This article is from Issue 16 of The Football Pink fanzine which is still available. Details HERE
After the successes of Nessun Dorma and World in Motion, music played a more prominent role in the way football was packaged in the 1990s, both on the television and in stadiums across England, as editor MARK GODFREY remembers.
No sooner had the ball made that familiar crisp rippling sound of leather on polypropylene twine than the loud shrill of Mockney jubilation and heavily distorted bass guitar came thundering from the overbearing stadium PA system. The Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough circa 1997. Thousands of Teessiders flail about in celebration as Blur’s Song 2 heralds a home goal by Juninho, Ravanelli or Emerson.
Up and down the country during the 90s, this new trend of goal celebration music took off unbounded, dividing opinion from St. James’ Park, Newcastle to St. James Park, Exeter. Whether Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag or One Step Beyond, simple unaccompanied joy began to be remote controlled by scripted choreography and slick production.
Football and music have been willing, if frequently awkward bedfellows for as long as most people remember. Look back at any footage from the inter-war years onwards and it’s impossible to escape a brass band, a rousing hymn or a beguiling terrace chant. We’ve even had full-blown crossovers between the two which have not only seen the release of some fairly dodgy FA Cup final singles and World Cup anthems, but also a few ‘breakout’ hits by players trying to make their name as genuine artistes; although one always got the impression that for Glenn Hoddle, Diamond Lights was a far more serious foray into the music business than it was for his co-star, Chris Waddle.
In England, we have not only tolerated signature tunes, but actively encouraged them at some of our clubs, particularly as our heroes enter the field of play. For example, Everton and the theme from Z-Cars; Newcastle United and Mark Knopfler’s Going Home; Tranmere Rovers and, erm, the theme from The Rockford Files. No one ever said these choices had to be relevant, they just have to be catchy enough and identifiable enough for us to plant a flag in them and call them our own.
In the 90s, and particularly after the advent of the Premier League, our rather innocent, amateurish use of music in football noticeably changed. Primarily that was as a result of Sky TV’s insistence that a game of top flight football should not merely be about the 90 minutes of rigorous huff and puff, but should explode in a supernova of noise and colour onto the television screens of those who had taken out a direct debit to fund the privilege of housing one of those funny little boxes in their front room.
Undoubtedly, using a piece of music to add gravitas to a sporting occasion went up a notch after the success of New Order’s World in Motion and Luciano Pavarotti’s version of Nessun Dorma that were the earworms to our summer of 1990 and the World Cup in Italy. This inadvertently spawned a pre-meltdown Paul Gascoigne teaming up with Geordie folk rockers Lindisfarne to butcher Fog on the Tyne, but collectively I’m sure we can forgive and forget that blot on the landscape of such a memorable musical year.
Sky played a blinder with their choice of Simple Minds’ Alive and Kicking as the theme for the launch of their Premier League coverage in 1992 but didn’t stop there in their hunger to sex up the product.
Monday Night Football may have been an alien concept to us at the time, but it really did come as a shock to the system when we, the television audience, were put through our pre-match paces with high-octane fireworks and high-kicking cheerleaders. That sort of thing traditionally goes down a storm in Dallas, but gets a much frostier reception in Ipswich. On a Monday night. In December.
It didn’t always go off seamlessly, as you can probably imagine. At half time in the Arsenal vs Manchester City clash in September 1992, the Sky Strikers dance troupe and pop-rave poster boys The Shamen were booed off whilst the latter mimed their way through a performance of their chart topper, Ebeneezer Goode. Still, Sky’s shameless lack of self-awareness and determination to put on a show helped them just about pull it off, for a while at least. If only they’d convinced Richard Keys and assorted studio guests to tone down their ridiculous jackets we may all have been spared at least one weekly assault on our senses.
Later on in the decade came ‘lad’ culture’s bastard child, Soccer AM, and while the dreary Saturday morning banter and ill-considered skits were just about palatable to a generation of hungover 20-somethings not yet sick to the back teeth of perma-twat Tim Lovejoy, the producers at least had the good sense to graft welcome chunks of hip indie music into the show’s running order to help dilute the inanity of Helen Chamberlain’s geezer bird act.
Over at the BBC, they too were astute enough to drop a decent tune or two into Match of the Day, not least for the Goal of the Month feature. The Lightning Seeds, relatively unheralded until the sudden increase in exposure afforded to them by MOTD, had quietly cultivated a reputation as pleasantly poppy tag-alongs to the new wave of British beat combos from the north when The Life of Riley was partnered up with the monthly retrospective of Matt Le Tissier’s greatest hits. Now that the 90s – which seem like only yesterday to a lot of us – have qualified for the nostalgia treatment, the Beeb have rolled it out once again in recent times; self-satisfied pats on the back all round for that one.
Back at Sky at roughly the same time, Goals on Sunday turned to The Charlatans (irony) – one of a select few bands who successfully spanned both the Baggy and Britpop movements in 90s music – and their gloriously titled I Never Want An Easy Life If Me And He Were Ever To Get There to add a cool veneer to otherwise mundane proceedings; frontman Tim Burgess doing more than most to convince insipid fops everywhere that if he can be a lead singer, anybody could.
By the time Euro ’96 came around, the Football Association would have no doubt felt compelled to commission a barnstorming official England song to frame the first major tournament we had hosted since the World Cup in 1966 and, more relevantly, English football’s rehabilitation after the ban on its clubs post-Heysel tragedy. New Order had set a new precedent for football songs in 1990 with World in Motion, one that would be a bugger to live up to.
Rather than go down a similar path and find a credible band that would create a recording that could stand alone as a decent tune in its own right, the decision to pair everyone’s favourite couch philosophers – comedians and Fantasy Football hosts David Baddiel and Frank Skinner – with Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds was deemed a punt worth taking. Manchester City fans Oasis, had played a significant part in turning a lot of us into shouty Friday night lager louts, all too eager to fling our arms around our mates and bellow at the top of our voices until the police kindly asked us to move on; so Three Lions catered brilliantly for the Men Behaving Badly generation, with its foot-stomping chorus that translated equally well to both the pub and the terraces, and its celebration of the absurdity of supporting the England national team appealing directly to our collective inner paradox.
It’s unlikely anyone could have predicted just how successful and enduring that song would turn out to be, trumping everything that had gone before. It ended up being so popular even the Germans adopted it when they shat all over our dreams of winning the competition in the semi-final at Wembley. Ever the masters of ironic humour, those Germans.
Renowned bandwagon-jumper Tony Blair even bastardised some of the lyrics for a speech to the Labour Party conference of 1996: “Seventeen years of hurt, never stopped us dreaming, Labour’s coming home”. It’s hard to believe now, but there was actually a time when he could do and say literally anything without anyone objecting.
Personally, Euro 96’s music high came just as England hit the skids in that penalty shoot-out drama against Germany. Always a sucker for a montage, the BBC’s inspired and timely use of Cast’s emotional lament Walkaway over images of our crestfallen grey-kitted warriors in the closing sequence of their coverage brought a tear to the eye and a bratwurst sized lump to the throat.
The fact that Three Lions got a minor reworking two years later for the World Cup in France and reached number 1 in the UK charts again (surprisingly for a week longer than the original) is testament to its endearing qualities. But in that summer of 1998 a battle for the coveted top spot was joined by the hotchpotch of ‘celebrities’ that made up the band Fat Les and their track, Vindaloo. It may not have been as epic a tussle as the Blur/Oasis Country House/Roll With It farce of three years earlier, but it was nonetheless portrayed as a war of diametric opposites. Three Lions by then had become a bit ‘establishment’ and safe; something that middle management fella from down the road who didn’t like football but went to a Manchester United game once on a corporate shindig would buy on CD single, or that your Gran might hum while making a cuppa. Vindaloo – written by Alex James of Blur and actor Keith Allen – felt like a rallying cry for anyone who fancied getting bladdered and throwing plastic garden furniture around French market squares; or voting for independence from the EU at some point in the future.
1998’s holy trinity was completed by yet more exposure to Blur’s fuzz-pedalled Song 2, if you’d not yet heard enough of it at The Riverside, with its inclusion in the introduction to the much-loved FIFA 98: Road to the World Cup computer game. For the difficult follow up in 1999, EA Sports jumped aboard the cult of the superstar DJ and employed Fatboy Slim’s annoyingly addictive Rockafeller Skank as its new musical signature.
The 1990s were a time of innovation in football, and not least in the packaging of the game as an entertainment product. Music undoubtedly played an integral role in that move towards the kind of cued-up reaction we take as a given in the 21st century; whether that be mass-produced flag waving or rhythmic clapping along to a marketing executive’s choice of goal celebration music. For a while all of these things were tolerable novelties, from the days before instant social media reaction put everything up for intense and scathing scrutiny.
While we should – in England – always retain a healthy mistrust of the ‘Americanisation’ of our national sport, the least we can do is forgive the 90s for trying to revamp the way we enjoy our football, in the pioneering spirt of a decade that witnessed widespread changes to stadia, transfer regulations, foreign involvement and the back-pass law.
Just don’t expect me to jump from my seat and burst into song anytime soon.