Winning team, winning melodies: Euro 2020 and terrace anthems

From Sweet Caroline to Southgate You’re the One, England supporters’ songs have a less macho feel these days

As the sun sets on a sensational Euro 2020, the din ringing in our ears has a different tone from usual. Chants emanating from Wembley, pubs and fan zones are less brazen than before. Is this a new dawn for belt-a-thons?

The revival of Gala’s camp Eurodance classic Freed From Desire in 2016 helped crack the macho facade. With a useful pre-chorus thud that allows for place correction before an inevitable pogo breaks out, the lyrics have morphed depending on who exactly is terrorising defences, keeping it in circulation. That Gala Rizzatto is herself Italian is unlikely to stop Freed From Desire pumping out across the country on Sunday.

Atomic Kitten’s reworked Southgate You’re the One has also melted tough hearts, sung this year with more authentic belief than its debut in the stands at the 2018 World Cup. As the group’s Liz McClarnon admits: “It went viral, but it wouldn’t have gone viral had the boys not played so bloomin’ fantastically.”

That said, playing poorly is hardcoded into the nation’s most durable singalong, Three Lions. Although it’s hard to imagine Brazilian fans constantly reliving being tonked 7-1 by Germany, who among us doesn’t get tingles when Jonathan Pearce cries: “Oh, it’s saved!” during the 1998 version’s intro?

Ian Broudie, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel promoting Three Lions 98
It’s coming home: Ian Broudie, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel promoting Three Lions 98. Photograph: PA

Baddiel, Skinner and Broudie’s twinned hooks allow the melodic chorus to spiral endlessly without resolution. Yet the real reason Three Lions roars eternal is because it enables a form of mood photosynthesis for fans: converting the hurt into hubris and back again. On Sunday night, of course, the hurt comes to an end. Unless it doesn’t.

Neil Diamond performs in 1977
Neil Diamond, the writer of Sweet Caroline, on stage in 1977. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Nothing has met this summer’s piquant elation quite like Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. On paper, it’s up there with the Beach Boys’ Sloop John B as one of the more curious entries to the terrace canon, but as the bridge builds to a climax, the song’s optimistic momentum tends to sweep up doubters.

A decisive moment came via Wembley’s DJ Tony Perry, who switched Fat Les’s Vindaloo for Sweet Caroline after England’s victory over Germany. The greasy, cocksure strut of Fat Les is the purest distillation of late-90s footy brain imaginable. Does subbing Vindaloo off for a communal love-in mirror this newly compassionate, progressive, aspirational England team?

Carl Anka, co-author of Marcus Rashford’s book You Are A Champion, says the reason is route one: descending basslines. “Notice how no one can agree what the extra adlib on Sweet Caroline is. Some write oh-oh-oh, others go dun-dun-dun; I hear it as more boh-boh-boh. No matter how afraid the English are of public performance, get your bassline good and they will sing it.”

Paul Kaye and Keith Allen perform Vinadaloo in 1998
Paul Kaye and Keith Allen perform Vinadaloo in 1998. Photograph: Rex Features

The same can be said about the wordless rendition of the White Stripes’ throbbing Seven Nation Army riff, which travelled as a fan favourite from Club Brugge to Roma to Italy at the 2006 World Cup, and then to infamy. Whether the song now conjures a mental image of Jack White in red or Fabio Grosso in blue is anyone’s guess.

Success is never assured; 2010’s Shout For England – a Dizzee Rascal-fronted stab at ubiquity by Simon Cowell, which stuffed Tears For Fears’ Shout and Blackstreet’s No Diggity together with mentions of Wags and Aaron Lennon – had potential to send the terraces bonkers, but was burdened by James Corden’s presence. Besides, the 2010 tournament was hardly a barrel of laughs. By the time Frank Lampard’s goal-that-wasn’t cannoned in off the crossbar, our Shout had become a whimper.

James Corden and Dizzee Rascal perform Shout for England in 2010
James Corden and Dizzee Rascal perform Shout for England in 2010. Photograph: TalkbackThames/Rex/Shutterstock

Complexity has similarly crimped this year’s official England anthem, Krept & Konan’s Olé! Perhaps Krept’s mazy “mazza, Razza, Gazza” rhyme scheme will one day assume the same status as John Barnes’ iconic verse on New Order’s World in Motion, but the dexterity of drill renders it a tall order for blokes who are eight pints deep by kick-off.

Twenty miles south-east of Wembley lies an unlikely testing ground for what sticks: Boxpark Croydon. Both John Barnes and Atomic Kitten have dropped in for raucous guest performances as England have progressed. “We’d never sung the Southgate version before Boxpark,” explains McClarnon. “We couldn’t hear ourselves anyway, so just decided to wing it. The crowd went nuts – so nuts they actually freaked us out a little bit. Once everyone started chanting, it was game over.”

If Atomic Kitten can be rescued from the cultural hinterlands and mint newfound terrace anthem status, anyone can. Gazza and Lindisfarne’s Fog on the Tyne for a 2022 revival? Let’s be having you.


Gabriel Szatan

The GuardianTramp

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