The latest on books and the arts


Whistles, reggae, samba and Henry V: England’s official 2014 World Cup song candidates

Gary Barlow’s been quietly ditched. The Monty Python members have mobilised. Lily Allen is ubiquitous. The late Rik Mayall takes his last stand. Here are the best and the rest of England’s options for its World Cup anthem.

Photo: YouTube screengrab of Rik Mayall's Noble England
Shakespeare features heavily in England's list of potential World Cup anthems. Photo: YouTube screengrab of Rik Mayall's Noble England

News to devastate Take That fans and delight the Inland Revenue dribbled out at the end of last month that England’s official World Cup song for 2014, Gary Barlow’s Greatest Day, had been quietly ditched by the FA.

Apparently it’s unclear whether the decision was made due to the Take That singer and Jubilee-endorsed Tory teddy bear Barlow’s recent tax avoidance shame. Although such a stance of moral fortitude from the likes of the FA would be a little incongruous. Either way, Barlow’s efforts – recorded with multiple celebrities including pop dubstepper Katy B, Girls Aloud’s Kimberley Walsh and Britain’s leading crisp ambassador Gary Lineker – were dropped, just a couple of weeks before the tournament was due to start.

Now we don’t have an official World Cup song to rally round/hate bitterly, and the first England match is on Saturday. Presumably we won’t need an anthem for very long, but there has to be something rousing to drown out the tears until the penalties are misfired and the return flights are boarded.

Here are some reviews of what England could use as an alternative:


In a move that would work perfectly as yet another scenario to mock Michael Gove’s desire for “British values” , the Monty Python team has released a special unofficial World Cup version of the much-loved whistlealong Life of Brian original to coincide with their reunion tour.

A new verse, sung by Eric Idle – who wrote and sang the original – expresses the song’s signature jolly pessimism for England’s chances in the contest.

When you're in The World Cup/And all your hopes are up/And everybody wants their team to win.

Then they go and let you down/And come slinking back to town/It's time for this daft song to begin.

Listen here:

Rating: 4/5. Four points for nostalgia, realism, catchiness and, erm, “British values”.



Jon Morter, the DJ behind jettisoning quivering X-Factor lamb Joe McElderry for Rage Against the Machine over the Christmas No 1 spot in 2009 has launched an online campaign for comedian Rik Mayall, who died this week at the age of 56, to reach No 1 with his “lost” World Cup song from 2010, Noble England.

With tongue characteristically in cheek, Mayall said back in 2010 when he was releasing the song:

[Raising three fingers] Those three forks, that is what England has bestowed onto the world.

That is football, Shakespeare and Rik Mayall. Those are the three greatest cultural things that this country England has.

Shakespeare wrote, ‘God cry a win for England and St George’, Rik Mayall records it, it's so obvious.

I am the lovechild of Britannia and St George. That is why they gave birth to me, so that I could release this single, so that England could win the 2010 World Cup.

This is me doing my bit, it ain't much. God knows I am a modest man, the most wonderful pan-global phenomenon that's ever existed and I suffer from humility and modesty.

But I'm doing my bit, just like every other Englishman, as we stand shoulder-to-shoulder, doing our bit, stiff upper lip apart from when you're screaming out the lyrics to Noble England, which will win this World Cup.

The song itself –an incessant “COME ON YOU ENG-ER-LAND, YOU NOBLE ENGLISHMEN” chant – is a bit of an assault on the ears, but the video more than makes up for it. It features Mayall powering into a dressing room of gormless sportsmen wearing sumptuous chainmail, a cape and sword: “Once more unto the pitch, dear friends, once more!”

Lines bellowed by Mayall from Shakespeare’s Henry V overlay the football chant, which ends with the late comedian rather poignantly walking out of the dressing room into a pool of bright light.

Rating: 4/5. For poignancy and literary merit.



Keith Allen, Lily’s ’eart-of-gold actor dad, and his maverick pop collective Fat Les, are releasing their 2002 song Who Invented Fish & Chips? for the World Cup this year. It’s a vaguely threatening English rant featuring a young Lily Allen buoyantly spouting some un-PC insults (“you ponce, you slag”) while her dad and his crew generally lark about like Brits on tour, listing things the English invented. Fish and chips, steam, penicillin, trains, Blur, Capstan Full Strength. Etc.

Who invented Fish? (God)
Who invented Chips? (God did too)
Who invented Fish & Chips? (The English did)
Well who invented poo? (Your mum did)

Hear that, Mr Prime Minister? That’s how we’ll win the Global Race.

Rating: 4/5. It’s a bit of a lad-fest, but the cockney call-and-response verses and bouncy Britpop chorus make it a surprisingly good choice.



Just as 2012 saw Emeli Sandé replace oxygen for most national and global spectacles, it now seems to be Lily Allen’s time to shine. She’s released a track called Bass Like Home for the World Cup’s unofficial anthem.

A pounding clubby bass underpins a medley of lyrical Britishness: Jerusalem, “necking pills”, Shakespeare, lager, the national anthem and Gazza.

“Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the rave,” goes the bridge, in a slick dance track that is essentially an ode to the English being off their faces. A bad image, but a listenable one.

Rating: 3/5. Crass but catchy.



The BBC’s World Cup coverage will be soundtracked by piano prodigy and soul singer Stevie Wonder and his song Another Star. The BBC itself warns that we may end up hearing this at least three times a day, every day, once the tournament gets going.

It has everything you need in a recognisable track: some basic “la la la”-ing, exuberant sax, appropriately wistful lyrics, and it goes on for over eight minutes.

Rating 3/5. It’s a bit boring and repetitive, but then this is the World Cup.



This hyperbolically titled track (and band) features, inexplicably, the actor who plays Gollum. He growls some Henry V through the opening bars – Shakespeare is the real World Cup winner, it seems – and then rasps a crazed monologue throughout, above a sample of the orchestral/prog-rock Eve of the War, from modern composer Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds.

Rating 2/5. Unnecessarily theatrical and not very memorable.



Gabz is 15 years old and was a Britain’s Got Talent finalist last year, apparently. Though probably the only people who know that are Simon Cowell, Alesha Dixon and Ed Miliband – if he ever flicks over from The Voice.

This offering is a bit like a hybrid between Rebecca Black’s 2011 viral vanity video, Friday, and the Tracey Beaker theme tune. The strange reggae pastiche including rapping children and join-the-dots lyrics doesn’t quite dampen the innocent joy of Gabz and her palz anticipating World Cup fever. Though they are realistic: “if we're honest then we'll need a bit of luck.”

Rating 3/5. A merry enough tune.



This is the official Fifa World Cup song, and inevitably contains blandly pseudo-Latino guitars, and referee whistles. It’s dreadful. It’s sung by a man called Pitbull wearing a white suit, who throws in some basic Portuguese (or is it just enthusiastic Spanish?). It’s the type of song you’d hear if you dared visit the most packed nightclub in a student town on a Thursday night. You’d have people jumping on your feet and draping sweaty arms round your neck sooner than you can say “Ole”.

Rating: 1/5. Another bad call by Fifa...



Shakira, doyenne of the World Cup anthem genre, what with her Waka Waka hit accompanying the vuvuzelas of the last World Cup, is trying for another football hit. This time, with La La La – lyrics Stevie Wonder would surely applaud.

There’s a bit of vague samba – a cursory cultural nod – but mainly it’s a sensual, pulsating chant championing Lego. No, really. Listen for yourself.

Rating: 3/5. At least Pitbull isn’t in it.



Nothing says England like a bland indie guitar band, made up of five men wearing apologetic denim and almost-beards. For some reason, London five-piece Dexters' I'll Never Find Another You has been chosen by the Sun as its official World Cup song to cheer England on – or, as the band's frontman calls it, “The people’s England anthem”.

A crunchy, shouty blast of guitars about being desperately in love with someone, it has nothing whatsoever to do with football. It’s also a cover, which isn’t really in the spirit.

Rating: 2/5. Bit irrelevant.



And finally, although it’s been ditched, here’s what we’ll be missing.

"If it’s rubbish, we can always play the charity card," Gary Lineker said on Comic Relief, introducing Gary Barlow’s ditty. And luckily for him, this song is still worth something as it was indeed created to raise money for Sport Relief. So even though it’s been dropped, giving Barlow another not-so-Great Day this year, the project still retains a shred of dignity.

(Watch from 2:39 to skip wooden Comic Relief bantering).

The ratio of withered football oldies to stray Spice Girls isn’t quite balanced, and there should be more key changes and less half-hearted St George’s flag-waving, in my opinion. But it’s inoffensive. Not inoffensive enough for the FA though.

Rating: 1/5. It was for charity.