England Football Songs: Nostalgic Epilogue (1996)

I’ve just watched a documentary about Euro 96 and had another round of the battle to realise that nostalgia is no excuse for not living your life.

It’s a bit of a sour point, today; something I didn’t really need to realise if I’m honest. Today would have been my dad’s birthday and I feel guilty for having a surprisingly okay day at work.

But one thing the BBC has always been great at, long-lived institution that it is, is looking back through its own field of vision to pull out the vivid memories you didn’t realise you remembered.

Paul Gascoigne dentist chair euro 96

The 1996 European Championship kicked off 20 years ago, on this very day.

My dad was pissed off because we were gonna be late getting home from the weekly shop in time for kick-off. It was his 41st birthday.

(The day’s lottery numbers were 11, 15, 17, 25, 32 and 46. The bonus ball was 29. I don’t remember this – that would be fucking mental if I did – but Google’s a wonderful thing.)

‘Pissed off’ may be a bit strong – that was reserved for the Saturday afternoons between August and May when Leeds were doing poorly – but I remember the drive home, and a news report on the radio at 3pm saying the match was underway.

The first of England’s group games, against Switzerland, finished 1-1. That is all I remember of the game itself, but the build-up to the tournament was spectacular.

I’ve talked about it before in my popular (as of last week according to WordPress) series about England Football Songs, but my 11-year old mind was blown by the sweeping optimism blowing up and down these shores. Not just about the football – we were alright, but we were nothing without Gazza – but about the place in general.

New Labour were parked up outside Number Ten, waiting for the Tories to stop pissing about with the furniture and hand over the keys; and the charts were filled with chest-beating Britpoppers chasing out the last vestiges of dreary, introspective, Americanised pop and alt-rock. Things just have not been the same since. But that’s the nostalgia talking.

Collapsed Lung – Eat My Goal

In terms of footballing merchandise, I’d made a deal with the devil that was Coca-Cola. For the low low price of a couple of dozen ring pulls (and more than a couple of fillings in my teeth) I touted a red t-shirt with the slogan ‘Eat Football, Sleep Football…”. Except…well, I didn’t, not really. But a popular chart combo played on the Coke adverts named Collapsed Lung had me convinced otherwise.

They say you never forget where you were when the really important things happen. Like the time I came out of band practice just in time to see Zinedine Zidane bid adieu to his glittering career with an awesome headbutt. I certainly remember where I was on the day that I’m specifically not going to talk about. And the other one too.

But at the age of eleven you’re just not sure what’s going to turn out to be an important thing, or what the important things even are to you. When I was eleven, shit, now that I’m thirty-one, I feel like there’s vastly more important stuff going on that I’ll never comprehend.

What I remember from Euro 96

I remember Paul Gascoigne’s goal against Scotland, a beautiful thing. I also remember just as well David Seaman’s penalty save from Gary McAllister, because Macca was the Leeds captain and seeing him being capable of missing a pen was like finding out there’s no Father Christmas.

I bought the official release of the Netherlands game on VHS, and I watched it a lot, but I still only really remember that Shearer goal – and I remembered that from the first time around anyway.

I remember nothing about Spain in the quarters. A nostalgic media more than filled those gaps in for me because Stuart Pearce scored a penalty. The whole narrative of the costly miss at Italia ’90 against Germany meant absolutely nothing to me at the time, so this wasn’t a thing.

And I do remember watching England go out on penalties to the Germans in 1996. I remember not really caring, but I don’t remember how my dad felt. He’s not the sort (fuck, I actually used present tense there, I’m leaving that in because I need a sign that today has buggered me up even in some small way) to make a big deal of it, because it was only penalties, and it was only England.

I remember being away with school on the night of the final, and overhearing two teachers talking about the result the next day. And not really caring.

Memory ache

The documentary I watched just now, keen to jam in a song from ’96 to suit every mood, played Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ just as everyone’s face fell after Southgate missed the important penalty. I don’t see anything remotely perfect about it even now.

The programme – well, it wasn’t anything to write home about. I was going to write a review of the whole thing but there really wasn’t much to it. Glorified clip show with new insight from the players, and a vast overuse of Three Lions, of course – even if the show actually did have 2016 Baddiel and Skinner on it.

But where it succeeded was in harking back to the heady days of 1996, with…well, clip-show portions and talking heads. But among its very many strengths, the BBC is very good at making me realise that I’m a sucker for nostalgia, as are most people I’m sure.

Nostalgia means time-pain or something, right? My prognosis is not good. I really need to work on that.

That’s probably the last of the England Football Songs column for a good while now; I’m not even sure if they bother releasing official efforts any more. But you can take a look back at the series by clicking here.

Puck Nuts hockey podcast: gone but not forgotten

I’ve been back listening to a rather old podcast series lately, and have only just realised that I never professed my love for SmodCo-produced Puck Nuts on the blog. Lasting a little over 40 episodes and five years old now, it doesn’t have the hardcore following of the original Smodcast or the ongoing quality of Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave, but it’s a show I always return to for some great laughs and real sporting passion.

puck nuts podcast tesd

In September 2011 I went to watch a live show by two of my three favourite podcasters: Bryan Johnson and Brian Quinn from TESD made the trip to the UK under the ‘Space Monkeys’ banner sans Walt Flanagan, for dates in Leeds, Manchester and London.

(The show was great, and even better I was lucky enough to spend some time at the bar with a quarter of the Impractical Jokers. Upon seeing my Green Lantern t-shirt, the man better known as ‘Q’ advised me ‘do NOT go see that fuckin’ movie’. I still haven’t.)

When Bry and Q returned to the States and reported back on their UK jaunt on the next episode of the podcast, Q told Walt of one thing which baffled him.

“They LOVE Puck Nuts over there, Walt. The amount of questions – in Leeds alone – about when it’s coming back…”

(I asked one of those questions!)

Despite there being some form of organised national ice hockey league here in the UK, it’s certainly not popular enough to be nationally recognised on the same lines as football or rugby. So why all the love for a podcast about an NHL team which was in the process of recording, bar none, its worst ever season?

“Dealing with the Devils and the NHL…”

As the man himself once said on one of his multiple podcasts, when you think of Kevin Smith you think of three things: films, comics and the New Jersey Devils. It was actually Smith’s friend, hardcore Devils fan Walt Flanagan, who got Smith into the game – so who better to lead a podcast about them?

Excited for the new season ahead thanks to their side’s retaining the services of stupidly-expensive star Ilya Kovalchuk, the Puck Nuts podcast was launched on the then-SIR network in September 2010 with a panel consisting of Walt and Bry, plus TESD recurring guest Ming Chen and a relatively new podcasting personality known as Sunday Jeff.

sunday jeff puck nuts

(l-r) Walt Flanagan, Sunday Jeff and Bryan Johnson of Puck Nuts.

“It’s an indoor league.”

Personally I’d argue that Sunday Jeff alone – he works Sundays at the comic book shop – was the reason for so much fan love; his chemistry with Walt and complete podcasting inexperience were the source of much of the show’s humour, and Q still refers back to some of Sunday Jeff’s best work on TESD. As Jeff expressed an opinion – on ice hockey, lingerie leagues or his favourite theme park – Walt would often verbally jump on him like a heroic sergeant smothering a grenade, and equally as explosively, only half-joking as he rubbished whatever Sunday Jeff had to say.

As Ming gamely fought to carry the real content of the show, self-professed NHL rookie Bry (and occasional guest Q) would TESD-size proceedings and ensure a thorough de-railing of the conversation. And although Walt was the most passionate fan at the table, opinionated and knowledgeable enough without ever becoming boring, all too often he too would join in the fun and ensure the conversation took some swift and very funny detours.

While the Puck Nuts shared their thoughts on the latest win – or loss – the guys at the table were consistently funny, and just as frustrated as the real narrative began to take hold about five episodes into the run.

“I’m really not doing it, bro!”

As early as Episode Two, Walt pledged to get a tattoo with his fellow Nuts once the Devils raised the Stanley Cup in June. But in Episode Five, Walt opened the show by giving up on it, confirming that “shit has gone south” for the Devils just a month into the season, and he was handing over the reins to a nervous Ming. For the Devils, it was sad but for the Puck Nuts podcast it was meant to be.

As sad as it was to hear of the bad form which plagued the team for the rest of the season, this doom and gloom set the tone for the Nuts to up their comedy game for a further 35 episodes in its original incarnation; Ming took the reins of the show and received abuse like clockwork for his mix of inexperience and overzealousness; Sunday Jeff got ever more defensive against a rebellious Walt, resulting in some classic comebacks; and Walt and Bry put on some of their best podcasting performances as the bullies at the back of the classroom, chiming in with great hockey insight (Walt) and hilarious ignorance and disinterest (Bry).

The result is a podcast whose subject matter is seeing its wheels slowly fall off, as the Devils limped to a midseason coaching change and resurgent form, which came too late to save them from the ignominy of their first finish outside the playoffs since 1996. The added dimension of frustration gave the show a second wind (and took it completely out of Ming’s sails) in the mid-20s, and the original Nuts called it a day after 40.

The secret of Puck Nuts’ success

The original Puck Nuts series took on an ironic glory all of its own – ever the professional, Ming didn’t appreciate what a glorious mess the show became – and an ownership dispute was later to break out on TESD in what would become ‘Brian Quinn’s Puck Nuts Minute’ on the main show.

In the short term it didn’t have much of an impact – other than a regular target/regret on TESD – but for me it changed the entire dynamic of the crew which would later become TV’s Comic Book Men.

You can see why Walt won’t be calling it a podcasting gem any time soon; it’s a horrible reminder of the times he had to sit around and discuss the decline of one of his great loves week after week, a hobby I’d equate with eating glass or listening to One Direction. But it’s on Puck Nuts that Walt’s love for the Devils was spun into intelligent, sharp and always funny conversation – three hats which he wears proudly on Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave! to this very day.

As for Ming, the promotion to leader of Puck Nuts got him enamoured with podcasting, and he later made the jump over to talking comics with fellow Comic Book Man, Mike Zapcic, on their show I Sell Comics along with many others. At first completely bereft of confidence, Ming’s developing ability to return witty shots across the bows of Walt and Bry on Puck Nuts gave him the gift of, and love for, the gab.

In turn, both became more able and willing contributors to the story of Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave, whose later success led directly to their roles on hit reality show Comic Book Men…

…which has also occasionally featured Sunday Jeff, who I feel is the main source of the ironic great/not great arguments. And he’s a massive fan of the indoor leagues, too.

Puck Nuts, you are missed.

England Football Songs – 2006: Embrace The Crappy Metaphors

The World At Your Feet, chortle chortle. (And I reveal what actually IS the best football song of all time.)

With an overwhelming stench of aspiration and desperation worse than the one I was assaulted with at the cinema the other night, it’s time for the penultimate chronological instalment of the Alpha Signal Five Guide to English Football Songs – and just in time too as their first game is only a day away.

England world cup songs Embrace 2006

Okay, summer of 2006, let me think. I’ll have just finished my second year of uni and moved out of The House of Pain in Withington (represent). I’ll have been with my lady for a year by then, which means I was still not quite prepared to grow up – hence my doing stuff like nicknaming my modest three-bedroom student accommodation ‘The House of Pain’. And I’ll have been listening to a lot of Real Radio round at her house, ploughing through Smackdown vs Raw GM Mode on her PS2 while she was at work.

That’ll have been where I heard this…this. The thisness that is this.

 

(My favourite bit: the obvious staging of the band watching David Beckham curl in the free kick against Greece that got England into the tournament, as if for the first time – and the way the guy with the laptop makes a face like ‘and CUT – was that reconstruction good enough, lads?’)

We went from burying Britpop to satirizing lad culture, to two ubiquitous Geordies. How did we get from that to…this thisness? Embrace? Not my cup of tea, mainly because the jauntiness of this song compared to most of their others made me doubt it was even the same band.

This explains a lot about their sound, from a BBC interview with singer Danny McNamara:

[asked if the success of New Order’s England song intimidates them] “New Order are one of my favourite bands. Joy Division, the band before New Order, were one of the reasons I got into forming a band.”

Yeah, that’ll do it. That’ll do it when all your other songs are painful to listen to, and not in the good way like Joy Division’s were. Okay, low blow, but this was an unexpected move! From the plodding dirge of melancholy that their previous singles sound like to me, to this awe-inspiring uplifting track! It’s a bit off. It’s a bit…

(Okay, I’ve just listened to it again, and it’s genuinely dawned on me in the space between this paragraph and the last that the chorus of this song is a note-for-note copy of Lucky Denver Mint by Jimmy Eat World. You know when you’re humming a song, and then start accidentally humming another because it fits together so well?)

“[McNamara was] inspired by the nation’s love of football when the team does well.”

It feels like there’s a bit missing from the end of that sentence, like “…but since that hasn’t happened since before he was born, the band had to make do with stringing a load of old clichés together.”

“The song features the lyrics “there’s no-one you can’t beat” and “you know it’s going to be our time” but does not mention the word “football”.”

Yes, but then you press play on the video and your eyes are assaulted by nothing but gaudy red and white England flags and overpaid footballers for nearly four bloody minutes – you couldn’t physically be any less subtle about football. That is unless you happen to be the creators of what is actually my favourite football song of all time, since you asked.

 

When was the last time “the team” did well anyway? Was it Three Lions or World In Motion? I can’t remember any more. The England team in 2006 was pretty good, to be honest. Well, they had a former Leeds ‘keeper in goal so I had someone to care about at least. Joe Cole showed some promise with a great goal against Sweden; Michael Owen not so much by having to literally roll off the pitch due to injury in the same game.

England limped past Ecuador in round two before yet another quarter-final meeting with Portugal – and yet another penalty shoot-out loss. Lampard, Gerrard and Jamie Carragher were the guilty parties, with only Owen Hargreaves scoring. England missed two of their prime penalty takers for most of the match, with flare-ups of Beckham’s ankle and Rooney’s temper occurring in the second half.

And so, reduced to ten men on the hour, Brave England were bravely brave for the next half-hour of normal time as well as an additional thirty minutes of bravery in extra time, but then missed out when it was discovered that a good spot kick trumps bravery every brave time. BRAVE.

Next time: the official 2010 England song (there wasn’t one) and the 2014 release (they changed their mind and didn’t release it again for the World Cup). 

England Football Songs – 2002: We’re On The Ball

Ant and Dec’s football song gets its first…and last…airing by choice.

When I started writing this series it was most definitely only with an eye on the songs which I feel still hold their creative weight after all this time. Upon closer inspection, I’ve realised that this actually stopped being the case after Three Lions, which wouldn’t have bode well for later songs.

Couple this with the fact that, even as far back as 2002 I had pretty much stopped giving a crap about the England side. I’m not sure whether it was their lack of desire, or the fact that since my team Leeds United were relegated around that time, I was unused to seeing anyone I actually liked wearing the shirt. In 2002 I was 17, and distinctly remember watching England vs Brazil in my college lecture theatre before the morning’s classes had even started. (The 2002 World Cup was held in Japan and South Korea, hence the weird time zone thing.)

The official England song in 2002 was ‘sung’ by soapstars-turned-popstars-turned-TV-presenters-turned-national-institutions Ant and Dec; Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, kings of cheesy 90s rubbish and now of prime-time TV.

Ant and Dec we're on the ball

Watch us rock the mic, watch us rock the mic, watch us rock the mic, NO

Their song is ‘We’re On The Ball’. Tell me how long you managed to get through.

 

I must admit, the tune’s pretty good. And they aren’t completely crap at singing – that’s what a career in the mid-90s gets you, much more so than these days of autotune. And the part where they pretend that John Motson is enjoying the song through his snippets of commentary actually made me chuckle. But then for some reason they think that a good coda to the song would just be to say the names of players involved in the run-up to a famous goal in a specific match against Germany – the last thing you really wanna do is piss them off or else they’d just – oh no, well done, you beat me to the joke about Germany knocking us out on penalties, boys. Oh, and singing the nickname ‘Goldenballs’ in a song to mention David Beckham offends me even more than just saying it in a normal manner.

Looking back on this song, released in 2002 obviously, has given me pause to reflect. Even 12 whole years ago…these two Geordies were bloody everywhere, and it hasn’t let up since. After moving on from hosting a Saturday morning kids’ TV and chart rundown shows in the same block, Ant and Dec made the move to primetime, hosting two series of Pop Idol and coming up with their Saturday Night Takeaway programme, which is about an hour of…who even knows. I was at my lady’s grandparents’ house the other week when it was on, and it was just the two of them giving out prizes and making weird faces at each other. Twelve years this has been on for now. Twelve years. Not every week, obviously, but for weeks at a time, every year, since 2002. And you’re not even safe from them in the TV ads, either.

Look, they’re an alright couple of lads, and they’ve done very well for themselves, but even so, football songs remain strictly not their forte.

Oh, and England fucked it up at the 2002 World Cup as usual. There we go. Sorted.

Next up, bring your jumpers and your deep foreboding sense of misery…for Embrace!

England Football Songs – 1998: And we all like vindaloo…

Fat Les used ‘Humour’ in Vindaloo! It wasn’t very effective…

When I finally got a copy of this CD a couple of years after release (thanks to some shrewd bargaining at a car boot sale) I remember being quite pleased with myself.

That was before I’d remembered how much I disliked the video.

 

So the video for Vindaloo by Fat Less opens on Paul Kaye, who cuts a lonely pace down the street in homage to a video by The Verve, which was itself a tribute to an earlier Massive Attack video. Kaye’s loner character bumps shoulder-to-shoulder with all the uncaring people he passes, before Keith Allen starts to gather a crowd behind him to the marching beat that is the song.

French maids, mimes, people swinging takeaway food bags and doing the na na naaaah bit of the chorus – I don’t know if smug Keith Allen really loves this lad culture thing or is just trying to lampoon it, but either way it’s bloody annoying. I’m also saddened to note the presence of singer and former Crystal Maze host Ed Tudor-Pole in this video.

I think it’s because I actually like that Verve song and video – even now – so got a bit annoyed to see such a bad stab at ‘spoofing’ it, the same way I feel now whenever Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse appear together onscreen to ‘riff’ on something that they can’t do justice to.

Considering the role Allen played in co-writing and making sense of World In Motion, the lyrics for this are entirely nonsensical. I don’t know if it’s actually true but apparently he just needed a rhyme for ‘Waterloo’, which was obviously the pinnacle of English imperialism and really needed to go into a song about football. And while we’re at it, ‘we’re gonna score one more than you’ isn’t the all-conquering boast you may think it is.

This song was one of the very first instances I can remember that I had an interest in following chart music, and began to feel a bit annoyed that certain songs got overplayed wherever you went. As the old favourites got played again in successive tournaments I definitely had a feeling of “alright, just sod off now”. But it stayed.

I suppose at the time the country was in need of laughing at itself after the whole Cool Britannia thing had sunk under its own weight, and it’s a catchy enough song – I’m sure there were more football fans humming this than that England United effort – but I didn’t think this was the game-changer like Three Lions was.

Vindaloo football songs

It did, however, just miss out on top spot in 1998 to a slight reworking of Three Lions, with lyrics changed to include the best bits of Euro 96; great songwriting feats such as “and Psycho screaming” – a reference to Stuart Pearce’s elation at not missing another penalty in the quarters against Spain, and “Gazza good as before” – a damning prophecy for the actual tournament in question, confirmed when Paul Gascoigne didn’t even make the 1998 squad.

Fat Les would go on to record a Christmas song, rework Jerusalem for a future tournament, and change their name to Fit Les to get the nation active before the 2012 London Olympics. However, 1998’s Vindaloo was almost certainly the group’s creative and popular peak. And it’s actually annoyed me a little bit to realise that not only does it not hold up now, but it was always a bit naff anyway.

England Football Songs – 1998: ‘Top of the World’ Wars

In 1998, as England hopped the Channel to have another crack at the World Cup in France, two singles were released by different groups; one a supergroup comprising established indie songwriters and members of a phenomenally successful girl group, the other a bunch of punks from Burnley armed only with megaphones and a massive major label debut. Each of these songs staked a claim to being ‘Top of The World’. But as any Highlander fan knows…There can be only one.

Chumbawamba Olé, Olé, Olé

Spoiler alert: I like their version a lot more.

 

It’s the war of 1998 which didn’t take place between David Beckham and Diego Simeone to get the fans singing on the terraces and to get the royalties coming in. First up:

England United – (How Does It Feel to Be) On Top of the World?

 

You know what? Listening to this now, 16 years on, it’s not quite as entirely crap as I remember. Of course, when it came out the last people I wanted to hear from were the bloody Spice Girls, so sick of the sight of them as I was at that age. But being only 13 I wasn’t actually aware of the other featured artist (and writer) of this song: Ian McCulloch from Echo and the Bunnymen. The bloke from Space is there too, as is, I gather, the singer from Ocean Colour Scene. Not that this automatically raises the quality of the official England anthem for France ’98 or anything, but I am nonetheless surprised to see the talent on show.

I’m even more surprised by the ‘morphing’ effect of the singers from children and back again – McCulloch’s change in particular scared the shit out of me when I saw it last night. The other special effects are pretty naff, but the look on Sol Campbell’s face – the very embodiment of Dante Hicks’ “I’m not supposed to be here today” – is priceless.

I would like this song a hell of a lot more if it weren’t so crammed full of singers trying to get their verse in – I’ve always maintained that Mel C is the only Spice Girl that can actually sing, and judging by this video it seemed like she was the only one who even wanted to be there too, despite her fellow Mel’s attempts to be ‘scary’ by waving a yellow card about, so a more prominent role for her would’ve been a treat.

All in all this feels like the very last drops of Cool Britannia being wrung out of their trendy sponge, which is the very thing that separated them from their Top Of The World rivals in 1998:

Chumbawamba – Top of the World (Olé, Olé, Olé)

 

It’s like this; if your best mate is hit by a taxi two weeks after a one-hit wonder about getting “knocked down” comes out, you are always going to remember that band. (In a neat twist, that song was released exactly halfway through their 30-year tenure.) The follow-up singles obviously got nowhere near the level of Tubthumping, but they did release a footy song of their own just one year later which did okay.

Considering their dramatically different arrival at the same heady heights of pop fame as England United, both videos share a few common themes; mainly the ‘kickabout’ aspect of the World Cup bringing everyone together. The words to Olé Olé Olé aren’t so much sung as spat either, but there’s very much a pure, raw and beautiful appreciation in the Chumbawamba effort which you just don’t get in England United’s squeaky-clean finished product – it’s far too artificial. A cursory dip into the former’s history tells you that these people have had a far rougher time of trying to keep things together than anyone Space-y or Spice-y did, living and playing in squats and dedicating vast amounts of their time and money to good causes. Sadly, England United took the plaudits with a number nine chart position, while Chumbawamba just missed out on the top twenty.

I much, much prefer Olé Olé Olé as, if you can forgive the spoken word verses, it’s obviously so much more of a singalong and feels much more genuine to me. The Burnley punks may have got the last laugh, as the over-bracketed (How Does It Feel to Be) song was booed by England fans when played at their matches. Both these songs would be far overshadowed during the 1998 World Cup, however, but we’ll get to that food-related song next time.

Oh yeah, I guess I need to mention how England got on in France ’98 don’t I. Well, there’s only one man to blame for their second-round exit, and that’s my Haircut Hero of the 1980s, Roger Daltrey – sorry, Kevin Keegan.

England World Cup Songs

Strangely enough, the damage was done from the commentary box rather than the managers’ dugout (although Keegan would sadly be equally bloody useless for England there too in just a few months). In their Group G defeat to Romania (which may otherwise have had them avoid Argentina), England had just equalised through wunderkind Michael Owen when Keegan uttered:

“There’s only one team winning it now and that’s England.”

Minutes later, England conceded the losing goal.

Despite this, they made it to round two, where a David Beckham red card put England up against it for over an hour and a quarter. We should be glad that Sol ‘Dante Hicks’ Campbell was there that day as he headed in a goal during extra time, which was disallowed. Michael Owen also happened to put in what’s still my favourite memory of English international football:

 

But Keegan was to strike again; as David Batty stepped up to take England’s crucial fifth penalty, Keegan was asked: do you back him to score?

“Yes.”

And guess what: he only bloody didn’t. Cheers Kev.

England Football Songs – 1996: It’s Coming Home

The Three Lions phenomenon takes hold as Euro 96 kicks off in England.

In 1992, nothing happened. Well, not for England at the European Championships in Sweden anyway. Scoring one goal in three games and losing to hosts Sweden in their final group game meant that they’d go out early and Gary Lineker would retire without being able to crack the English goalscoring record thanks to an early substitution by manager Graham Taylor.

In winning the bid to stage Euro 96 later on that year – which would be thirty years since their only World Cup win, and also on home soil – England could afford to relax…which maybe they did too much seeing as they didn’t get into USA ’94.

I remember being so, so psyched for Euro 96 – I’d collected the ring pulls from enough Coca Cola cans to send off for the official Euro 96 t-shirt, if that’s not a statement of intent then I don’t know what is. There was a real buzz about everything that year; it wasn’t that we’d actually win it or anything – even at the age of 11 I wasn’t that naïve – but everything just seemed different. In a good way.

David Seaman Euro 96 kit

Not even this shirt could’ve stopped me believing.

I remember watching a BBC documentary about this tournament and the time period it fell into, a real time of optimism for the country which was heading to the election booths just a few months later to vote in New Labour (apparently Tony Blair paraphrased the song at a conference a few months after its release). As it was during the Cool Britannia era of the mid-90s (as further explored in my Britpop post) there was that positivity of the period which was otherwise sorely lacking in 1992, and keeping that spirited feeling of community and cool is what two comedians and their musician friend were focused on when they released this gem:

 

This song is what really clinched it for me that year; shit was looking up. And for an eleven-year old cynic like me that really took some doing. It’s also the most featured role that Steve Stone would ever take up in the England setup but that’s a different story. Most notably, it was probably the first England football song that’s actually got a singalong part for the fans in the stands to adopt – and so they did, chanting it throughout the tournament and even more vocally during wins over Scotland, the Netherlands and Spain. Even eventual winners of the tournament Germany loved the song; Jurgen Klinnsman has mentioned in the past that their team coach was often the source of some serious Three Lions appreciation.

The Lightning Seeds, an Ian Broudie-led project which had recently expanded into an actual touring group, were cruising the waves initially thrown up by the resurgence of British guitar music; they’d had some mainstream success with songs like Lucky You and Sense, and Broudie was approached by the Football Association to provide the music for their official Euro 96 anthem. Broudie agreed on condition that David Baddiel and Frank Skinner provide the lyrics.

Bit of a strange one, this; at the time Baddiel and Skinner were the hosts of a weekly late-night comedy show on BBC2 called Fantasy Football League. While Baddiel had achieved cult fame as part of The Mary Whitehouse Experience on BBC TV and radio, Skinner was an up and coming comic who had previously acted and written for Channel 4 sitcoms. Though recognisable to comedy fans beforehand, it was still a bit of a gap between that Friday night football comedy programme and a co-writing credit on the number one single in the UK, but the show’s appeal rose and saw them become figureheads in the footballing community. Two bits stand out for me from that programme: football presenter Ray Stubbs getting in on the joke of a bad piece of player pronunciation and Peter Beardsley’s impressive celebrations after a four-goal haul in their Phoenix from the Flames segment. I highly recommend watching them both.

So on the back of an all-time national high both in football and the mood in general, how did our players fare in their own back yard? Well, they opened with a draw against Switzerland – in what was the Swiss’ first ever Euro match, so a bit of a disappointment – before big wins in Group A against Scotland (take it away, Gazza) and a massive 4-1 defeat of the Netherlands to send England through as group winners.

Penalties followed against Spain in the quarter-finals, but a combination of Stuart Pearce’s scary celebration and David Seaman’s scary shirt was enough to put England into the semis…where once again they fell on penalties to Germany. Penalties are always a crap shoot anyway but I see myself as something of a jinx in this regard – it’s probably just that the losses are more memorable but ever since this day in the summer of 1996, don’t bet on the team that I like to win it on penalties.

So it turns out that the only thing which came home in 1996 were the royalties for Broudie, Baddiel and Skinner – as they would again from every tournament ever since, where either the original ’96 version or one of several re-recordings with updated lyrics gets back into the charts. Three Lions ’98 was a number one two years later with a new video and new lyrics but none of them have the same charm or sense of self-belief that this one did. It’s almost definitely my all-time favourite football song because it’s a great pop song that holds some great nostalgia of the times for me.

Next up, 1998: the year that the rest of the music industry caught on that there’s money to be made at this football lark.

England Football Songs – 1994: ‘Goal Goal Goal’ by James

The timeline of English football anthems continues despite the lack of a team to sing one at.

Just to prove how seriously I’m taking this English Football Songs project, I’m sticking to chronological order and moving to 1994…when England didn’t actually qualify for the World Cup. Damn.

England Football songs 1994

When I was nine years old and didn’t grasp the concept of qualification groups, I was a bit baffled by the fact that England were not appearing at the World Cup. I remember thinking, well it’s the World Cup, England are part of The World, why aren’t they here? Such logic would doubtless also have occurred to children in countries like Japan, France and Uruguay, who also didn’t make it to what turned out to be the best-ever attended World Cup, held in stadiums all over the USA.

English finished third in qualifying behind the Netherlands and Norway; both strong teams at the time, but for whatever reason things never came together for England. The final insult came in the final match against San Marino – a team who has won precisely one professional game in their two decades of existence. With less than ten seconds on the clock, San Marino scored against England. England would win 7-1 in the end, but it was also to be the end of manager Graham Taylor, whose memorable catchphrase “Do I not like that” was also uttered for the first time during the campaign.

Graham Taylor England football music

A trip to the States was always going to be something of a culture shock for the staunchest upholders of the beautiful game in its purest form; especially when viewers were treated to an opening ceremony which featured Diana Ross taking a run-up from the centre circle to hit a penalty kick which, despite slicing wide, would still cause the goals to break in half and collapse dramatically. The home nations’ hopes rested on the Republic of Ireland, who almost melted in the searing heat but still managed an appearance in the second round before also succumbing to the Netherlands.

But meanwhile, in Peter Gabriel’s studio:

 

Recorded sometime in 1993 during sessions with Brian Eno that would form the albums Laid and Wah Wah, Goal Goal Goal is a re-recorded version of the song Low Low Low which appeared on the former album, with different lyrics which are a little less pessimistic about the ‘ape-like race’ we’re a part of, and a bit more passionate about ‘breaking the laws of gravity’ with a free kick. It’s pretty decent but I can’t say it would’ve got the blood going like previous and future entries would. Then again, with the England team of that time playing how they did, nothing short of a miracle would’ve got fans’ blood going.

Laid is, of course, a brilliant album, with some absolutely stunning songs like One of the Three, Out To Get You, Lullaby and Sometimes. It’s a bit of a step down in groove for James at this point; the ‘mellow’ album, with a surprising lack of sonic experimentation considering it was produced by Brian Eno. It being made in 1993, the acoustic, ambient feel also gives you the impression that Madchester had given everyone a rather bad hangover which this album was made to cure.

If you’d not heard the original version of Low Low Low (which I hadn’t until at least ten years later) you’d think it a fairly standard rocking tune but nothing special. According to James fansite One Of The Three, the band had fully intended to put this song forward for official release for the World Cup until England failed to qualify. It’s actually a bit of a rarity; appearing only on Gloryland, the official World Cup 94 album, and as a B-side on 1999 single Just Like Fred Astaire, which was where I heard it for the first time. The A-side is better though – just give it a listen:

 

They may not be the first band you think of when looking back at football songs, but I would certainly consider them an authority; singer Tim Booth is a Leeds United fan. That’s all the proof I need!

England Football Songs – 1990: Love’s Got The World In Motion

The history of English football songs, tune by tune.

I wasn’t sure when starting this article whether to keep it chronological or just start with a good one – writing about New Order’s 1990 effort World In Motion means I still won’t have to decide just yet.

England football songs World In Motion New Order John Barnes

First things first, I bloody love New Order; they are without a doubt one of my favourite bands in the world. It was songs like this which originally didn’t fit in with my teenage attitude of keyboards = crap, but as most kids who go from baggy shorts to skinny jeans will tell you, tastes change.

Of course I loved Joy Division before I loved New Order, even while I was halfway between shorts and jeans I could easily fall for a heartfelt and raw sound; a bit of both if you will. I wrote to the 16-year old me for The Awkward Magazine a while back and remember telling myself that I wouldn’t stay obsessed with Rancid and Bad Religion all my life.

It will have been while studying in Manchester and being subjected to all sounds Factory in dingy nightclubs that I first gained an appreciation for New Order. My best mate lending me all their CDs helped a bit too, but much as I love this band, I’m not really keen on this. As a standalone song it’s a pretty decent effort for the 1990 World Cup, but as a song by one of my favourites I still can’t figure out for the life of me how the band which had just put out Technique had gotten to this:

Well, I can always start by blaming Keith Allen, can’t I; he’ll be back later on as well but I’m not really sure what it is he actually does. One of the things I do know is that he co-wrote this track (and directed one of their later videos) so I assume he was just matey with the group around this time.

I do quite like the video, too; I was five years old in 1990 but my god, this video is so 1990. Those England kits, those haircuts – Chris Waddle’s mullet is iconic, while even Peter Hook ties his hair back in a bid to resemble Rob Van Dam (there’s also a point where he dips a shoulder and looks to the sky…if he pointed the other finger he’d have posed like Sabu)

And the music itself is strange. It’s poppy but also dance-y – a bit of a progression from their Technique album but just a touch more welcoming. New Order were – are, minus Hook – fantastic musicians but being on Factory Records gave them a mystique which was more than just refusing to do interviews, it was an added bit of flair that lifted the group out of the reach of other groups in the late 80s.

So what of the England team? Well, put it this way: getting away from the clean-cut Hit Factory which gave us that 1988 shambles was certainly a good move; at Euro 1988 England crashed out of their group, finishing bottom and losing all three games. While not a completely stripped-out team, there were a good few notable additions for the 1990 World Cup. David Platt and Paul Gascoigne made their first tournament appearances at Italia ’90 – and both were massively on the case with their youthful contribution to the squad. Lineker and Beardsley were still the frontmen, while Stuart Pearce had got into the side and provided some assists – including an assisted penalty kick right at the goalkeeper in their semi-final defeat against West Germany.

Also appearing in the tournament was John Barnes. I never rated him as a footballer but goddamn, can that man rap. I read somewhere that he’d been spotted on holiday recently and asked to ‘do the rap’, which apparently he did without getting a syllable wrong. God bless you, John Barnes.

John Barnes rap England football songs

So there you have it. A Manchester band on the verge of superstardom thanks to Madchester meets an England team who got their shit together to make the nation proud. And John Barnes rapped. Oh boy, did he rap.

England Football Songs 1980-1989

New Order can’t get here quick enough – it’s the 1980s in English football songs.

The first FA-endorsed football song came in 1966; World Cup Willie by Lonnie Donegan (his old man’s a dustman) was…well, we’ll just leave that there shall we?

In 1970 the England squad sang Back Home…which is where they stayed for the next decade after failing to qualify for any major tournaments until 1980, where they left the European Championships in the group stage.

England’s 1982 World Cup effort is where we’ll start; it’s called This Time.

 

It’s not actually all that bad. True, it reminds me a lot of the theme tune for Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?But there’s a bit of passion in there, and the full brass band treatment after each chorus is actually quite stirring.

More stirring though has to be this image of Kevin Keegan taken from the video – and his obvious musical idol by comparison.

England World Cup Songs

Look at them haircuts. Glorious. The song was written by then-members of Smokie, Chris Norman and Pete Spencer, who also provided Kevin Keegan with his 1979 single Head Over Heels In Love – which reached number 10 in Germany where he was playing for Hamburg. (I’d love him to re-release that, I would LOVE IT.)

Sadly for England they went out in the second group stage – even more sadly, this was without losing a game as they won each game in round one and drew both in round two.

In 1986, the England squad released a Hiller/James/James track called We’ve Got the Whole World at Our Feet – a clever play on the hands thing…which would actually sort of be their undoing that year.

 

Nah, that one’s pretty cheesy, plus it only managed a mid-60s chart position; maybe they hadn’t quite got the hang of the juggling act that is record song/play football just yet.

In case you missed my brilliant hint of two paragraphs ago, 1986 was of course the year that England – and the rest of the world – got Maradona’d. Diego famously claimed ‘the hand of God’ when he rose over Peter Shilton to punch the ball home during England’s quarter-final match against Argentina, but then followed it up with what is still one of the World Cup’s all-time greatest goals.

In 1988 three gents named Stock, Aitken and Waterman turned up to propose that the whole marching band thing get lost; England players got involved yet again on a song called All The Way.

 

Jesus Christ. That song is the devil. It really is. I’m just glad I could only find a minute of it. Just the sight of the late great England manager Sir Bobby Robson trying to sway and mime alongside this…this…DISPLAY…of horror. No wonder the team lost all three of its group matches – I’d be embarrassed to turn up for match too if I’d been anywhere near that.

Is it any coincidence that the two best-known and most popular England songs were out in two semi-final years? Didn’t think so. But more on that next time.