With a new England football song – the grime infused Krept and Konan We are England that attempts to reflect these times and define a 21st century England and create a football song we look back at the long and difficult history of the football song.
One of pop culture’s great certainties is the England football song. Lesser spotted are the Scotland and Wales efforts as they qualify less often – sparring them the cringing singalong pop culture skip filler these sunburned beer garden travesties often are.
Despite the occasional magic moment, the anthems, like the national team, are a graveyard of ambition, a wheezing full on physical huffing and puffing of effort that comes around every two years and bombs out of the early stages as full of endless backward passes and miscommunication before losing to penalties as the crestfallen national side.
Like the Christmas song, the football song, is a far more tricky escapade to create than it seems. That balance between being not too stupid or being over clever is a tricky tightrope to walk. Capturing the elusive moment is the pop alchemists dream and the quick cash in of the ‘official football song’ is a quicksand.
Soggy sentimentality and beer stained bonhomie is hard to grab in song without sounding like it has a bumbling midfield middle eight made up of clown shoes and a beer garden chorus sung by ‘Peak Bloke’.
This year’s effort attempts to transcend this and move forward. Like the young England squad it’s not bogged down in the history and grappling with the future. The song from London based rap grime duo Krept and Konan We are England is a leap into a new England. A post Stormzy headlining Glastonbury, post BLM cool new multicultural England squad not trapped by the baggage of the past. It’s a brave move away from the Trad footy song that tries to capture a moment in a very different England that won the world cup in 1966.
But does it work?
It certainly captures a very different England team than the sixties with nods to BLM and the contemporary narrative it’s certainly got its heart in the right place but does it work as a football anthem?
Will it sit up there with the so called classic football songs like World In Motion or Three Lions? or will it be a worthy footnote? It’s certainly a long way away from another England like 1970’s Back Home that seeped into the national consciousness like a blokey precursor to Lieutenant Pigeon Pigeons Mouldy Old Dough – that postcard England of smoky pubs full of real men and ‘banter’. That year Britannia ruled the waves as world cup holders who were about to become chumps and also ruled the airwaves with the Beatles and the Stones. The world champions awkwardly droned along to a terrace anthem that become the archetype football song for decades because it obeyed the simple rule of being a simple singalong.
Its updated nineties version was Three Lions which is perhaps a masterclass in football songs by capturing then then the Britpop moment. It was a perfect piece of songwriting by unsung pop polymath and tune genius Ian Broudie and worked as both a slice of perfect trad british pop music and football anthem because it was written by a football fan and smart pop operator.
Often, though, the England football song got too clever like Pop Will Eat Itself’s Touched by the Hand of Cicciolina or even New Order’s World In Motion – both ostensibly classic, clever slices of then contemporary pop culture but both slightly too complex and both slightly too cool for the often behind the pop culture beat of football.
The New Order song is often held up as peak football song – a reworking of an old piece of music from the band with added football culture references and the infamous John Barnes rap – it broke barriers in the dusty old football song model at the time but has it aged well? The same with Black Grape’s England Irie which despite getting Joe Strummer his only ever Top Of The Pops appearance may have been better as just another great Black Grape song and untainted by the seventies showbiz of football anthem.
Sometimes the England song comes laced with irony like Vindaloo which was infectiously catchy terrace bombast that seemed to laugh at the whole notion of the football song and the country itself like a snark take on Meat Pie Sausage Roll or Scotland ‘Ally’s Tartan Army’.
Maybe the football song has to tick so many boxes that no-one is ever happy.