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11 Football songs

To mark the start of Euro 2008 on Saturday, here are a few random football-related songs; all unrelated to Euro 2008. A couple are brilliant, some are rather interesting, and a couple are so horrible that any collector of bad music should experience ecstasy at the prospect of adding to their miscellany of horrors.

Luciano Pavarotti – Nessun Dorma.mp3
It is a cruel irony that football suddenly became hugely popular after the worst World Cup since 1962. Italia ’90 was mostly dire, a few bright exceptions such as the performances by Cameroon and West Germany apart. And in many ways the marketing explosion that followed Italia ’90 has corrupted football. I don’t know how much we can blame old Pavarotten for it, but the decision to adopt a rousing bit of opera (from Puccini’s unfinished opera Turandot) as the World Cup’s theme song surely helped persuade the snobs who previously regarded football as a sport for yobs and the working classes that it could be socially acceptable, even desirable.

Pel̩ & Gracinha РMeu Mundo ̩ Uma Bola.mp3
From the most famous tenor to the most famous football player. Normally when one thinks of football players recording music, one recoils in horror (remember Kevin Keegan’s Smokie-esque 1979 hit Head Over Heels, or Diamond Lights by Glenn & Chris, who should have insisted on being credited as Hoddle & Waddle). Not so with the greatest footballer of all time, who actually had musical talent. Old pictures from Santos or Brazil tours often show him with guitar in hand, practising some bossa nova number or other. So in 1977 he finally released a single, a duet with somebody called Gracinha. His collaborators are redoubtable: Sergio Mendes and Gerry Mulligan. It’s a fine song which in 1998 merited inclusion among the greats of the genre in a quite comprehensive compilation titled 40 Years Of Bossa Nova.

New Order – World In Motion.mp3
One would not have immediately connected the residents of the Hacienda with football culture, yet here they were, recording a theme song for England’s 1990 World Cup campaign, doubtless inspiring the team to give their best World Cup performance outside their sceptre’d isle. Since losing that 1990 semi-final on penalties, England have had a hilarious run of misadventures, usually involving penalty shoot-outs (so what were Chelsea thinking when they picked an English player to take the potentially match-winning penalty in the “Champions” “League” final?). That run of failure has reached an amusing climax with England’s failure to qualify for Euro ’08. I may be gloating, but on a personal level I feel a tinge of regret because the absence of John Terry and his pals in Switzerland and Austria also means a deprivation in the supply of the genius match reports by the great David Stubbs, writing in the character of a superannuated upperclass imperialist with a non-too-subtle bigoted bent. Read some of them here.

Die Toten Hosen – Bayern.mp3
Many followers of the English Pemier League complain about only the big four clubs having a chance of winning the league (well, three really). Spare a thought then for the German Bundesliga, where only one club dominates, the satanic incarnation that is FC Bayern München. Occasionally Bayern will have a poor season, and Werder Bremen or VfB Stuttgart get a turn to become Meister (and Schalke 04 to finish second), but you can be assured that next season Bayern will be back on top. For the past 30 years or so, Bayern have successfully followed a strategy of buying the best players from other clubs ““ not to strengthen their squad, but to weaken that of their competitors. Bayern are rightly hated by anyone who does not support them. Die Toten Hosen, Germany’s equivalent of Green Day, wrote a catchy song about that hatred. In it, the singer imagines himself as a prodigious football talent who would reject Bayern”s approaches on principle. He observes that playing for Bayern is a certain way to spoil one”s good character, and asks: “What kind of parents must one have to be so stupid as to sign a contract with that shit club”. The song fades out with an energetic chant pledging: “We would never go to FC Bayern”. It is a pity that Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose weren’t fans of Die Toten Hosen (literally, The Dead Trousers).

Sportfreunde Stiller – 54-74-90-2006.mp3
And from Munich, Sportfreunde Stiller recorded the unofficial German World Cup anthem for 2006. Catchy though it is, it”s not threatening to break into the pantheon of rock classics. But it captures the German mood during the World Cup (I was lucky to spend two weeks in Munich during that time). The numbers 54, 74, 90 refer to the years in which (West) Germany won the World Cup; 2006 expresses the hope for “a sensation” (and unfancied Germany came pretty close to cause one). The Sportfreunde ““ an old-fashioned term for the gymnastic clubs which were very much part of the German culture in the 19th century ““ rightly point out that the win in 1954 was “a miracle”, in 1974 “luck” and in ’90 “the deserved reward”. After Germany finished 3rd in 2006, the band re-recorded the song to reflect the same optimism for Germany”s success in 2010 in South Africa.

Deutsche Fußball Nationalmanschaft – Fussball ist unser Leben.mp3
I posted this opus last year, as part of the Time Travel series. At the time I wrote about it: “The 442 – Come On England.mp3
The attentive reader of this blog might have noticed that I not only exhibit excellent musical taste most of the time, but am also a casual collector of shockingly bad songs. By that I don’t mean that I have a folder reserved for the likes of My Humps or My Heart Will Go On. Such songs are awful, of course, but not in a way that invites an ironic appreciation or makes your jaw drop at the audacity of somebody actually having thought it a good idea to record it (such as Crispin Glover”s breathtaking version of These Boots Are Made Fir Walking on the first mix of Singing Actors). Come On England, recorded for Englands Euro “04 campaign, falls somewhere between jawdropper and My Humps. It is a cover, of sorts, of Dexys Midnight Runners” Come On Eileen ““ a song whose reputation has suffered unduly as a result of being played “ironically” at weddings and being ripped off by purveyors of fuckbucketry such as 442. If this is the quality of music written in support of England these days, then the team”s hilarious failure to qualify for Euro “08 is not surprising and indeed welcome.

TKZee & Benni McCarthy – Shibobo.mp3
Benni McCarthy currently plays for Blackburn Rovers. His two most famous moments were the goals he scored for FC Porto in the Champions League against Manchester United, thanks to which Porto went on to knock out United and eventually win the competition. Born in Cape Town, Benni would not have listened to much township music as a kid; his social milieu would have been infused with soul/R&B, rap, jazz fusion and the sounds of the Kaapse Klopse in the city”s coloured community (it”s the designation the “mixed-race” members of that former apartheid classification tend to use; though there is still debate about its legitimacy). Somewhere along the line, McCarthy (who had just joined Ajax Amsterdam) picked up a taste for kwaito, the dance music of the townships, and teamed up in a rapping capacity with one of the biggest names in the genre, TKZee. Recorded for the World Cup ’98, Shibobo (a South African term for the football trickery known as the nutmeg) became the fastest selling South African single of all time. In downloads terms, it”s also one of the most popular songs I”ve posted.

Manchester United – Move Move Move (The Red Tribe).mp3
Manchester United – Come On You Reds.mp3
I have exercised a preferential option for Manchester United ever since I first became interested in English football, as a nine-year-old in Germany. The impulse was not gloryhunting though; I was watching highlights from a game, and the team in red was playing good football. The commentator identified the team in red as having just been promoted, so I thought they were plucky underdogs. Ah well. Oddly, it was greater fun to be a United fan before the long era of success began in the “90s; when crunching out a lucky win at Birmingham was a source of joy, not of relief. Often I wish I was a Tottenham supporter instead. I might have been one, had I not followed English football before I lived in London in the mid-80s. Living initially in Finsbury Park, Tottenham were a local team, and the first game I went to see in England was at White Heart Lane (2-2 against West Ham, Boxing Day “84). Anyway, Manchester United might be winning all manner of trophies, but they probably are never going to be in the running for a Mercury Prize. Come On You Reds, from 1994, was a collaboration with Status Quo (how uncool is that?) with all the horribleness a mix of two-chord rock and football chanting implies. Two years later, United went for a dance track which might well be the nadir of the genre with Move Move Move.

West Ham Utd – I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.mp3
Not the Michael Jackson song. West Ham might have been impressive in that game against Tottenham on Boxing Day “84, coming from 2-0 down, but soon after I heard that the slippery runway in Munich song was very popular down Boleyn Ground. So I never liked them much. But you have to admire a club that has sung the same anthem for 80 years, as West Ham have with I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles. Originally a Broadway show tune from 1918, the song was introduced to West Ham in the late 1920s in homage of a player nicknamed Bubbles, one Billy Murray. West Ham also reminds me of the times I met the Man Utd legend George Best, who used to patronise the restaurant where I was working as as waiter. One conversation I remember vividly, involving that Sunday”s game between West Ham and Man Utd. Best, who was at that game, gave me a match summary, and we both bemoaned how crap Man Utd were playing and commiserated with each other about Bryan Robson”s latest injury.

For more football-related music and Euro “08 blogging, visit the excellent 200percent blog.

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  1. Paul Grech
    June 6th, 2008 at 23:29 | #1

    There’s another Italian song about football ‘Una Vita Da Mediano’ (Life as a Defensive Midfielder) by Luciano Ligabue. Don’t know where to start looking for a downloadable mp3 but here’s the video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_3KRa1I_DE

  2. whiteray
    June 10th, 2008 at 03:30 | #2

    Fascinating songs, indeed. One of the joys/burdens of the Internet is that it has allowed me to follow European and British football. I now have two more allegiances with which to torment myself with occasional hope: Liverpool and Werder Bremen. (Liverpool because of the “Carlsberg” kit; Werder Bremen because Bremen is near one of the places whence some of my German ancestors emigrated to the States.)

  3. Darren
    June 10th, 2008 at 21:57 | #3

    Best football song of all time, bar none.

  4. Anonymous
    June 23rd, 2008 at 07:28 | #4

    Er, it’s White Hart Lane, though no self-respecting resident of N4 would support Sperz over The Arse!As for The Hammers, their attitude towards the manky Mancs. is typical of how many partisan fans often regard their relative conceit & arrogance.Though one positive thing about the ‘Munichs’ is at least they’re not Chavski!

  5. Any major dude with half a heart
    June 23rd, 2008 at 09:54 | #5

    Aaargh, of course, White HART Lane. Lucky I didn’t start discussing Old Treffurt. As for self-respect, I’d have lost all of mine had I started supporting Arsenal!

  6. Hieronymus
    October 13th, 2009 at 14:45 | #6

    About the Pelé track: Gracinha is the nickname of Maria Das Graças Leporace, a singer that was married with Sergio Mendes. You can hear her singing in the duet of Sergio Mendes’ “Never gonna let you go” recorded circa 1982/83.

  7. October 13th, 2009 at 16:19 | #7

    Wow, I had no idea. And I rather like “Never Gonna Let You Go”. Thanks for commenting.

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