With the World Cup in full swing, what better time to reflect on the songs that have become the soundtrack to England’s trials and tribulations at major tournaments over the years. Everyone’s got a favourite, there’s some you may never have even heard of; but here it is, your whistle-stop tour of the good, the bad and the ugly of England football songs.
1970: “Back Home” – The England Squad
England are defending World Cup champions in Mexico; the song, much like England’s performance at the tournament, pretty forgettable. This was way back in an era when the actual England squad sang the song. It’s pretty dead lyrically with some truly woeful harmonies, but has a nice little brass band backing track. (2/5)
1982: “We Were There” – The 1966 England Squad
England are on the way to Spain, with a song that was never actually released – due to the Falklands War – until it surfaced 34 years later,when some geezer from the Isle of Man found it in his attic (yes, really – look it up). It was written in a single night and is sung by the victorious England squad of 1966. It has another naughty brass band backing track, marginally better harmonies and a rather catchy chorus. Also featuring a breakdown with a touching good luck message from 1966 England Manager Sir Alf Ramsey, it’s actually not bad. (3.5/5)
1986: “We’ve got the Whole World at Our Feet” – The England Squad
England are off to Mexico (again, already?) with a slightly more upbeat tune, again sung by the squad themselves. Being the sad football fan that I am, I own the next 3 songs on vinyl, and this is the best looking record of them all (even if it is the worst song). Featuring you guessed it, another brass band! A song very much of the same style as its two predecessors. Some nice synth in the chorus, more awful harmonies and, by the end, annoyingly repetitive. The beautiful England squad picture disc is its saving grace. (2.5/5)
1990: “World in Motion” – New Order & The England Squad
The second of my three Vinyls. Culturally speaking the most revolutionary and undoubtedly the best England song in terms of musicality; this is the only song on the list that you could listen to outside of a sporting context. As New Order’s last release on Factory records and their only UK number one, it’s completely unlike any England song which came before and probably unlike anything we’ve heard since. Four and a half minutes of pure 90’s synth-dance-pop nostalgia. Featuring the coolest England shirt in history and John Barnes doing THAT rap, only to be further immortalized by Gavin and Stacey 15 years later. (5/5)
1996: “Three Lions” – The Lightning Seeds, Baddiel and Skinner
It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming, football’s coming home. You were singing the tune in your head weren’t you? A truly mesmerizing song that once you hear, you’ll never forget. The soundtrack to the long hot summer of ’96, the height of Britpop and Cool Britannia, it soared to #1 in the UK and even got to #16 in Germany. The song is a paradoxical mix of the haunting and the uplifting, the lyrics recount England’s successive ‘oh so nears’ and yet, it instills a near boundless optimism into anyone listening. The word ‘anthem’ was created for this song. Best of all, if you happen to be in the right place, at the right time and if DJ Dave Hunter is in the right mood… you just might hear this at Pop Tarts. It’s 2016, 12 days before we vote to leave the EU & England had contrived to draw against Russia at the Euro’s. But, upon hearing this in the main room, it instantly becomes one of the best nights of my life. (5/5)
1998: “Vindaloo” – Fat Les
While it wasn’t the official England song of the tournament, it’s the unofficial-official World Cup ’98 song. The music was written by Blur’s Alex James and ‘part time’ Pink Floyd bassist Guy Pratt, with lyrics by Keith Allen (who also co-wrote World in Motion). Unlike the masterpiece eight years prior, the lyrics in this are absolutely dreadful, mainly consisting of ‘nah nah nah’ and ‘vindaloo’. The video however (a parody of The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony) is a masterpiece. Labelled as a ‘hooligan anthem’ (and let’s be honest, it is) – it did reach #2 in the charts, beaten only by a re-released version of ‘Three Lions’ – ‘Three Lions ’98’. (2.5/5)
2002: “We’re on The Ball” – Ant & Dec
If England fans were spoilt rotten in both footballing and musical terms during the 1990s, this song heralds the return to just plain rotten. Sven’s men were on the way to Japan and South Korea with this playing on their portable CD players. Somehow this peaked at #3 in the charts, beaten by two noughties heartthrobs in Gareth Gates and Will Young. It’s so bad that there isn’t even a Wikipedia page for it – it just needs to be forgotten. (3/5).
2004: “All Together Now” – The Farm
This song was originally produced by Madness frontman Suggs, taking its inspiration from the 1914 Christmas truce during which soldiers stopped fighting and instead played football. Re-released in 2004 as England’s golden generation headed to Portugal,it peaked at #5 in the charts and features some beautiful additional vocals from the St. Francis Xavier Boys Choir of Liverpool. A solid Madchester-esque tune. (4/5)
2010: “Shout” – James Corden & Dizzee Rascal
The most recent England song and another unofficial one, features Mr. Annoying himself James Corden, you can probably guess how good this one is already. The original song, released by 80’s dream boys Tears for Fears on their 1985 masterpiece ‘Songs From The Big Chair’ is an absolute banger. But of course, Mr. Rascal and Smithy had to go and ruin it. God only knows how. Somehow it reached #1 in the UK, beating K’naan’s ‘Wavin’ Flag’ and Tinie Tempah’s ‘Frisky’ – two far superior songs if you ask me. Truly woeful, ‘Rob Green vs USA’-esque. The only reason it gets any score at all is the nice ‘No Diggity’ sample. (1/5)
Sadly, (or perhaps thankfully?) England songs seemed to have stopped being produced, for now. There are a few songs I’ve missed out, but trust me the less said about them better. What have we learnt? Most of the England songs have been God-awful, but I suppose that’s only fitting right?