The best World Cup anthems

Our resident pop knowledge Russell Iliffe goes beyond the goals and glory to get to grips with the best World Cup anthems…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 17 Jun 2014
  • min read
With the World Cup in full swing and the nation descending into football fever, it seems like the perfect time to explore the beautiful game’s relationship with pop music.

There have been many forays from the pitch to the charts, ranging from warbling World Cup squads to Britpop belters and even an operatic aria adopted as a football anthem! Russell Iliffe looks at the beautiful game's best and worst soundtracks from Rik Mayall to J-Lo and Pitbull…

Back Home - England World Cup Squad (1970)

Bill Martin and Phil Coulter had already topped the charts with Eurovision hits for Sandie Shaw (Puppet on a String) and Cliff Richard (Congratulations) so going on to write for the biggest show on earth seemed a natural progression. England were reigning champs at the time following their ‘66 triumph, while this was also the first time the national squad had gone into the recording studio. Back Home stayed at number one for three weeks but England sadly fared less well on the field, getting knocked out in the quarter-finals.

This Time (We’ll Get It Right)/England, We’ll Fly the Flag - England World Cup Squad (1982)

The home team returned with a number two hit in the eighties, thanks to this patriotic double A-side. However, This Time (We’ll Get It Right), written by Smokie’s Chris Norman and Pete Spencer, proved fatally optimistic with England failing to gain a place in the semi-finals.

World in Motion - England/New Order (1990)

Widely seen as the coolest and most credible football song of all time, New Order’s chart-topper came complete with John Barnes doing his now legendary rap. World in Motion not only maintained the band’s very distinctive sound but also won them yet more critical acclaim to boot.

Nessun Dorma - Luciano Pavarotti (1990)

The Puccini aria became an unlikely football anthem and number two smash after being used in the BBC coverage of that year’s FIFA World Cup. The Italian tenor’s dramatic 1972 recording still brings a tear to many a footie fan’s eye and went on to become his signature song.

Three Lions - Baddiel & Skinner with the Lightning Seeds (1996 and 1998)

Topping the chart for Euro ‘96, this anthem by the two comedians and the Liverpool indie-popsters turned up two years later with revised lyrics and headed back to the summit for England’s World Cup campaign. Currently back in the charts, the million-seller is likely to be heard sung drunkenly in pubs up and down the land over the coming weeks!

Vindaloo - Fat Les (1998)

Blur bassist Alex James, artist Damien Hirst and actor Keith Allen - father of Lily - were the unlikely trio behind this rabble rouser which defined the last World Cup of the nineties. A chaotic and surreal novelty hit, it just missed out on the top spot thanks to the re-booted Three Lions.

We’re On The Ball - Ant & Dec (2002)

The first official England World Cup single of the 21st century had Geordie TV favourites Ant & Dec making a pop comeback. The very catchy (if slightly repetitive!) chorus combined with the duo’s cheeky appeal sent it to number three.

World at Your Feet - Embrace (2006)

The indie-rock band seemed unlikely candidates to supply England’s official World Cup anthem in the mid-noughties. More subtle than many previous FA-sponsored offerings, its sweeping stadium sound was favoured by critics while its number three peak gave Embrace one of their biggest hits.

Noble England - Rik Mayall (2014)

Originally released in 2010, Rik’s recent sad passing has prompted a social media campaign to give him a posthumous number one. Flying straight into the top ten, its chances of reaching the summit are likely to be linked with how England fare in the coming weeks.

We Are One (Ole Ola) - Pitbull ft Jennifer Lopez & Claudia Leitte (2014)

The official FIFA anthem for this year’s tournament comes courtesy of US rapper Pitbull, superstar diva J-Lo and Brazilian singer Claudia. However, its catchy carnival feel has been given the red card by some critics who have complained of it being too clichéd. The trio’s performance was hit with technical glitches at the opening ceremony with a rising stage that got stuck, a microphone malfunction and an out of sync backing track!

Words: Russell Iliffe

Check out fooball inspired playlist celebrating the start of this year's World Cup. Watch the video to the late, great Rik Mayall's Noble England below...