Doc Brown’s nifty Crystal Palace rap aside, there hasn’t really been a decent football single since the mid-90s. Current attempts by the Manic Street Preachers and Shaun Ryder’s Four Lions to revive this lost art are valiant but ultimately flawed (which is no doubt what we’ll also be saying about our teams when they exit Euro 2016 on penalties).
There are good reasons why bands have become reluctant to tackle the subject of the beautiful game in song: you end up looking naff and the team loses anyway. Here are some unlikely authors of football songs who learned that lesson the hard way.
Genesis - Match of the Day (1977)
Formed at the prestigious Charterhouse school, prog-rockers Genesis would have presumably been more familiar with rugger or fencing than the people’s game. Accordingly it was working-class interloper Phil Collins who took the lead on 1977 single Match of the Day, although the lyrics still display a certain amount of cynicism, portraying football as a muddy slog between the “reds” and the “greens” (Plymouth Argyle?) defined by “obstruction, body checking, heavy tackles” and verbal abuse from the stands. Hearing Collins warble, “We’ll kick you to death, ref!” is a strange feeling indeed. It’s no surprise that Genesis subsequently disowned this song; a video apparently filmed on the terraces of QPR’s Loftus Road has been conveniently lost to the annals of time.
R. Kelly - Sign of a Victory (2010)
A man with a chequered personal history from a country with no great footballing culture, R. Kelly was of course the perfect choice to pen an official FIFA anthem. Kelly’s theme song for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa features the Soweto Spiritual Singers and no less than two impossibly rousing key changes; wherever you stand on his music, you have to admit that Kelly’s a dab hand at generalised uplift. Sensibly, his lyrics make no specific mention of football (“my sport is basketball,” he admitted to the Wall Street Journal) focusing instead on reality-defying hyperbole ("We can achieve anything / Including the impossible”) and a tangential plea to “open your eyes to global warming”.
10cc - Boys In Blue / Funky City (1972)
Before 10cc hit the charts with Donna, they established themselves as songwriters and producers for hire, making records for “TV producers’ girlfriends and ventriloquists”. One of their clients was Manchester City FC, who wanted a song to mark their rise to the top of the league in 1972. 10cc gave them functional beery singalong Boys In Blue, which is still occasionally played over the tannoy at their stadium today. However, the real treat is the B-side - a delicious slice of ersatz Meters groove called Funky City. It didn’t help: Man City threw away a four-point lead and ended up finishing fourth.
Echo & The Bunnymen and the Spice Girls - (How Does It Feel To Be) On Top Of The World (1998)
Proof that even the greats can be flummoxed when it comes to trying to write a footy song. Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch may be responsible for all-time classics like The Killing Moon, Bring On the Dancing Horses and Nothing Lasts Forever but he made a dog’s dinner of England’s Official 1998 World Cup anthem, credited to England United, a supergroup consisting of Echo & the Bunnymen, Space, the Spice Girls and Ocean Colour Scene. Widely regarded as one of the worst football songs ever, it was booed by fans at Wembley and rubbished by the players - except David Beckham, who had a vested interest. Needless to say, it was Beckham’s petulant kick-out at a tumbling Argentine defender that hastened England’s premature exit from the tournament.
Joe Strummer (with Black Grape and Keith Allen) - England’s Irie (1996)
Despite their material’s obvious terrace-chant appeal, The Clash never recorded a football song. Gripped by Euro 96 fever, Chelsea fan Joe Strummer chose to right this wrong by teaming up with Black Grape and Keith Allen (who also had a hand in New Order’s World In Motion and, less nobly, Fat Les’s Vindaloo) to pen this joyously bonkers ode to the beautiful game. “My wife’s lactating, I’m spectating - it’s a football thing,” they slurred, bafflingly. Strangely, this was overlooked as the England team’s official Euro 96 song in favour of a little ditty called Three Lions…
James - Goal, Goal, Goal (1994)
Pity poor James. The Manchester indie-rockers recorded a new version of their song Low, Low, Low - complete with crowd noise and football-themed lyrics - with the promise that it would be England’s official theme song for the 1994 World Cup. But thanks to Graham Taylor and a fiendish Ronald Koeman free kick, England failed to qualify for the tournament and Goal, Goal, Goal was never released as a single. Then again, maybe lyrics like “When we don’t win I go insane” were not the best example to set to England’s notoriously combustible travelling supporters.
Slade - Give Us a Goal (1978)
The late-70s was a dark time for former glam rock hit-machine Slade. Dave Hill had lost his hair, Noddy had lost his joie de vivre and Jim Lea had lost his songwriting mojo. They decided that writing a song about football would be the best way to endear themselves to the masses. When filming the video at Brighton & Hove Albion’s Goldstone Ground, it apparently took numerous efforts before the cameras managed to capture one of the band hitting the back of the net - a potent metaphor for the single’s failure to dent the charts. In hindsight, Give Us a Goal exudes a certain oafish charm, even if its celebration of hard tackles and long-ball tactics - “Stop your fancy footwork now!” - provides a clue as to why English football was stuck in the dark ages for 40 years.
Daryl Hall - Gloryland (1994)
Daryl Hall is renowned for his lustrous voice, his even more lustrous hair and for not going for that (no can do). He is not renowned for his love of ‘soccer’ although in truth that matters little when you’re emoting furiously into a microphone as a troupe of dancers in gold lycra form the shape of a giant World Cup trophy behind you. Hall escaped the 1994 World Cup opening ceremony with his dignity largely intact, unlike Oprah Winfrey who fell off a dais, and Diana Ross who missed a sitter. Even so, this ludicrously uplifting official anthem, featuring gospel ensemble Sounds Of Blackness, was entirely unsuitable for a tournament that ended with a dour nil-nil draw and Roberto Baggio skying a penalty.