Football and music have always been connected, often with tragic results. A shudder travels down all of our spines when we think of Bell & Spurling’s song about Sven Goran Eriksson, while the image of Glen Hoddle and Chris Waddle on the CD cover for Diamond Lights still wakes me up in a feverish sweat.
It’s not all bad though. Football has given birth to great chants (discounting the gently or overtly xenophobic ones) and cracking tunes (Three Lions is the perfect pop song- don’t @ me). There’s also the phenomenon of certain players or football figures being immortalised in song; Zinedine Zidane, Bobby Moore, Pele, they’ve all had a crack.
This week I’ve strayed off the beaten track to find my favourite song about a footballer. In truth, there was only ever going to be one winner (as you will see if you follow this article through to its conclusion) but suffice to say it has been a hell of a journey and I’ve wasted an awful lot of time and laptop battery power. Still, what is life but a voyage of discovery and extravagant time-wastage?
So here it is, then; my definitive list of surprising footballers immortalised in song. I’ve included links so you can listen while you read. Or you can read the whole thing and then give the songs your undivided attention (as they surely deserve).
NUMBER 5: KASEY KELLER by BARCELONA
When I found this on Spotify I briefly feared that it was the American keeper’s own take on Montserrat Caballe and Freddie Mercury’s legendary duet. Once I realised my error, I was able to appreciate the song for what it is; a celebration of Kasey Keller’s heroics in the 1998 Gold Cup, when he shut out Brazil and earned the USA a 1-0 victory. Romario called it the best goalkeeping performance he had ever seen.
Virginian band Barcelona certainly agreed and penned this tune at the turn of the century. Some of the lyrics feel as if their author didn’t watch much football, but perhaps certain choices were made for the sake of rhythm.
Musically, the song is synth-drenched indy; bright and optimistic with a slightly sombre, marching feel. It strikes me as the sort of song that might be played at the funeral of a beloved character from a Super Mario game- let’s say Yoshi- as the mourners return to their lives, knowing that ins spite of the loss of their beloved Dino-chum, everything will continue to be alright.
The final couplet assures Keller that the band don’t blame him for the ‘fiasco’ of France 1998. Surely that was a weight off Ol’ Kasey’s mind.
NUMBER 4: STRACHAN by THE HITCHERS
The Hitchers were a Limerick band primarily active in the 1990s. Their drummer and main song-writer was called Niall Quinn so the inevitability of them releasing a football song was there for all to see. What they came up with is a dissection of a Gordon Strachan hat-trick set alongside the protagonist arguing with his wife.
“What are you watching?”, she asks, seeing her spouse slumped in front of the tele getting ready to watch Strachan’s Leeds.
“It’s a programme about art,” he replies, before acclaiming the arrival of the “tiny wee Scotsman with the copper-coloured hair”, “the greatest artist of them all”.
Isn’t that great poetry?
‘Strachan’ is an atmospheric number, with a bright but slightly forboding acoustic guitar underscoring the whole affair. Discords land in the music here, just as in the lives of the characters contained within the song. I will also award bonus points for the inclusion of two sections which anatomise the scoring of goals, pass to pass (like Ant and Dec did in ‘On The Ball’). It’s not quite ‘Scholsey-Gerrard’ but it’s pretty good.
Assessments of all art are of course subjective, but it is hard to deny the quality of a song which mentions Gary McAllister and Rodney Wallace. For both reliving a glorious hat-trick and cutting to the quick of an obviously complex relationship, The Hitchers have made my top three.
NUMBER 3: KOE KOE KOEMAN by FRED VAN DER VAART.
About thirty million people speak Dutch and I am not one of them. As such, the only words I can understand in this song are Barcelona, Groningen and Koeman. Still, those are words you’d expect to see in any history of the great goal-scoring defender, so I’m happy.
I also cannot find out any information on Fred Van Der Vaart without learning Dutch, so I shall keep this simple. It’s a catchy tune, and can easily double as a chant. The song also feels authentically Dutch, much like its subject. I doff my cap to you, Fred van der Vaart, and hope you are related to Rafael.
In spite of the language barrier, I am certain that the final verse of this song details precisely why Ronald Koeman should have been sent off against England in 1993, and the impact that the referee’s decision had on the world game. Carlton Palmer, it’s said, was never the same player again.
NUMBER 2: RUMMENIGGE by ALAN & DENISE
It is exactly how it sounds. An English married couple making a brave attempt to crack Germany by writing a song about one of the country’s most cherished players. To be fair to them, they actually got to #43 in the German Charts. In 1983.
The video for this song is frightening and the music freakish. The couple are dressed like they’ve just robbed a charity shop and the special effects have a disarmingly hypnotic quality which left me feeling a touch dead inside. The video also features four backing-dancers who are dressed like Karl-Heinz Rummenigge but if he were a sexy cheerleader in a pornographic flick called ‘Das Sexy Sexy Rummenigge Cheerleader Zwei: Return Of Das Sexy Sexy Rummenigge Cheerleader’.
There is also repeated footage of a not-very-good Karl-Heinz Rummenigge goal, presumably designed to convince the audience of the genius of the man. Now I’m not an expert on Rummenigge, but I am certain that he has scored better goals than this; a scuffed effort which trickles into the corner and which should probably have been saved. He even falls over after scoring and barely celebrates it, giving his team-mate only a formal handshake. It’s as if Rummenigge hates this goal.
The music in the song sounds as if The Wurzels have been enslaved by The Cybermen. It’s the kind of tune which climbs inside your head and lays eggs in your brain.
Why do they keep talking about his ‘sexy knees’?
Still, at #43 in the German charts, and #2 in mine, I must credit Alan & Denise for a song which is nothing if not iconic.
NUMBER 1: PAPA BOUBA-DIOP by A SWEDISH BAND, APPARENTLY…
As well as scoring the opening goal in the 2002 World Cup and having a propensity to hit an absolute blooter now and again, the Senegalese central midfielder was a cult hero pretty much wherever he played.
As far as I’m concerned, this song befits the player and then some.
The tonality and sound is bright indy; think Los Campesinos! meets Razorlight, with a dash of The Strokes and you’re basically there. It’s catchy, jaunty and fun, with a sing-along chorus which goes,
“Papaaaa, Papa Boubbaaa, Papa Bouba Dioooop. Papaaaa, Papa Boubaaaa, you need to score.”
So why does Diop need to score? Maybe the lyricist is a Fulham fan, or Portsmouth? Maybe he’s Senegalese? Maybe he owes money to a violent loan-shark and if Diop doesn’t score, he risks serious injury or worse?
“My money’s gone. I’ve bet them all away. The loansharks will kill me if you don’t score.”
“You are a star. Start act as one.”
“You’ll save my life. Or I will taste the knife.”
“Papa, Papa Bouba, you don’t screw up.”
“It’s okay…there’s no pressure my friend.”
Sounds to me like there’s a bucket load of pressure. This is potentially the greatest dissonance I’ve ever heard between the tune of a song and it’s lyrics. For being at once both jaunty and utterly terrifying, this is absolutely my favourite song about a footballer.
I couldn’t find any information about the artist online. Given the content of this song that’s worrying, right?