Ever since the English national football team, still flushed with success from winning the 1966 World Cup, decided that their defence of the title would be enhanced by recording a pop single, football and music have gone together like cheese and custard. Professional footballers will insist on making tools of themselves by attempting to sing, rap or just mumbling incoherently in the hope of matching their success on the pitch with success in the charts. It’s not an easy thing to do, partly because the inherent tribalism of football means that while a player may have his team’s supporters on his side, there are countless other teams whose fans wouldn’t touch his record with a barge pole; but mainly because records by footballers are shite.
But can this theory hold true all the time? Are all footballers loutish oafs with the musical talent and sophistication of a warthog on a bouncy castle? What about those who buck the trend, who gave 110% in the studio and got a result at the end of the day? Leaving aside World Cup or Cup Final songs where the whole team reluctantly chants a song in unison, here are five (actually six, but two of them count as one) footballers who released singles in their own right. Will good or bad prevail? Find out in this hastily conceived and ill thought out penalty shoot-out!
GLENN & CHRIS
Bit of an argument over who should take the first penalty, with Glenn Hoddle holding on to the ball and refusing to hand it over to Chris Waddle, citing Waddle’s penalty miss in the 1990 World Cup. A Hoddle-Waddle squabble, you might say. (You probably wouldn’t.) Eventually the two of them step up together and unleash their shot, but instead of the predictable straight-down-the-middle crowd-pleasing Stock/Aitken/Waterman hit by numbers you might have expected them to release in 1987, it turns out to be a brooding rock number. Drums crash and guitars growl menacingly while the lads bemoan their lost love, initially in unison, then separately in the chorus. It seems Glenn is still carrying a torch for the poor woman, although Chris seems less keen and has taken to muttering incoherently about diamonds or something. You can tell they’re being proper singers because they’re wearing clunky professional-looking headphones all the way through the video, even though they don’t seem to be plugged into anything, while a young Gabby Logan in a flimsy dress dances around them before delivering an analysis of their performance at half time. Look out also for the primitive CGI that transplants a rather unstable looking “Diamond Studios” sign onto the side of an anonymous building. Blindsiding everybody, Diamond Lights climbed to number 12 in the chart before you could say “Heth-eth-eth, peth-eth-eth-eth-eth-eth-eth, Chris Waddle.” The follow-up It’s Goodbye was also surprisingly good – and had a better video – but by the time it came out the football season was back on and Hoddle had signed for AS Monaco, so they were unable to do promotion for the single. Waddle went on to national stardom as a catchphrase on The Fast Show while Hoddle had a spell as England manager before being outed as a God-bothering loon who believed that the disabled were being punished for sins they had committed in previous lives. Still… good single. It sends the keeper the wrong way and gives good music an early lead. (Sorry lads, it’s not actually Gabby Logan.) GOOD 1 – 0 BAD
The main problem with getting footballers to make records is, of course, the fact that it requires them to sing. The ability to sing is not a talent which many footballers possess, so when rap entered the musical mainstream in the 1980s it seemed an obvious solution to the problem. After all, it’s just talking, it must be easier than singing, right? Not really, as Liverpool FC’s 1988 Anfield Rap proved beyond doubt. The only person who benefited from that monstrosity in any way was John Barnes, who was called up for a solo spot in the greatest ever football record World In Motion in 1990. Nine years later Manchester United’s Andy Cole decided that making a record of his own would be a really good career move, but obviously singing was out of the question, so he did a rap, because that’s just talking, innit? And so the cycle begins again. Based around the Gap Band’s 1983 hit of the same title, Outstanding starts with an anonymous MC rapping about how great Andy Cole is, before Cole himself takes the mic to rap about how great he is. “Guaranteed to rock the mic well,” he claims, despite delivering no evidence at all to back up his assertion and giving no details of how you might claim your money back. As a shameless self-aggrandising vanity project it falls just short of Rat Rapping by Roland Rat Superstar, but at least that was a top twenty hit. Cole’s single managed a week in the chart at number 68, but the constant repetition of “Andy Cole” throughout the song helps people distinguish him from Ashley Cole so, you know, every cloud. Andy steps up to take his penalty, begins his run up, stops, starts again, takes a couple of steps backward to put the keeper off, runs right up to the ball, stops again and taps it tamely goalward, the ball stopping three inches short of the keeper’s feet. GOOD 1 – 1 BAD
Stepping up to take the third penalty is mouthy Arsenal striker Ian Wright. In 1993 World In Motion was still the standard by which football-related records were judged, so Wright’s diversion into the music business needed a similarly respected musical figure to lend it some gravitas. Enter Chris Lowe: Pet Shop Boy, Arsenal supporter and occasional collaborator with New Order’s Bernard Sumner in spin-off band Electronic. Together they came up with Do The Right Thing, a garage house track with a positive lyrical message that wasn’t specifically about football, but life in general; a self-help lecture you could dance to. Wright and his record label were keen that the track should not be seen as a novelty record but achieve success on its own merit, to the extent that the initial promotional 12″ copies were issued with no mention of Wright’s name anywhere on the packaging. In truth, Wright’s vocals are indeed quite anonymous, and with Chris Lowe enlisting the help of the Pet Shop Boys’ regular engineer, programmer and backing singers it could almost pass for a lost PSB track – one can imagine Neil Tennant sitting in the corner of the studio, reading a book and occasionally looking up and tutting as he waits to record more material for Very. When the identity of the vocalist was revealed, the single struggled to overcome the usual stigma attached to footballing records and struggled to number 43; it deserved better. Ironically, Wright would spend part of his last playing season at Celtic under the alarmingly brief managerial reign of EnglandNewOrder’s John Barnes and played his last game for England under Glenn Hoddle out of Glenn & Chris. Wrighty confidently blasts his penalty over the flailing keeper and into the back of the net. GOOD 2 – 1 BAD
With his pop star good looks and shaggy perm, it’s no surprise that King Kev had several bites at the pop cherry. He released his first single as early as 1972, in his first full year in the top flight with Liverpool, but the amiable football chant It Ain’t Easy found it appropriately difficult to generate sales. Seven years later Keegan, now playing in Hamburg, fell into the clutches of Chris Norman and Pete Spencer of mid-’70s soft rockers Smokie; like Kevin, English performers who had seen success at home but with a significant following in Germany. They wrote and produced Head Over Heels In Love, a simpering love song whose restrained guitars and mid-tempo pace make it sound like something Smokie themselves may have recorded and rejected as being too wet. Nevertheless, Keegan’s superstar status combined with Smokie’s hitmaking experience to make this a hit, reaching number 31 in the UK and climbing all the way to the German top ten. Curiously, in this clip from German TV show Musikladen he seems to be performing the song while surrounded by electric heaters. Another three years on, the romance with Hamburg had soured and Keegan released another single, the homesick ballad England which also charted in Germany but didn’t register at home. Despite this, Kev soon saw his wish “To be home again in England where I belong” fulfilled as he left Hamburg and signed for Southampton. His last brush with pop music came in 1982 when he reunited with Norman and Spencer on the hallowed turf of Abbey Road studios to record the England World Cup Squad single This Time (We’ll Get It Right). The title proved unfortunate as Keegan, suffering from a back injury but desperate to take his last chance to play in a World Cup, managed only 25 minutes of England’s final game, missing an easy header in the process. His performance today is similarly disappointing as, with Head Over Heels In Love blaring over the P.A., he kicks the ball tamely down the middle of the pitch into the goalie’s waiting arms. GOOD 2 – 2 BAD
So with the score thrillingly poised at 2-2, we need someone reliable to take the last penalty. Someone with the strength of character to step up and take responsibility, someone who won’t burst into tears or turn up wearing a pair of “comedy” plastic breasts. Oh…
Before the 1990 World Cup, Paul Gascoigne was probably best known for the photo of him grimacing in agony as Vinnie Jones grabbed hold of his meat and two veg. After his yellow card in England’s legendary semi-final against West Germany brought tears to his eyes for an entirely different reason, “Gazza” became a national hero overnight, and national heroes have to cash in on their elevated status while it lasts. Fortunately nobody was under any illusion that he could actually sing, so following John Barnes’ lead he was coerced into the studio to record Geordie Boys (The Gazza Rap). On reflection, however, this wasn’t considered strong enough for single release and instead ’70s rockers Lindisfarne were drafted in for a remake of their Geordie anthem Fog On The Tyne. At the height of Madchester, Gazza achieved the unthinkable by making talismanic Happy Mondays dancer Bez appear lucid and erudite; he delivers the rewritten lyrics in a bleak monotone as if performing at gunpoint, giving no indication that he means – or even understands – the words falling out of his mouth. Meanwhile Lindisfarne’s original folk-rock track is given a joyless dance makeover which makes it sound like the default setting on a cheap keyboard nobody knows how to operate. Gazza ends every verse by mumbling the word “Sing”, presumably intended as an instruction to the assembled masses but instead sounding like he’s accidentally reading out stage directions from a script. Despite being not only the worst record ever made by a footballer, but possibly the worst record ever made at all, Fog On The Tyne (Revisited) went all the way to number 2 in the chart, proving that you can fool all of the people some of the time. In its wake the record company, rubbing their hands together gleefully at the discovery that people really will buy anything, quickly shoved out Geordie Boys (Gazza Rap) in time for the Christmas market. It reached number 31 but thankfully common sense prevailed and Gazza’s musical career went no further, his pretending to play a Protestant flute in front of Celtic fans during an Old Firm match notwithstanding. Gazza places the ball on the spot but allows his mate Jimmy “Five Bellies” Gardner to take the penalty instead, blasting it seven feet wide of the left hand post at which point Gazza bursts into tears.
So, the final score: GOOD 2 – 3 BAD. Fog On The Tyne (Revisited) becomes the worst football record ever and goes on to meet Snooker Loopy in the semi-final.