BBC News

How The White Stripes' Seven Nation Army came to be Euro 2012 anthem

By Jon Kelly
BBC News Magazine


The White Stripes' Seven Nation Army greeted every goal in Euro 2012, having already become ubiquitous as the tune behind football chants. How did this naggingly simple rock song conquer sport?

DUH… duh-duh-duh-duh DUH… DUH. Repeat ad infinitum.

You know how it goes. Those seven notes now ring out at a plethora of major sporting events.

At once ominous and upbeat, cheerful and vaguely menacing, Seven Nation Army has somehow established itself as one of the tunes instinctively bellowed by partisan crowds.

Sometimes supporters add their own lyrics. More often, the riff is chanted wordlessly. DUH… duh-duh-duh-duh DUH… DUH.

The track's status as the go-to football anthem of the early 21st Century was given official sanction when it blared out of the PA system on each of the four occasions Spain scored against Italy in the Euro 2012 final in Kiev.

Seven Nation Army was arguably the breakthrough hit for The White Stripes, whose frontman Jack White built a reputation in Detroit's alternative music scene by producing blues-influenced stripped-down garage rock.

media captionListen to a clip from Seven Nation Army

The song shares little stylistically with other popular tunes that have become terrace chants - Guantanamera, for instance, or Go West by the Village People, or Dean Martin's That's Amore.

For the Daily Telegraph's rock and pop critic Neil McCormick, however, the refrain's timelessness and instant memorability make it less distinct from those numbers than might be immediately apparent.

"It's a fantastic riff that lends itself to repetition," he says. "It's just a few notes and it's easy to sing.

"If you play it you think, 'How can rock music have existed for 50 years and no-one came up with this before?'"

Seven Nation Army was released in 2003 as the lead single from Elephant, the band's fourth album, which elevated the White Stripes from cult status to major label stardom.

Assisted by its striking kaleidoscopic video, the song peaked at a respectable number seven in the UK singles chart and at number one in the US alternative rock chart.

What led it to cross over to fans of sport rather than music isn't immediately obvious. The song's opening lyrics - "I'm going to fight 'em off / A seven nation army couldn't hold me back" - may have evident competitive overtones.

But it's the track's riff, played on a semi-acoustic guitar through an octave pedal to resemble a bass, that has echoed around stadiums.

According to some accounts, it was first claimed by fans of Club Brugge KV after they heard it played in a bar in Milan ahead of a Champions League game in the city.

In turn, supporters of AS Roma are said to have taken on the chant themselves during a subsequent European clash against the Belgian side.

What is not in doubt is that by 2006 the Azzurri, supporters of Italy's national team, had begun to adopt what they called the "po po pop po song" by the time they played Ghana in the 2006 World Cup. When the squad lifted the cup weeks later, Seven Nation Army was firmly established as an alternative Italian anthem.

It quickly caught on among followers of club sides - as well as those of basketball, baseball and American football. Liverpool fans sang the name of Javier Mascherano to its tune while the Argentine remained on their books. But most supporters preferred to chant the wordless version.

White himself has said he was "honoured" that the song had taken on a life of its own, but was under no illusions that most fans associated it with the White Stripes. "I love that most people who are chanting it have no idea where it came from," he told an interviewer. "That's folk music."

media captionJack White on the romance of vinyl

For those who are fans of both football and White's band, the congruence between the two is a happy one.

Former Scotland and Chelsea winger Pat Nevin - a keen alternative rock listener and friend of The White Stripes' late champion, DJ John Peel - says it is refreshing to hear a song he would listen to at home sung at grounds.

"I'd love to say it's got something to do with the fact it's a great track, but there's so many rubbish songs that catch on among fans as well," he says.

"It's the simplicity and the adaptability - you can change the lyrics and it still make sense. But it doesn't even need words, it's become so ubiquitous."

And sure enough, those notes look set to continue to thunder out wherever crowds gather to watch sport. DUH… duh-duh-duh-duh DUH… DUH.