Music and Football

Author: Brian Andrews Rowley

They are strange bedfellows, when you come to think of it. One has its’ roots firmly in the working-class ethos, the other borne of a positively middle/upper class frisson. As with so many facets of modern life however, the two became inexorably intertwined with the massive social/political tumult of the 1960s, and never really tried to disentangle themselves, with consequences sometimes brilliant…..and sometimes positively cringeworthy (which is the last time you’ll hear mention of Paul Gascoigne’s 1990 version of ‘Fog On The Tyne’ here).

The first recorded instance of popular music in football is probably the famous footage of The Kop singing Beatles songs which was shown on BBC Panorama in early 1964. Of course, Liverpool fans had been in the vanguard of appropriating popular tunes for football, as they had adopted ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from the 1945 musical ‘Carousel’ by Rodgers and Hammerstein as their own after local band Gerry & The Pacemakers had recorded it in 1963, so it was somehow apt that the BBC should revisit Anfield to record Liverpool's opening game of the 1964/65 season for their new football highlights programme, 'Match Of The Day', which aired on the then-new BBC2 on August 22nd, 1964.

You’d have thought that with the World Cup less than two years away (in fact the BBC conceived MOTD as a way of testing their own outside broadcast equipment and training cameramen for that tournament), the Football Association would be falling over themselves to embrace ‘Pop Culture’ by commissioning a musical showcase of all things ‘Swinging London’ to show the world just what this country was all about. The fact that (not for the first or last time) the FA snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by sanctioning the release of a slice of plodding, soporific Trad Jazz called ‘World Cup Willie’ by veteran Skiffle singer Lonnie Donegan (who hadn’t had a Number One single since ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’ in 1960) speaks volumes for the blazers running football in this country. Needless to say, it didn’t trouble the Top 75. Four years later, they managed to get the formula right with the rousing ditty ‘Back Home’ which reached the top spot in the Summer of 1970, just as our boys reverted to type and went out to the Germans. The fact that England failed to qualify for the next two tournaments was reflected in their next chart outing, the plodding, soporific (can you see a pattern emerging here?) ‘This Time (We’ll Get It Right)’ in 1982.

Of course, they would redeem themselves in dramatic fashion eight years later by commissioning New Order to come up with the frankly brilliant ‘World In Motion’ for the 1990 campaign. Football had needed to pass the dark days of Bradford, Heysel and Hillsborough by and emerge into a new, more gentrified age. The 1990 World Cup played a huge part in facilitating that sea-change, and (for better or worse, and there are convincing arguments on both sides) the sport would never be the same again. Certainly World Cup tunes would never scale such artistic heights again. Witness Del Amitri’s strangely prophetic ‘Don’t Come Home Too Soon’ for Scotland (they did….they always do….bottom of Group A, didn’t win a game) and the frankly baffling ‘Vindaloo’ by Fat Les (England went out in the first knockout round to Argentina).

With the exception of the utterly excreable ‘We’re On The Ball’ by Ant & Dec in 2002, England have given up on trying to trouble Billboard every four years, and rightly so., and rightly so.