In a league of their own: the best football songs

Some songs about the beautiful game are completely shit – but this lot certainly aren't

Don’t listen to the naysayers: football songs are brilliant. Admittedly, sometimes they can be cheesy and lyrically woeful, and plenty end up being an embarrassment to an entire nation. But not always: occasionally an absolute belter will slip through the cracks, and we’re left with a tune that truly galvanises us all like a cracking January transfer window signing.

With the 2022 World Cup starting this week, here are the best football songs of all time.

Ant & Dec – ‘We’re On The Ball’ (2002)

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It’s impossible to hate on anything Ant & Dec do, and their oft-forgotten football song is no exception. Recorded to spur on the England team at the 2002 World Cup, it’s a ropey pop-rap track with lyrics that reference Robbie Williams‘ ‘Rock DJ’ and rhyme “a country’s in need” with “super-Swede” – i.e. Sven-Göran Eriksson. If they performed it again on Saturday Night Takeaway for lolz, you’d probably enjoy it. Nick Levine

Baddiel & Skinner and Lightning Seeds – ‘Three Lions’ (1996)

Any song that mentions Jules Rimet deserves a place here. Comedy partners David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, along with indie heroes The Lightning Seeds, gifted England, and arguably the world, with the most enduring football song ever in May 1996. Any time anyone goes anywhere near a football, it’s all over the radio, blending the full force of British pessimism with the mad footie optimism that breezes in every other summer. You all know the tune – sing along. Larry Bartleet

Fat Les – ‘Vindaloo’ (1998)

A tough sell, this, because ‘Vindaloo’ – co-written by Blur bassist Alex James, actor Keith Allen and prolific session bassist Guy Pratt – is an undeniably, deeply irritating song. But that’s also kind of what makes it so amazing. This thing, this monstrosity of dumb chanting and inane lyrics – “We’re gonna score one more than youuuu” – made it to Number Two in the UK charts and became one of the 10 best-selling songs of 1998. It’s such a mad achievement that it becomes a kind of post-modern celebration of life in all its ridiculousness. What a world we live in. Jordan Bassett

Liverpool FC – ‘Anfield Rap (Red Machine in Full Effect)’ (1988)

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The ‘Anfield Rap’ is dramatically underrated, but we must appraise it in relation to the greatness it spawned: ‘World In Motion’. See, if we didn’t have ‘The Anfield Rap’, John Barnes’ serious flow would’ve been left undiscovered, and we’d be left cold by the gap New Order‘s 1990 tune has otherwise filled in our lives. You have to look past the dodgy shell suits and its shocking attempt to be a Beastie Boys video, but ultimately ‘Anfield Rap (Red Machine in Full Effect)’ was definitely worth it. Thomas Smith

New Order – ‘World In Motion’ (1990)

The serendipity surrounding New Order’s final release on Factory Records is nothing short of glorious. The soundtrack to England’s glorious 1990 World Cup run and the year that ecstasy culture reached saturation point in the UK, ‘World In Motion’ is still the Manc heroes’ only Number One here – a kink in their long, winding path that absolutely nobody could have predicted when Bernard Sumner et al started messing about with guitars in the monochrome mid-’70s. Best of all? It’s in no way a novelty song. Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert wrote the bones of it, Stephen ‘True Faith’ Hague produced it, Hooky joked about how upbeat and poppy it sounded for such a miserable band, and John Barnes provided the most credible musical contribution from a sportsman since Cassius Clay had a go at singing ‘Stand By Me’ three decades earlier. Melodically up there with New Order’s finest singles, ‘World In Motion’ would still stand proud even if it had nothing to do with the beautiful game. As it happened, back in 1990 it meant that, for the first time ever, England fans actually had an anthem worth shouting about. Matt Wilkinson

Grandad Roberts and His Son Elvis – ‘Meat Pie, Sausage Roll (Come On England, Gi’s A Goal)’ (1998)

Like ‘Vindaloo’, this is an inherently ridiculous song whose very existence is testament to the wonder, magic and absurdity of life. Grandad Roberts – AKA Manchester comedian Andy Robert Wilkinson – booted together two cornerstones of British culture, football and baked goods, and scored a delicious, naughty treat. Cheesy synths, a hoarse northern delivery, Eurodance beats and at least two laugh-out-loud lines (the random interjection of “Ooh! We’ve got a corner!” and, erm, the bit at the end that goes, “No wonder my wee smells like Sugar Puffs, the stress I’m under…”) make ‘Meat Pie, Sausage Roll’ possibly the weirdest entry into the canon. Unlike ‘Vindaloo’ it didn’t rocket to Number Two, instead dribbling in at 67, because – as the England team discovers all too often – life also ain’t always fair. JB

Tottenham Hotspur and Chas & Dave – ‘Hot Shot Tottenham!’ (1987)

Tottenham Hotspur called in their two most famous fans to help drum up support for their 1987 FA Cup Final appearance. Local lads Chas & Dave, an all-important old Joanna and the entirety of the Spurs team – Glen Hoddle and Ossie Ardiles included – belted out the rousing cockney number, which basically sounded like every other Chas & Dave song ever written, which is why it was quite so fantastic. The team suffered a shock 3-2 loss to Coventry City in the end – but hey, at least Spurs had the better tune, right? Leonie Cooper

Lindisfarne with Paul Gascoigne – ‘Fog On The Tyne (Revisited)’ (1990)

Not technically a song about football, but Gazza’s half-rapped, half-dribbled take on the Geordie classic is a jukebox open goal at any Wetherspoons. So peel your Reebok Classics off the carpet and line up some shots: Harry Kane’s just boshed one past the keeper and this night’s going into extra time. Alex Flood

Lana Del Rey – ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ (2020)

Yes, yes – the Gerry & The Pacemakers version from 1963 is the quintessential rendition of this tune from the 1945 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Carousel. You already know what a great song that is, so we’ve subbed in Lana Del Rey to shake things up in the second half. Recorded for the 2020 Liverpool documentary The End of the Storm, our Lana’s interpretation sees her strip away Gerry’s doo-woop-inspired stylings in favour of spooky vocal trilling and a keening choral section at the end. Which just goes to show: the beautiful game is full of surprises. JB

Dario G – ‘Carnaval de Paris’ (1998)

Novelty football songs are more likely to start life in a money-grabbing major label meeting room than they are with the fans themselves, but ‘Carnaval de Paris’ is an exception – this one comes from the terraces. It’s inspired by a chant that Sheffield Wednesday fans pinched from Dutch side FC Utrecht on a pre-season tour in 1996. Once Chesire electronic trio Dario G got their mitts on the copyright-free melody for the 1998 World Cup, it was  transformed into a hot mess of a club banger, one that sounds like all the 32 participating teams’ national anthems playing at once…. and that’s no bad thing. TS

Manic Street Preachers – ‘Together Stronger (C’Mon Wales)’ (2016)

Co-opting the melody of Wales’ unofficial football anthem, Frankie Valli’s ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, Manics did their country proud at Euro 2016 with this typically bittersweet ‘Everything Must Go’-sized pledge for victory, complete with a touching tribute to the side’s late, great player and manager Gary Speed. Whether you’re Welsh or not, it’s great fun. Who else could make a stadium anthem chant out of: ”Davis, Ledley, Taylor, Richards, Hal Robson Kan-uuuuuuuuuuuuu”? Andrew Trendell

Shakira – ‘Waka Waka (This Time For Africa)’ (2010)

The sheer euphoria of winning is unfamiliar when you’ve spent 64 years on the losing side. Released as the official 2010 World Cup song, Shakira‘s blindingly vibrant ‘Waka Waka’ has recently been adopted by Wales supporters, who’ve replaced the “it’s time for Africa” refrain with “we’re going to Qatar” after the national team qualified for their second-ever World Cup appearance in June 2022. With the pace, rhythm and release of an absurd overhead kick, its thumping chorus has become as defining to Welsh football fans as the sight of a sea of yellow, red and green bucket hats, or a Gareth Bale celebratory belly-slide. The spirit of the underdog triumphantly marches on. Sophie Williams

Neil Diamond – ‘Sweet Caroline’ (1969)

You’re probably wondering how Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ became an English football favourite. Why would a track originally written by an American singer/songwriter in 1969 re-emerge as the victory anthem for the Lionesses’ Euro 2022 win, become the soundtrack to England’s men’s run to the Euro 2020 final, or be a long-standing favourite among Aston Villa fans? The long answer is that the song has been a sporting mainstay and alleged good luck chant since the Boston Red Sox started playing it at baseball games back in 1996. The short answer, though, is that it’s an enduring, rousing tune that’s exceptionally fun to sing along to, especially loud and off-key (“Good times never seemed so good (So good! So good! So good!)“). Fun fact: ‘Sweet Caroline’ was originally written for Diamond’s wife at the time, Marcia. “I needed a three-syllable name,” he explained in 2017. “The song was about my wife at the time and I couldn’t get a ‘Marcia’ rhyme.” There’s some pub trivia for you to spout while you await England’s next tournament triumph. Erica Campbell

Atomic Kitten – ‘Southgate You’re The One (Football’s Coming Home Again)’ (2021)

Some football songs are written especially for a major tournament, but sometimes an existing stone-cold banger morphs into a genuine footy anthem. In the case of Atomic Kitten‘s ‘Whole Again’ – a pop ballad that soared to Number One in 2001 – it’s the latter. The song was adopted by England fans during the 2018 World Cup with lyrics tweaked to celebrate the team’s manager, Gareth Southgate. By the time the Euros rolled around in 2021 it was a bonafide anthem, with the Kittens even releasing a new version titled ‘Southgate You’re the One’. And it’s hard not to love it, as what could be better than thousands of fans bellowing “Southgate you’re the one / You still turn me on / Football’s coming home again” like they’re Liz McClarnon and the gang? Hannah Mylrea

– A shorter version of this article was originally published in July 2018, and then updated in June 2021.

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