May 2010

A History Of World Cup Songs

Waiting for the World Cup to approach is similar to the countdown to Christmas. Certain TV programs appear in the schedules, certain songs start appearing on the radio, certain housing estates that look like fresh meat would be at a premium spend seemingly thousands of pounds on gaudy, outlandish decorations, the cost of running them will dwarf the amount spent on presents no matter how many children they have.

One thing is lacking in the build-up over here in the States though – you don’t appear to have the appetite for the novelty World Cup record that the British do. It is as essential a part of any World Cup as finding out what is the team’s official credit card, juice drink or paper towel. For the benefit of you poor, musically deprived urchins – here is a quick run through the top 10 memorable (as opposed to best) World Cup songs ever – just to see what you’ve been missing…

Back in 1966 – top skiffle merchant Lonnie Donnegan, who came up with such other classics as “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose it’s Flavour on the Bedpost Overnight?” And “My Old Man’s a Dustman” came up with this ditty – World Cup Willie – inspired by the Lion mascot of the same name. Really, in swinging London, the epicenter of the 60s, the same year that Revolver was released, this was the best we could come up with?

1970 saw a more sedate number, Back Home and actually got the team involved as they sang “Back Home” about their audiences experiences whilst they would be going to Mexico to retain the trophy – it’s a pity the video doesn’t show the actual performance as the squad all dressed in tuxedos and black ties looking for all the world like an uncomfortable male voice choir rather than the World Football Champions.

It was Scotland’s turn in 1978 with the hubristic Ally’s Tartan Army about what they were going to do to the world when they arrived in the Argentine. Don’t recall the verse “We’ll really shake them up when we draw 1-1 with Iran” but I might be mistaken.

Things took an upturn in 1990 when England actually got some proper musicians – New Order – to reflect that England fans weren’t all Vinnie Jones hooligan lookalikes and coinciding with Paul Gascoigne’s emergence, Football was suddenly cool again and World in Motion was its herald – look out for John Barnes rapping halfway through.

The apex of English footballs rebirth, sporting and musically was Three Lions in 1996 by the underrated Lightning Seeds and overrated comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel. This was truly the emergence of a new dynasty that would herald an English Golden Age beginning with the 1996 European Championships – Football Was Coming Home and it would stay… A reprise was issued in 1998 but like the originals – a faded cover, on and off the pitch.

The 90s saw the emergence of Lad Culture – men old enough to know better, acting like big kids, and it was every bit as brilliant as you might imagine. Ringleader of New Laddism – Keith Allen (Lily’s Dad y’all) came up with this wonderful bit of zeitgeist in 1998 to underline everything that made England England. Vindaloo being the most popular take-away food in England. The video is also something of a celeb spot.

If England was triumphant, Scotland was taking stock of itself and the wonderfully maudlin Del Amitri matched the mood with the antidote to all the impossible dream stuff of 20 years previously – Don’t Come Home Too Soon is the first song ever written about qualifying for the knock-out stage of the World Cup. Sadly, they and all Scots are still waiting.

The official England song of 1998 – How Does it Feel (to be on top of the world) by England United – a curious combo comprised of the Spice Girls, Ocean Colour Scene, Space, and for some reason, Echo and the Bunnymen – never really reached the heights of memorability except from musos asking, Echo and the Bunnymen? Really? WTF?

England being England, and in no way obsessed with the Second World War, produced a fans effort in 2000 – an updated version of The Great Escape theme tune. Something of a touchstone in British culture, for years it was shown on Christmas Day as if the idea of being a prisoner obsessed with escape is something we can all relate to at Christmas.  The video also features Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters – remnants of the other great English obsession – 1966 and all that. The band are also the last people you would want to have a season ticket next to.

Germany have never truly caught onto the idea of the football song, no matter how hard they have tried. They ripped off Three Lions in 1996, much the same way they ripped of the trophy, and their attempts to record their own version of The Great Escape (or The Great Capture as it’s known in Der Fatherland) never got off the ground. Their most memorable effort was in 1994 for the USA World Cup where they secured the most popular American Band in Germany at the time for their efforts – of course it was the Village People with Far Away (In America) as their song.

Given these efforts maybe it’s just as well we don’t see Landon Donovan, Gooch and Clint Dempsey clowning around behind Miley Cyrus in a USA shirt singing a remixed version of “We Are The World (Champions).”

Guy Bailey is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at

Guy Bailey

  • Jon

    …and we’re just here to do the World Cup Shuffle!?