Unpopular demand

A chart of the most played football songs in the past five years released by Performing Rights Society leaves David Stubbs wondering who on earth has been left in charge of the PA system

Whenever a list of 50 best-ever songs is released, be they selected by Q readers or Virgin Radio listeners, it tends to cast humanity in a harsh light. A list of the UK’s top football songs based on the commercial reality of which have been most frequently played, as recently unveiled by the UK Performing Rights Society, lowers your opinion of the general public all the more. Is this all we are, as a species?

The first problem is, of course, the words “football” and “song”. There is nothing wrong with football. Nothing wrong with song. However, like ice cream and gravy, the two should never be conjoined. Of course, during the 1990s, there were attempts to break this truism. New Order’s World In Motion (number nine in the chart), which confined itself to vague references to space and self-expression, was almost passable until John Barnes weighed in to rap as ­successfully as he would later manage Celtic. Lightning Seeds/Baddiel & Skinner’s Three Lions (in at number three) felt at the time like football and the indie sensibility had finally melded, although that was the same rush of blood to the head that convinced us that Tony Blair was on the point of arresting and reversing the Thatcherite slide to the right in the UK. Most of had us stopped believing in either Ingerland or Bliar by about 1998.

Since then, the football song has abandoned all pretensions and reverted to cartoon moronity, as if football fanzines and Nick Hornby never happened. The Portsmouth v Cardiff final yielded two typical examples – the “Did Sid die for this?” excrescence that was Sham 69’s attempt to update their Hurry Up, Harry as a paean to manager Redknapp, and Bluebirds Flying High, in which, striking a midpoint chord between Coldplay and Chas ’n’ Dave, a piano-­playing Welshman warbled such sentiments as: “We’re ready for a new tale/At the helm there’s Peter Ridsdale.” There are still a few copies for sale. Quite a few, in fact.

As for the all-time chart, as well as the oikish surrealism of Fat Les’s Vindaloo (number seven) there is, at five, Sing Up For The Champions, the official Man Utd song from the late 1990s, which, despite its dated tributes to Pallister and Sheringham, is still a Performing Rights money­spinner. With synths oozing like melted plastic prawn from a sandwich, it wins over neutrals by kicking off with the ever-popular sentiment “there’s only one United”. Hot Stuff (at two), the official tribute to ­Arsenal FC, feels Jacques Brel-like by comparison, although it hardly captures the less-than-molten synergy of the Emirates or Arsenal’s build-up play as they attempt to break down an obdurate Wigan defence in February. The tie-in with The Full Monty, in which the song also features (filling one of the bits where the politics in that film should be), probably accounts for its high placing.

Lower down the chart are some notable entries – it is heartening to know that punk cannon-fodder the Cockney Rejects, cruelly swept aside by critics once Joy Division hove majestically into view, are collecting a royalty pittance from their version of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles (number 12).

The evolution of the Scottish song is reflected in the list. In 1974, there was the preposterous hubris of Easy, Easy for that year’s World Cup, in which Scotland, as you’ll recall, beat West Germany 6-1 in the final with Peter Cormack scoring a hat-trick. By 1998, a more timidly realistic note was expressed by Del Amitri with Don’t Come Home Too Soon, with braying exhortation replaced by the fear of humiliation at the hands of a very small third-world country.

Meanwhile, the old canard that Nottingham has never produced a band of note is scotched by Paper Lace, whose We’ve Got The Whole World In Our Hands (number 39) captured the citywide mood in 1978, with both Forest and Paper Lace looking to the 1980s with confidence riding high. But the fact that Neil and Christine Hamilton’s England Are Jolly Dee sits at number 33 raises suspicions about the PRS’s play-ometer. Was this song ever played once, anywhere, at all?

At number one, however, roosts Nessun Dorma and properly so. Even for the most successful teams, disappointment is the default setting, with successes perceived as sorely overdue constantly deferred until the season after next. This wobbling and ­heaving tower of operatic lachrymosity strikes a truer and more universal chord than the England squad promising they’ll Get It Right in 1982 or DJ Otzi’s Hey Baby (number three) – the anthem of Europe-wide mouth-breathers (“Ooh! Aah!!”) and its promise of perpetual hot soccer winning goal action, baby – or anything involving bloody Keith bloody Allen, Mr Bloody himself.

From WSC 257 July 2008