The Beautiful Game traditionally has a song in its heart. Football and music summon a combined power that heightens the senses, creates tribal identities, flaunts theatricality and wit (and copious cutting put-downs). The football anthem draws heavily from spiritual music, but also co-opts generations of pop tunes.
It evokes a feeling of heritage, but it travels much further afield. As the World Cup 2018 kicks off in Russia this week, it raises the sound as well as the spectacle of football to a global pitch.
Liverpool has undeniably been instrumental to the football song, most famously in Liverpool FC fans’ adoption of You’ll Never Walk Alone, a bittersweet Rodgers and Hammerstein showtune recorded by Merseybeat band Gerry and the Pacemakers in 1963.
The song has since been embraced by teams around the world, spanning Holland, Germany, Spain and Japan. Liverpool fans’ game is strong when it comes to creating catchy terrace chants (recent examples including their serenade to “Egyptian King” forward Mo Salah), and they display a winning passion for a collective sing-song, whatever the results (witness fans bellowing along to Dua Lipa’s smash hit One Kiss at the Champions League Final last month).
The primal force of communal singing apparently applies to the players as well as the fans; a study recently published in the European Journal of Sport Science suggests that footballers who ardently sing their national anthems are more likely to win matches.
The FIFA World Cup has produced at least one official anthem for each tournament since 1962; the inaugural track came from Chilean band The Ramblers, playing the jaunty rock’n’roll groove of El Rock del Mundial. English has generally tended to be the lingua franca of football songs (and arguably the most enduringly cool World Cup hit single remains New Order’s England squad song for Italia ’90, World In Motion) – although there are increasingly multi-lingual exceptions in the digital era.