Can Krept and Konan get it right? Why England's football anthems often failed to hit the mark
For more than five decades, the English team's official songs have proved to be mostly uninspiring
Creating an official song for the England football team is a fraught task for all involved. Officials have to pick the right artists and songwriters need to strike a balance between aspirational lyrics and stand-ready choruses.
If they get it right, commercial success is not only guaranteed, but a sense of national solidarity is sure to inspire the players on the pitch.
If it’s off target, however, all have to live with the ignominy of releasing a widely derided song or, even worse, be associated with soundtracking one of England's crushing disappointments.
With more losses than wins, the English Football Association wisely decided to focus their efforts on the pitch, having not commissioned a song for a major tournament since the 2014 World Cup.
That said, the music returns this year with the BBC-backed We are England, a song by hip-hop duo Krept and Konan that was penned for the Euros.
While not officially sanctioned, the English Football Association were involved in facilitating the rappers' meeting with the England squad as part of associated documentary Krept and Konan: We are England, premiering on BBC Three on Wednesday.
With the song unveiled as part of the programme, let’s take a look at the chequered 50-year history of the anthems that England has used in World Cup and European Championship campaigns.
1. ‘Back Home’: 1970 World Cup
The first song commissioned by the English Football Association, the Scottish-Irish songwriting duo of Bill Martin and Phil Coulter (known for UK hits Puppets on a String and Congratulations) wrote this jaunty singalong performed by the players.
At the time, England were reigning World Cup champions and the lyrics reflected their confidence upon entering the 1970 tournament in Mexico: “We put our hearts in our playing / We'll fight until the whistle goes / For the folks back home.”
That whistle came prematurely, with England bungled out in the quarterfinals.
2. ‘This Time (We'll Get it Right)’: 1982 World Cup
By this stage, expectations were tempered. After failing to qualify for the past two World Cups, England’s official anthem for the 1982 iteration in Spain projected conviction rather than confidence.
Co-written by Chris Norman, frontman of British soft rockers Smokie, and performed by the squad, This Time (We'll Get it Right) aimed to soundtrack a new era for the national side.
“We're gonna find a way, find a way to get away,” sang the squad. “This time, getting it all together.”
Yet it was another disappointing campaign, with England failing to move past the second round.
3. 'All the Way’: 1988 European Championship
"If we do it right, we’re gonna get there,” are the opening lines of this anthem composed by '80s British pop producers Stock, Aitken and Waterman (SAW), the Svengalis behind UK acts Rick Astley, Kylie Minogue and Bananarama.
It turned out to be a bad omen rather than a tune of well-placed hope. This cheesy and insipid tune – even by SAW’s standards – was matched by similar performances on the pitch, with England losing all three matches.
The tournament was a nadir of British football and All the Way remains an object of ridicule.
4. ‘World in Motion’: 1990 World Cup
Talk about a comeback. After the disaster of All the Way, the football association took the brave step of enlisting edgy synth pop group New Order to compose the official tune for the 1990 World Cup.
It was a pioneering choice. With the group singing the song, the move mercifully was the end of recordings performed by the players.
As a result, World in Motion does not sound like a pub singalong, but a sublime piece of pop with a message resonating well beyond the terraces: “Don't get caught / Make your own play / Express yourself / Don't give it away.”
The track was a hit on and off the pitch. As well as reaching the top of the UK charts, an inspired England side finished the tournament in fourth place.
5. ‘Three Lions’: 1996 European Championship
At this juncture, one can make a case that England’s footballing fortunes mirrored the quality of its official anthems.
Sung by The Lightning Seeds and comic duo Baddiel and Skinner, the chart-topping Three Lions hits all the marks with a stadium-ready chorus, uplifting melodies and winning amounts of self-awareness about England’s capacity to steal defeat from the jaws of victory.
“Everyone seems to know the score. They've seen it all before,” the trio sing.
“They're so sure that England's gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away. But I know they can play, because I remember.”
Speaking to The National, The Lightning Seeds's frontman Ian Broudie recalled the difficulty of writing Three Lions. “It was tricky to write a song like that without being triumphant,” he said.
“It was like, ‘What is the reality?’ – which is a lot of the time believing when you shouldn’t believe.”
Indeed, while England were heartbreakingly knocked out in the semi-finals, it represents one of their best performances at the Euros.
6. ‘(How Does It Feel to Be) On Top of the World’: 1998 World Cup
A football anthem without a catchy chorus is akin to a striker playing without boots. That was the case in this yawn-fest by England United, a collective comprising the Spice Girls, Ocean Colour Scene, Echo and the Bunnymen and Space.
Not only did former England football players Ian Wright and Rio Ferdinand reportedly describe it as dodgy (and that's being polite), the BBC reported that fans even booed the song when it was played over speakers at Wembley Stadium.
For all the aspirations of (How Does It Feel to Be) On Top of the World, fans hit rock bottom when England crashed out in the second round, once again in penalties.
7. 'Sport Relief's Greatest Day': 2014 World Cup
With all its twisting fortunes, it was perhaps right for the Football Association to call it a day after commissioning this last tune. Even then, the song wasn't exactly original.
Take That's Sport's Relief's Greatest Day is a re-recording of 2008 hit Greatest Day, with new lyrics about how "today could be the greatest day of our lives".
The track was as forgettable as England's performance; they crashed out in the first round without a win.
Krept and Konan: We are England will air on BBC Three on Wednesday, June 9 at 10.45pm GMT
Updated: June 7, 2021 05:38 PM