World Cup: The joy of song (anthems be damned)

June 9, 2010

"I Have a Dream... and if dreams come true... then bonnie Scotland, I'll score the winning goal for you." In 1982, the Scotland World Cup squad had an unlikely top ten hit with their official song, a brogue-laden paean to playing for the national soccer team. It was both glorious and terrible, in the best tradition of all "Ëœofficial' world cup squad songs. Today you can find this gem, and many others like it, online and relive a glorious tradition that is sadly, but perhaps mercifully, dying out. England also had a top ten hit in 1982 with a double-A side "This Time (We'll Get It Right)" and "Fly the Flag" on 7-inch 45rpm vinyl. The latter was based somewhat on a British Airways TV commercial slogan of the period and somewhat dubiously asserted that "the world is waiting for England to go the Spain to win the cup, the glory's waiting there for us." Except, of course is wasn't. Despite star midfielder Bryan Robson scoring what was, at the time, the fastest goal in a World Cup match (versus France after 27 seconds), England exited tamely in the second round group stage after successive 0-0 draws against West Germany and Spain. It was likely no consolation that "This Time (We'll Get It Right)" peaked at number 2 in the UK charts, out-selling the Scottish team's memorable effort (which peaked at number 5), but not Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder's "Ebony and Ivory." Ah, what nostalgia. By such songs are memories of youth are rekindled. Four years previously, in 1978, Scotland qualified for the Argentina World Cup (England didn't!) and left for South America following an ill-advised open-topped bus tour before they had won anything. Their coach was the charismatic Ally MacLeod and the squad's pop song rather too confidently predicted immanent Scottish triumph, success that seemed giddily possible when Andaranik Eskandarian (father of current MLS player Alecko Eskandarian and a former New York Cosmos) scored his own goal to put Scotland 1-0 up against Iran. But that game ended 1-1 and Scotland soon exited the tournament despite defeating the Dutch, who would subsequently be runners-up, 3-2. The rousing, kitsch-drenched anthem, however, endures (at least amongst Scotsmen of a certain age): We're on the march wi' Ally's Army, We're going tae the Argentine, And we'll really shake them up, When we win the World Cup, 'Cos Scotland is the greatest football team By the 1980s, the World Cup song was well established across Europe. The Germans, Danes and others all recorded tunes of, er, musical distinction and harmonious squad vocals. New Order restored some credibility to the World Cup pop song in 1990 with "World In Motion" for the England team, which included a rap by striker John Barnes and reached the UK's number one: 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 lookin' 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 "World In Motion" was better song, and England produced a better performance, reaching the World Cup semi-finals before losing on penalties to eventual winners West Germany. Perhaps the most famous English soccer pop song was recorded for the European Championships in 1996. The Lightning Seeds, Skinner and Baddiel's "Three Lions" became a top ten smash, reached number one after being re-released for the 1998 World Cup, and continues to be sung at England games and played on German radio, where it reached the top 20. Perhaps the line about England's "thirty years of hurt" (largely due to losing regularly against Die Deutsche FuƒÅ¸ballmannschaft) put a smile on German faces. Scotland's song for the same 1996 tournament was by Primal Scream and "Trainspotting" author Irvine Welsh and concerned "the mystery of Scottish sport is why we hate the English so." Welsh's lyrics answering this philosophical quandary, however, are largely unprintable in polite company. The most memorable unofficial world cup pop song of recent tournaments was the collaboration between Keith Allen (Lily's dad), Alex James (of Blur) and artist Damian Hirst, together known as Fat Les. From the outset, "Vindaloo," recorded for the 1998 tournament held in France, was a pastiche of bad World Cup soccer songs of the past. Its video parodied The Verve's big hit of the time, "Bittersweet Symphony" and its lyrics were as nonsensical as anything the English players had ever been forced to sing: "Can I introduce you please, to a lump of Cheddar Cheese, Knit one, Pearl one, Drop one, Curl one, Kick it, Vindaloo, Vindaloo, And we all like Vindaloo, We're England, We're gonna score one more than you." Still, celebrating vindaloo curries, cheese, knitting and goals sounds like a fine, if somewhat bizarre, night out (and a recipe for subsequent heartburn). With hits like "Vindaloo" easily outselling official World Cup anthems and displacing them from the airwaves, the spoof has become the true soccer song. And, despite the vocal talents of the telegenic, pouting Shakira and her earnest, FM-friendly "Waka Waka" for South Africa 2010, no soccer pop song can ever match the joyful screeching of actor John Gordon Sinclair who, like me back in 1982, dreamed of playing for Scotland: "Hey big yin, gaun yersel!"
Categories