Love it or hate it football is a thing and today we see the start of the World Cup. The first thing that pops into your head might be the thought of the telly being blocked up with fixtures every day or of middle aged men with their belly’s on show and bulldog tattoos on their arms but mine is of the football song. An art form that is tricky to perfect but very easy to completely butcher.
The 90’s always seem like the classic era of the football song which is weird when you consider Englands failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup means we’re missing out on a chance and I’m struggling to find a record from Euro ’92. This leaves us with three official England songs from the 90’s and all three are stone cold bangers.
To kick off the 90’s we had New Order’s ‘World In Motion’, many people would class this the best England song we have been lucky to hear. They would be wrong but it is still an amazing track, it’s certainly the best to dance to. The reverb heavy snare is vintage New Order and the chorus is as catchy as anything you will ever hear and then there is THAT rap from John Barnes the quality of which is unrivaled. Hearing Gazza and the gang shouting ‘Engerland’ at the top of their lungs will always get my blood pumping and the heartbreak of knowing that in a matter of weeks Gazza will be crying and Linkear will be shitting on the pitch makes the full involvement of the England squad even better.
Next, we have, in my opinion, the greatest football song ever written. I am of course talking about The Lightning Seeds and Baddiel & Skinner classic ‘Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home)’. This is the only song that can make me feel patriotic and should probably be the national anthem. ‘Three Lions’ makes me feel nostalgic for a time before I was born, black and white TV’s, muddy pitches, classic kits and nasal commentary. The music is catchy and awe inspiring and the lyrics are witty, smart and have incredible imagery. The attention to detail is incredible, the customary commentary clips are perfectly picked out, the swelling french horn when the song strips back makes me feel like I personally could win Euro ’96 and score that penalty that Southgate so tragically missed.
The supergroup England United tackled the 1998 World Cup with ‘(How Does It Feel to Be) On Top of The World’ which captured Britpop and the more conventional pop of the Spice Girls to create a singalong anthem. However, there is a fall in quality from ‘Three Lions’ and it is easy to see how it was overshadowed by a re-release of its predecessor. The drivel that is ‘Vindaloo’ was also more popular than the official song and this signaled the end of the quality England tournament song.
The 00’s and 10’s have so far have been the fallow years of the football song. Ant & Dec took the helm for 2002’s ‘We’re On The Ball’ is TERRIBLE, ‘Sven Sven Sven’ was incredibly popular but the video is also incredibly sexist and just awful. Sham 69’s 2006 effort ‘Hurry Up England’ was a valiant effort which happens to feature my boss as part of ‘The Special Assembly’. 2010’s Dizzee Rascal and James Corden song ‘Shout For England’ felt like an embarrassing attempt to make the England song relevant again, if Dizzee had done it 6-10 years earlier I think it might have worked.
The only England song released post ’98 that I like happens to have been released this week. The Rhythm Method’s ‘Chin Up’ feels like a throwback to ‘World In Motion’, catchy synth lines with a well sung chorus on top Joey’s half sung half spoken lyrics replacing Barnes’ rap. The video enlists the help of Indie superstars from Wolf Alice and Swim Deep and reminds us once again that a football song can be a celebration of football and optimism without being sexist or overly patriotic or being commercial. If ‘Chin Up’ had been released in the 90’s it would be still be being sung and referenced in stadia and on the back pages like ‘World In Motion’ and ‘Three Lions’ are. The football song may have just been revived by a little known duo from South West London. I certainly hope so anyway. I know if I was in Russia I’d be trying to get Harry Kane and co. to listen to it.