Thursday 12 December 2019

Music: A beautiful game ­ but few great songs

Pitch perfect: Will Ireland’s Shane Long be listening to Seo Linn’s ‘The Irish Roar’ sung from the terraces in France?
Pitch perfect: Will Ireland’s Shane Long be listening to Seo Linn’s ‘The Irish Roar’ sung from the terraces in France?
John Meagher

John Meagher

Last weekend, before catching another epic Bruce Springsteen show, I was in Liverpool, taking part in the city's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon running series. Merseyside, of course, is globally famous for both music - especially the Beatles, whose legacy is flogged to death here - and football.

But the songs most associated with the city's two clubs have nothing to do with football, per se. Rodgers and Hammerstein could hardly have imagined that when they penned 'You'll Never Walk Alone' for their 1945 musical Carousel, the song would become a veritable anthem for Liverpool FC on the other side of the Atlantic.

And while the theme tune to the 1960s Liverpool-set cop show Z-Cars may not be as universally known, it means the world to Everton supporters, and the piece blasts from the speakers before the teams walk out for every match at Goodison.

When one considers the enormous appeal of the beautiful game all over the world, and particularly in 'these islands', it seems extraordinary that the roll-call of truly great football songs can be listed in single figures. And, despite their best efforts, Ireland's official song for the impending Euros - Seo Linn's bi-lingual 'The Irish Roar' - is certainly not among that rarefied number.

More often than not, the football song as a genre remains mired in novelty act territory. Few who've heard 'Ossie's Dream (Spurs Are On Their Way to Wembley)' from 1981 could forget the Basil Fawlty-esque vocal contribution of the song's titular hero, Argentinian midfielder Ossie Ardilles, or the accompaniment of those musical heavyweights Chas & Dave.

The north London club appear to be specialists at terrible songs, as well as season-end chokes. Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle's 'Diamond Lights' was a particularly ghastly effort in the late 1980s, while Geordie Paul Gascoigne - then on Spurs' books - got to number two in the charts with 'Fog on the Tyne' during the height of Gazzmania in 1990.

The only song from a club to top the UK charts was the imaginatively titled 'Come on you Reds' from the Manchester United class of 1994. The music was provided by Status Quo and was effectively a reworking of their 1988 hit 'Burning Bridges'. History records that Stiltskin's histrionic 'Inside' and Wet Wet Wet's drippy 'Love is All Around' respectively preceded and succeeded the Man U effort at the summit of the charts, surely making it the bleakest run of number ones of them all.

Several songs devoted to the England national side topped the chart there and it's from that group that a pair of the best football tunes ever recorded are drawn. First up, 'Three Lions', from 1996 - the year England hosted the European Championships when, to quote the song's refrain, "football's coming home" to the country that gave it to the world.

With words from comics Frank Skinner and David Baddiel - then hosts of the popular TV show Fantasy Football League - and music from Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds, the super-catchy song tapped into the feel-good optimism that ran through the English game in the early years of the Premier League.

It coincided with the height of Britpop and that fleeting moment where 'Cool Britannia' appeared to have taken hold - and its lyrics harked back to 1966, when England beat West Germany at Wembley to win the World Cup. "Three lions on the shirt," they sang of England's famous crest. "Jules Rimet [the previous World Cup trophy] still gleaming/ 30 years of hurt/ Never stopped me dreaming." Broudie knows how to knock out a top tune, and he certainly managed it here.

But when it comes to truly great football songs, it's impossible to ignore what I think is the greatest example of them all: New Order's 'World in Motion'. Written for the 1990 World Cup, it boasted New Order's electronic wizardry, the sort of Balearic beats that had them packing the dance-floors.

But the samples were great, too, many featuring snippets voiced by actor Nigel Patrick and taken from Goal! - the official feature film of the 1966 World Cup. The song is book-ended by the oft-quoted words of Kenneth Wolstenholme, the veteran BBC commentator: "There are some people on the pitch. They think it's all over. It is now." Intriguingly, the version used in the song is not lifted from the original match-day commentary; Wolstenholme, then long retired, came into the studio to record a version.

The backing vocals featured members of the England squad and, of course, New Order's Bernard Sumner. John Barnes got into the spirit of things when he provided a half-decent rap towards the end.

Co-written by the comedian Keith Allen (Lily's dad), it was originally titled 'E for England', but the Football Association vetoed the title. It was clearly a nod to ecstasy, the then drug-du-jour, and original lyrics did nothing to suggest any different: "E is for England, England starts with E/ We'll all be smiling when we're in Italy." As it turned out, Kevin Sheedy's equalising goal would wipe the smiles off their faces pretty fast.

Italia 90 also provided Ireland with the cream of its football tunes. 'Put 'Em Under Pressure (We're All Part of Jackie's Army' will forever take those of a certain vintage back to that glorious summer of hope. Produced by U2's Larry Mullen, it was a fine effort, too, fusing the guitar riff from Horslips' 'Dearg Doom' (although the 1990 version was actually performed by noted session musician Anto Drennan) with sound-bites of wisdom from Jack Charlton and the "Ole, olé" chant heard all too often now.

It was certainly a few leagues above 1990's other big football hit, 'Give it a Lash, Jack', and can be filed alongside Christy Moore's 'Joxer Goes to Stuttgart' and A House's reworked 'Here Come the Good Times' as our football tunes must likely to get the pulse racing. Come on you Boys in Green!

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