cicciolina – Edited Highlights
Cure For Sanity
Ah, the 1990 World Cup. It made Italian football eternally cool (remember Football Italia on C4?), and indeed at the time AC Milan were the greatest team around (even if the core of their team were three of the stars of the Dutch team that won Euro ’88), but also, it was a fucking great tournament. OK, except the bad-tempered final, perhaps, but other than that it had all kinds of drama, and even England did well, getting to the semi-finals. Oh, and it had the greatest football song of all (World In Motion, which I’ve covered before), and also the greatest mascot, not to mention TV graphics from RAI Uno that dragged football into the modern age. Pop Will Eat Itself, mind, based their “unofficial” song for that World Cup around the Italian porn star-turned-politician Ilona Staller, with lots and lots of football commentary weaving through it.
Plans sometimes go awry, of course, as with England in 1994 – at the World Cup in the USA that saw record attendances in a country not usually associated with this kind of football (even though the USA had appeared at World Cups on-and-off since pretty much the beginning in the thirties, of course), and was settled by a disappointing final on penalites. James recorded a song that was meant to be England’s 1994 World Cup Anthem, but, er, they didn’t make it to the finals at all. Not exactly England’s finest hour, then, but listening to this, I’d be surprised if James don’t do their best to forget it either…
General of the Midfield
Pele, Maradona, Xavi, Pirlo, Modrić…Damian Harris?
Maybe not a name you were expecting in this list. But then, Damian Harris is/was Midfield General, a well-known Arsenal fan and also the head of Brighton-based Skint Records – who more interestingly in this context were main kit sponsors for Brighton & Hove Albion between 2000 and 2008 – a period where the club were rebuilding after very nearly going out of the football league (and out of business) in the previous decade. They are of course now in the Premier League, alongside Huddersfield Town (promoted in 2017 alongside them), who I used to go and watch at their old Leeds Road ground in the early nineties. As space-age as the new McAlpine/John Smith’s Stadium looked, it very much lost the atmosphere of the old ground, even if the replacement had to happen.
Theme from Sparta FC
The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country on the Click)
Amongst the almost relentless output of The Fall over their lengthy career – an album a year or more, every year of their existence – it is easy to forget that their singles made the charts and into popular culture more than you might think. In addition, songs of theirs have made it onto various adverts, and part of that might be down to the fact that a number of their most memorable songs sound like they were fashioned from football chants that never made it onto the terraces. Here is one such song – that ended up being the theme on Final Score on BBC a few years after it was released – where Mark E Smith appears to conjure from his imagination the toughest, greatest team of all, from Sparta. The Sparta name of course has been used for a few European clubs over the years – one of the Rotterdam clubs used the name, as I recall, as did Sparta Prague and Spartak Moscow…
Leeds United EP
Apparently the excellent book Damned United by David Peace inspired this song, the (reimagined!) tale of Brian Clough managing Leeds United for just 44 days. Probably one of the most ill-advised management appointments in football history, manager and team hated each other from the off, and it is rather a wonder that things lasted as long as they did. That said, Leeds United have never exactly been the most popular club, loved only by their own fans (and yes, I’m one that has long hated them). The book and film, even if it takes quite a few liberties, is still absolutely worth catching up with.
Together Stronger (C’mon Wales)
A sport-mad band anyway (who arranged at least one overseas tour around a Lions Rugby Tour of Australia and New Zealand, among others), and one whose single Australia was written with soundtracking sports highlights in mind, and they got their wish. So when their beloved Welsh football team finally qualified for a major tournament for the first time since 1958 (when they made it the Euro 2016), the Manics wrote and released the “official” song. I have to say that it wasn’t any great shakes as a standalone song – frankly few football “team” songs are – but hearing it live, weeks before Euro 2016, amid 20,000+ Welsh people in Swansea, was something else. My first experience of a big crowd was football-based, too, when my dad took me to Hillsborough in 1991 (we lived in Huddersfield at the time, so it was only down the road). We were stood in the Kop for Wednesday against Forest (September 1991, I think), and the huge rush when Wednesday scored probably converted thirteen-year-old me irrevocably to football for life.
The Ballad Of Paul Tierney
Shouting At Weather
Finally, football has changed enormously in the three decades since I started watching it. In the eighties, it certainly wasn’t the ratings or financial powerhouse that it is now (or at least in the same way), and the styles of football were very different – and watching far-flung countries at the World Cup was still something of a novelty. Nowadays, of course, the Internet can bring you pretty much any match or info you want at your fingertips, and the amount of money sloshing around the top level of football at least is eye-watering.
That said, not everyone benefits, and this is neatly encapsulated by this lovely song by Lonely Tourist (a singer/songwriter called Paul Tierney), whose song about a player of the same name shows the reality of what happens if you don’t “make it”. Tierney was a promising young player at Manchester United, but never made the cut and has spent the rest of his career passed around lower league teams, without ever getting any great success.
I still love my football as I approach forty, but I do sometimes wish that it was a more equitable sport behind the scenes, but sadly there are now too many vested interests for that to happen.