The spectrum of musical endeavours by English football teams, players and fans is vast and varied. With the World Cup upon us, I dedicated my latest NTS Radio show (as Throwing Shade) to an intrepid exploration of England’s aural hits and misses over the last 80 years. From an early 20th Century phonograph recording of a recital by Arsenal FC’s band, to the anthemic "Three Lions" released by The Lightning Seeds in 1996, music seems to have always played a rabble-rousing role in ‘the beautiful game’. Here I take a more detailed look at a selection of the tunes that I played, shedding light on the stories behind them. Read on for some enlightening musical football trivia.
THE BAND OF THE ARSENAL FOOTBALL CLUB – "BLAZE AWAY" (1934)
This is probably the earliest recording of a football tune. "Blaze Away" was written by the American composer Holzmann in 1901. This rendition was recorded in Tonbridge in Kent, by the Crystalate Recording Company in 1934, and subsequently released on Eclipse Records. It was also around this era that football managers would record their predictions for upcoming matches on phonographs. These recordings would then be pressed onto slates and sold for public consumption, so that people could listen to the speeches on their gramophones at home.
THE COCKNEY REJECTS – "WAR ON THE TERRACES" (1980)
The Cockney Rejects were an English punk band who formed in 1978 and pioneered the Oi! movement. They were borne out of the I.C.F. (Inter City Firm), West Ham’s firm – widely regarded as the first properly organized group of football hooligans. Despite their association with the I.C.F., their music was actually pretty good and they were signed to EMI in 1979. They released their first studio album, Greatest Hits Vol. 1, in 1980, from which this track is taken. The lyrics of "War on the Terraces" are explicitly about football hooliganism and violence, and aptly sum up the aggressive culture of the football firms. For more information, I’d recommend watching Episode 1 of Danny Dyer’s Real Football Factories, which gives a surprisingly good overview of the social history of London football firms. Also, whilst we’re on the subject of football hooliganism, it is interesting to note that this has been a problem in England for at least 700 years: Edward II banned football in 1314, and during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V all issued laws to suppress the game.
EVERTON FOOTBALL CLUB - "HERE WE GO" (1985)
Everton released a version of "Here We Go", the archetypal football chant, when they became finalists in the 1985 FA Cup. Although strongly associated with European football in this day and age, the chant actually has very different roots. The tune to which the words “Here we go” are repeatedly sung, is a 19th Century American military marching song. It's called "Stars And Stripes Forever" and was composed by John Philip Sousa in 1896. Since 1987 it's been the official National March of the United States.
PAUL GASCOIGNE – "FOG ON THE TYNE" (1990)
This musical travesty leaves me somewhat lost for words. I’m not really sure how Paul Gascoigne rapping about sausage rolls managed to reach the Number 2 spot in the UK Singles chart in 1990 – a feat that seems comparable only to defying gravity. Still, the dizzying height reached by his rap debut made Gazza (who was playing for Tottenham Hotspur at the time) the highest achieving out of any individual footballer that had ever released a single in the UK charts. Depressingly, his record remains unbroken. Even more depressingly, his unwarranted success seemed to pave the way for more abominable attempts at rapping by footballers: see Andy Cole’s 1999 flop "Outstanding".
NEW ORDER FEAT. JOHN BARNES – "WORLD IN MOTION" (1990)
This is arguably the most tasteful song to be associated with English football, no doubt owing to the musical craftsmanship of New Order rather than the dubious rapping skills of John Barnes. Having said this, the surprising truth is that this is the only Number 1 single that New Order has had in the UK charts. Not even "Blue Monday" made it to Number 1, despite being the biggest selling 12” of all time (it peaked at Number 3). So maybe John Barnes is actually due a little more credit for his appearance on the track. ‘World In Motion’ was released in the run-up to the 1990 FIFA World Cup. The song was originally going to be called “E for England” but the FA vetoed this title, because they were worried that the “E” might be seen as a reference to the drug Ecstasy.
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