With the imminent commencement of the 2013/14 football league season, men up and down our proud nation are set to be greasing up with the old face-paint, reclaiming those replica shirts from the back of the wardrobe (and wondering why they're perhaps 'a tad tight' around the midriffs) and om-nom-nomming on pies and beer as their wives and girlfriends become footballing widows yet again until next May.
With the joys of twenty-two men hoofing a piece of leather around a pitch every Saturday comes the horrid realisation that with another season comes another chance that your team (or a member of it) might release something icky into the pop charts.
True, the tradition of teams recording songs (or getting a celebrity with some association to do it for you) has tailed off somewhat in recent years, but there's nothing like an F.A. Cup final (or next year's World Cup) to bring out the tone-deaf caterwauling that only football players can muster. So, after pulling up its socks, lacing its boots and 'sliding one into the box', MusicMuso.com presents a potted history of the very worst the football song has to offer…
It's a poor showing when it's the England national side who weigh in with the first entry on our list, with the atrocious 'Back Home', released to coincide with the side's qualification for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. What set a precedent for practically every football anthem recorded since then is the earnest lyrics, the sense of 'this year lads, we're going to do it!' - after England's 1966 triumph, spirits were understandably high for the next competition, and lines like "back home...oh they think we're the greatest at what we've got to prove..." do nothing to improve anyone's showing in a sporting tournament. Still, at least the track inspired the team to stay in the competition all the way to the quarter finals, where we lost to arch-rivals West Germany 3-2 after extra time.
Bringing us back to the terraces is The Cockerel Chorus, with their 1971 effort 'Good Old Arsenal', which inexplicably features banjos. Sung to the tune of 'Rule Britannia', it's a fairly standard piece of easily-sung terrace nonsense, in which the band sound so excited to be singing about Arsenal FC it tails off before the two-minute mark like a man prematurely ejaculating on purpose just to be rid of the woman he's shagging. The Cockerel Chorus have form with this sort of thing, as they weighed in on Tottenham Hotspurs' 1973 League Cup song 'Nice One Cyril', which at least moves up from banjos to featuring flutes. It's all a bit 'Carry On', if you ask me. Although I do love the canned crowd noise that these seventies footy songs use; it's like they couldn't get enough people into the studio to recreate an actual crowd, so they just cribbed bits of 'Match of the Day' off the telly. Sample lyrics in this choice cut include "Super Spurs you can win/every game you are in", which will surely have Bernie Taupin shitting himself with fear.
The mighty Liverpool FC, who for the uninitiated, were practically footballing Gods in the 70s and 80s, weigh in with their 1977 FA Cup song 'We Can Do It'. Strangely, it sounds like a washing powder advert. You can tell this is actually the players singing it, because none of them seem to be able to form full sentences. Musically, it's a curious cross between the dad-rock of Status Quo, with punk/New Wave tinges to it. Lyrically, its like something a four-year-old might scribble on some paper: "Yeah we can do it, we can do it, we can do it now". Quite what they're meant to be 'doing' is never really explained. You'd think it's 'winning', but that's anyone's guess. We've not heard much from Scotland so far, have we? Thank Christ then for Andy Cameron, with his 1978 World Cup song for those north of the border in the form of 'Ally's Tartan Army'. "We'll really shake them up/when we win the World Cup" Andy states, rather optimistically. Andy manages to get a sly dig in at England, who failed to qualify. Scotland went home in the first round after getting spanked by Peru, drawing with Iran and somehow managing to beat the Netherlands (Trivia: one goal from this game, that scored by Archie Gemmill, features in the movie ‘Trainspotting’, which plays while Ewan McGregor’s character Renton reaches orgasm with the girl he’s shagging at the time). I imagine this pissed on Andy's chips somewhat. In fact, I think this song only exists to try and get a rise out of England fans.
Moving back to the FA Cup, 1978 really wasn't a classic year for football songs. Ipswich wade into the mix with ‘Ipswich, Ipswich, Get That Goal’, an absolute travesty which manages to sound like the worst reggae song you've ever heard, except sung by Black Lace. It's hideous, it gave me heartburn when I heard it. "Won't you win that cup for me/Gimme, gimme Ipswich Town, the best at Wem-ber-ley" goes the chorus; unbelievably, this shite managed to inspire them to win the FA Cup Final 1-0 against Arsenal. Later on in the song, they try to make it sound like a lost Stranglers classic. They fail.
Rounding off an unholy trinity of ghastly 1978 football songs, Nottingham Forest deemed the League Cup an appropriate occasion to team up with the dreadful Paper Lace to do a reworking of popular primary school hymn 'We've Got The Whole World In Our Hands', even managing to get the world 'damn' into it, which must've pissed God immensely. Again, having a shit cup final song seemed to do the trick here, with Brian Clough's Notts Forest claiming the cup via a 1-0 win in the replay against Liverpool. Crikey. And it seems like it goes on FOREVER. They even miss a trick by not calling the song 'We've Got The Best Team In The Land', which they even sing during a bit at the bloody end.
As much as I want to move on from 1978 and the nightmares it brings, we can't leave this step on the evolutionary ladder without mentioning Kevin Keegan's lobotomy that he received after a night on the lash, which caused him to suddenly forget he was a footballer and recorded the turgid 'Head Over Heels In Love'. Sung with all the emotion of taking a crap in a dustbin, Keegan saps any form of longing from the song, rendering it about as essential as a bout of karaoke down The Dog & Slippers on a Friday night. The video has to be seen to be believed, however. Some people might say this is a guilty pleasure. These are the same people that will be first against the wall when the revolution comes.
1986 brought a horrific entry in the legacy of the England national team, with the musical abortion that was 'We've Got The Whole World At Our Feet' (don't worry, it's not another parody of 'Whole World In Our Hands' - it's worse than that). Cheesy keyboard drum fills and Mexican band flourishes pepper a forgettable three minutes that I sincerely hope doesn't earn the writers any royalty cheques any longer. Do people get money from me streaming stuff on Spotify? Shit, they do? Wait - it's not very much? Good. I must never listen to that ever again.
Realising that nobody had done a rap song to accompany an FA Cup final appearance, Liverpool soon put this right with 'Anfield Rap (Red Machine In Full Effect)'. Not only casting an indelible black mark on the musical horizon, but besmirching the legacy of the Liverpool anthem 'You'll Never Walk Alone' by shoe-horning it awkwardly into this undescribable effort. Rapping really isn't the word for this...there's even a crap spoken word section in the middle that made me turn this off halfway through. Whether it was being driven barmy by England's appearance in the World Cup in 1990, or the beginnings of the demons ripping into his soul that saw him embark on increasingly worrying booze benders recently, Paul Gascoigne really doesn't have an excuse for recording 'Fog On The Tyne (Revisited)' with the band Lindisfarne. Even worse than Kevin Keegan's seventies crooning (if that's possible) there's something about people affiliated with Newcastle United FC that just made them release gash pop records. Ask yourself: when was the last time you heard this a) on the radio b) out on the town c) saw it on a digital music channel? Exactly.
I might invoke some people's ire with this next one - while England's merging with The-Band-Formerly-Known-As-Joy-Division on ‘World In Motion’ is regarded as one of the better footballing songs, I'm including it here for one reason and one reason only: Barnes' rapping. As with the 'Anfield Rap', when footballers and rapping are mentioned in the same sentence, one should quake with fear. Let's revel in that Barnes rap in its entirety: You've got to hold and give/But do it at the right time/You can be slow or fast/But you must get to the line/They'll always hit you and hurt you/Defend and attack/There's only one way to beat them/Get round the back/Catch me if you can/Cos I'm the England man. And what you're looking at/Is the master plan/We ain't no hooligans/This ain't a football song/Three lions on my chest/I know we can't go wrong'. Genius. Well, apart from the fact Barnes delivers the entire 'rap' while singularly failing to play any football and just lurches through it holding a ball. The only football he actually plays is some keepy-uppies while Bernard Sumner does a verse. Oh, and the 'this ain't a football song' bit (what is it then, a protest song about sexual equality?), and the fact that England DID go wrong. On penalties. Which has cursed us ever bloody since. There's so much wrong with this, it needs bringing down a peg or two. Exactly WHY IS KEITH ALLEN IN THE VIDEO? And what the fuck is going on with Peter Hook's hair? He looks like a pirate! You can’t tell me this look was fashionable in 1990. I was nine when this came out, I was all about style back then.
But if you thought the worst it could get was a member of The Comic Strip dicking around on a training ground while Captain Hook laughs a lot and John Barnes sort of raps – he’s really just talking at camera – you’d be wrong, friend. Four years later, in a monumental backwards step for not just football songs but music as a whole entity, it was our good friends the Germans who would turn the idea of a World Cup anthem on its head. For reasons still not fully established some nineteen years later, they decided to team up with gay icons The Village People. Nothing can quite prepare the senses for the mix of high camp and football, which includes a video where the Village People (in full costume) prance about in front of an entirely bemused looking Germany team who smile politely but really have no fucking idea what the bloody hell’s going on. Striker Jurgen Klinsmann is hilarious 1min 2secs into the video, as he nods his head in time like he’s seriously enjoying the song; he was probably worried the ‘People’ would kick the shit out of him if he didn’t look earnest enough. It’s what I imagine being at a present day public hanging would be like; awful, yet you just can’t tear your eyes away from it, nor get the ‘thwack’ sound of the rope tightening when the trapdoor goes.
Moving forwards in time to 1996, we’re back in good old FA Cup final territory, this time with the red side of Manchester. ‘The Red Tribe’ sounds exactly like every song in the top ten rundown I did for the article entitled ‘Euroshit’ a few weeks back, which celebrated the cream of the crop of terrible ‘hi-NRG’ pop songs. The only difference is this one features footballers singing, which either makes it 1000% better or worse than any Europop song, depending on your outlook.
With ’96 being the year of the European Championships where England nearly –NEARLY – got to the final, it was all balls to the wall to create a suitable piece of musical footballing history. This took the form of coffee table parp (‘We’re In It Together’ by housewives favourite Simply Red), chart-raping sing-a-long piss-up fodder (‘Three Lions’ by Baddiel, Skinner & The Lightning Seeds – arguably the most well known football song in the history of the beautiful game), and some pretty fucking weird entries for Scotland. Rod Stewart rather predictably teamed up with the national side for a rendition of ‘Purple Heather’, which even managed to shamelessly shoehorn footage of Rod playing in a charity match into the video. The fact it’s juxtaposed with footage of the actual national team just makes Rod look desperate to have been a footballer, as if he was cut down by injury in his prime, and decided to join The Small Faces instead. Perhaps its because I’m not Scottish that I find this one of the least inspiring football songs ever recorded. Perhaps it was that Andy Cameron song I listened to earlier that put me in a bad mood.
The other strange Euro ’96 song for Scotland was the incomprehensibly titled ‘The Big Man and The Scream Team Meet The Barmy Army Uptown’, recorded by Primal Scream, Irvine Welsh & On-U Sound. In the same vein as the Screams’ ten-minute opus that they donated to the ‘Trainspotting’ film soundtrack the same year, it’s a dour mash-up of parping trumpets, chants of ‘who are ya?’ and Irvine Welsh babbling some narration over the top. As football songs go, it’s about as motivational as Alan Hansen telling you how shit your defence is five minutes before kick-off.
The following year was when Madness front-man and Chelsea fan Suggs decided he should do the decent thing and assist them with the recording of their FA Cup final anthem ‘Blue Day’. It’s amusing to play ‘spot the retired player’ in the video, including Roberto Di Matteo, Dennis Wise and Gianluca Vialli laughing away in the background. The chorus, ‘Chelsea, Chelsea, we’re gonna make this a blue day’ was a good indication of what Suggs was up to seeing as they hadn’t released a studio album since 1985.
The World Cup of 1998 of course brought with it Fat Les – Keith Allen finally lending his vocal talents to a song rather than arsing about in the background of New Order videos, and with it, the only song to rival ‘Three Lions’ as a football song everyone could sing along to. Unfortunately, it also inspired Del Amitri to record the abominable ‘Don’t Come Home Too Soon’, which fired their boys up so much they fell apart and finished bottom of their group, coming home a lot sooner than they thought. Honestly though, it was the musical equivalent of a piece of toast that gets chucked in the washing up bowl by accident and floats around looking all sad for itself. England didn’t fare much better, it has to be said, with England United’s ‘(How Does It Feel To Be) On Top Of The World’ – a collaborative effort between Echo and the Bunnymen misery-guts Ian McCulloch, long-forgotten Scouse indie dickheads Space, the lead singer of Ocean Colour Scene (gah) and bizarrely, The Spice Girls. This inhuman alliance was actually the official England song, a monumental balls-up seeing as Fat Les wiped the floor with it in terms of popularity. In a showing of how much people liked it, when it was played at Wembley Stadium, England’s own fans booed it. Everyone concerned in the video looks utterly horrified to be involved, as if the only alternative to recording this was having your bollocks forcefully removed by a rabid Rottweiler on crack (Former Arsenal defender Sol Campbell looks especially crestfallen at the 3min 5sec mark). Predictably cringeworthy lyrics here include ‘We were born to win/we can’t lose’ – which is obviously not fucking true.
In the musical wilderness between World Cups 1998 and 2002, with only a European Championships in 2000 that featured an underwhelming Fat Les single in the form of ‘Jerusalem’, it was left to a curious duo of Bell & Spurling to record an ode to the then-England manager and woodpecker lookalike Sven Goran Eriksson. Why? Nobody really knows, but what everyone can agree on is that they probably shouldn’t have bothered. Released in celebration of England’s 5-1 win against Germany (which is perhaps a bit of an over-exaggeration), it likes to think it’s amusing and full of wry observations of the England team circa 2001. But it’s not, it’s everything that’s wrong with music, full stop.
Although indie-rock dullards Embrace recorded a track for England’s Euro 2006 campaign, I refuse to write about it even in a column dedicated to crap football songs. Even Keegan’s song was light years away from that shite. Presented with infinitely more verve is USA midfielder Clint Dempsey, who exploded into the upper eschalons of the charts (maybe) with his 2006 rap epic ‘Don’t Tread’. Recorded under the hilarious alias Deuce, it sounds exactly like WWE wrestler John Cena’s entrance theme from about ten years ago. Which is kind of terrible, really and sounds just like the sort of white-men-can’t-rap cack that existed until Eminem came along. At least he sounds like he’s putting his back into it, which is all we can really ask. I’m sure supporters would rather he put his efforts into playing however, and not pretending to be Tupac Shakur.
If there’s one thing worse however than footballers trying to be rappers, it’s ex-footballers trying to be proper pop stars. Enter then, Chris Kamara, he of the Sky Sports Soccer Saturday punditry team, famous for his exclamations of ‘unbelievable, Jeff!’ and single-handedly missing whenever players get sent off. Kammy’s single, ‘Sing 4 England’ with Joe Public Utd, was released in time for Euro 2012, with proceeds going to a cancer charity. Shit. That’s where they get you, because you’re basically a heartless cunt if you don’t give a couple of quid in support of this. Even if it’s the most embarrassing thing the country had heard since, well…the last song bigging England up as a global football superpower.
And so, football fans, that just about brings us up to speed on the whole crap songs front. There will be more, of that you can be sure. Next year, with England probably making another appearance in a World Cup, will doubtless see the likes of some redundant reality TV stars teaming up with a god-awful rock band to ‘get behind our lads in Brazil’. But that’s next year – until then, duck and cover. I’ll blow the final whistle when it’s safe to come out.