European football—soccer, as we know it in the U.S.—and music are lively bedfellows, inextricably linked since the day the first chant ran over a crowded terrace. There’s a heady history, from the soccer-loving lad culture of ’90s heroes Oasis, to the cringeworthy attempts at rap or off-key melodies wheeled out sporadically by some of the game’s greatest stars. Songs about curry and wonder goals mix with Elton John-style melodies.
Pretty much anything goes, even if the juxtapositions don’t always work well. But, in the end, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about fans showing their passion, about players trying to convince the same fans they’d die for the badge on their shirt, and about dreams of glory and England’s 30 (make that 40 … make that 50 …) years of hurt. As the latest major tournament wraps, we extracted 10 great examples of the genre; music that distills the highs and lows of tournament football into short bursts of musical experimentation.
Andy Wilson and the Longshots, “Summer of ’16 (Here We Go)”
Andy Wilson’s folky, pub-singalong take on the fanatic support of Irish football mixes his love of his country with a series of cult references. “We could be in trouble,” he admits, speaking of the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2016 prospects. The clue, we guess, is in the “Longshots” name. The boys in green are known as much for their boisterous followers as their footballing ability, and their antics are the stuff of pub stories: the time defender Phil Babb crushed his testicles against a goal post mid-game, and orgies that may or may not have happened after losses in Poland four years ago. “This has caught people’s imagination more than any of the serious stuff I’ve ever done,” Wilson says of the track. “If it goes to No. 1 , I’ll go to France and start working on a Christmas song.”
HUGE, “Football (Euro 2016)”
France’s HUGE presents a natural fusion between his two loves: pop music and football, referencing the White Stripes and Queen along the way. His tournament-themed creation nods strongly at Moby’s “Bodyrock” in its synth-and-guitar stylings, chucking in a little football commentary to create a style he calls “zik rock/punk,” or a “secret recipe.” He’s tipping his own team for the victory, pointing to their sparkling record at home, which includes a World Cup win in 1998. But he’s also down for the party.
Tigana, “Dyddiau Coch”
This Welsh-language effort from Tigana celebrates the team’s first appearance at a major tournament since 1958 with a line of commentary from Sky icon Bryn Law, who optimistically describes the outsiders winning the whole thing mid-track. Normally a slightly-psychedelic band, this track—“definitely our only football song,” they say, “but it had to be done”—reflects the sense of humor required to be a Wales fan. The band is going out to France for “as long as our wallets and constitutions can carry us,” continuing a celebration that kicked off with a beer-fueled trip to Belgium in the qualifying stages. That Welsh tournament winner celebrated in the song? Apparently, it’s going to be scored by workaday defender Chris Gunter. You heard it here first.
Soccer Wave, The Road To Glory
A synth-led tribute to the beautiful game, from soccer-besotted Greece, Soccer Wave is a project that sounds like it owes a nod or two to the video games that surround soccer fandom. In particular, Soccer Wave takes us back to the game Pro-Evolution Soccer, a classic by Konami from the ’90s. In the absence of his home country’s team at the Euro Cup, Razor—who owns the Werkstatt label that launched his Soccer Wave release—is backing Germany, the world champs.
The Heavy Hitting Crew, “50”
One for 4 a.m. club nights, The Heavy Hitting Crew reprises a theme central to English football: 2016 marks 50 years since the UK last took home a major international trophy. As well as this a late-night anthem for the tournament, The Crew has thrown together a second soccer-leaning ode, that one about Leicester City’s unlikely premier league victory this year, focusing on lethal frontman Jamie Vardy. Frontman MC Buzz might be living in fantasy land with his Euros predictions, however: he’s tipping an England victory over Holland—who failed to qualify—come final day.
Steve White & The Protest Family, Brisbane Road
Steve White’s track is about the less glamorous side of soccer and more about protest with punk stylings. The band said it’s as likely to be found at picket lines as in musical venues, so it’s no surprise that this song takes an outsider angle. “It’s not real football, is it?” White asks of the Euros. “Not the way lower league fans experience the game, where a sense of community is at least as important as matters on the pitch.” Does he have a point? It’s hard to argue with a man who’s written three different tracks about a fourth-tier English football club.
My Brother Woody
“My head is always full of football-related guff,” says My Brother Woody. As if to prove it, he’s got no less than two full albums of quirky, mellow folk on subjects from the game’s periphery: panini sticker book conspiracy theories, strategic tough tackling early in games, and ruined weekends. The Irishman (currently based in Germany) is hoping to see three “Irish wins” (or 1-1 draws), which may or may not involve goals scored by another subject of his musical tributes—angular-headed strikers.
Jan Sloane’s Euros anthem lovingly discards England fans’ dubious reputation for trouble by lyrically promising to comfort opposing fans with cups of tea after the game—after an England win, that is. “I’m quite a positive person, so I hope it comes across in the music,” Sloane says of his track. “I’m living and teaching English in Paris, so I’ll be able to soak up the atmosphere. You have to believe England can win it, regardless of our chances.” You never know, but let’s not kid ourselves. Best case, it’ll be a comfort lager—right, Jan?
The Wonder Villains, Zola
What could offer a greater statement of football unity than a Northern Irish band singing about the Italian star of an English football team? Gianfranco Zola retired from professional soccer in 2005 and has gone on to manage a series of club sides (most recently in Qatar, the hosts of the next World Cup). He usually pops his head up in media circles around major tournaments to wax lyrical about some of the game’s peripheral geniuses. Kieran Coyle, who stars in the Derry band, singles out Zola’s appeal: “He’s someone who’s loved by everyone no matter who you support.” The track’s inspiration? Weezer played over Chelsea highlights on YouTube. The diminutive Italian even stars in the music video.
Plume of Feathers
While 24 European nations are all reveling in summer soccer, spare a thought for those with no invite to the party. “I’ll be sitting in a dark room crying over a picture of Kenny Dalglish,” Scotsman Paul Tierney—a.k.a Plume Of Feathers—told us of his tournament plans. He might not be partaking, but he captures the essence of soccer obsession when he sings, “Fuck these weddings, christenings/The fixture list is where I’ve been and where I’ll go tomorrow/My future and my past” on “Away Fan.” Another of his tracks celebrates his lower-league football namesake. Obsession: we’ve all been there, Paul, and sometimes it hurts.