England’s World Cup Songs: The great, the good, the bad or the ugly

We all know now that the 2018 World Cup in Russia is upon us and anticipation for the tournament is increasing every day.

England will contest again, following the disastrous performances in both 2014, and the European Championships in 2016. Traditionally, prior to each tournament,  stand alone songs are released. These have become just as iconic as some of the events themselves. This article will scrutinise most of the songs released over the years, officially or unofficially, in chronological order. It will also include my final verdict of whether they are great, good, bad or so ugly that they embarrass the nation.

We’ll start with a proper classic, the song that instigated our only ever World Cup win.

1966: ‘World Cup Willie’- by Lonnie Donegan.


‘World Cup Willie’ was the first ever mascot at a World Cup. His influence was developed into an upbeat song by Lonnie Donegan. The song itself is very catchy, and has become iconic over the years, and sparked a re-release in 2010. Not only has the song been remembered vividly and has a place in history, but it emphasised the beginning of the merchandise trend that now accompanies most international sporting events.

Verdict- Good

1970- ‘Back Home’ – performed by the World Cup squad


This one has a real feeling and sense of identity with the actual squad recording it. The song, written by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter was a real success. It reached number one in the UK Charts for three weeks and was even a hit in Ireland. It epitomised a sense of triumph, which was significant as England were the holders of the World Cup trophy. It’s fair to say this one really hit the mark.


England failed to qualify for both the 1974 and 1978 World Cups, so songs were not necessary until the 1982 edition.

1982- ‘This time (we’ll get it right)’ – performed by the World Cup squad.


This song was extremely effective. The title hinted at the previous failures, and an intent to rectify the mistakes and make the nation proud at the 1982 World Cup. Written by Chris Norman and Pete Spencer, the sound of the squad singing in unison created a sense of unity and it brought the country together. The lyrics were also fantastic and has unfortunately kept its relevance as England have never seemed to achieve anything since.

Verdict- Great

1986- ‘We’ve got the whole world at our feet’- performed by the England Squad.


For me, this one is a serious step down from the previous version as the lyrics don’t have the same effect. Tony Hillier, Stan James and Bobby James wrote it, and couldn’t reach the heights of the previous versions. It also didn’t achieve it in the charts.


1990- ‘World in Motion’- by New Order and Keith Allen


Whilst the previous entry struggled, this one was a triumph, and reached number one in the UK charts. From the early vocals, to the wonderfully improvised John Barnes rap – this song created a great vibe and a legacy. It sparked a variety of remixes, including a collaboration with Mars in 2010, which is also included below. It was one of the best, and is extremely iconic.

Verdict- Great

England also failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, but the 1998 competition was met with three songs: One official, which was blown away by two others.

1998 (‘How Does it Feel to Be) on Top of the World?’- written by Ian McCulloch.


The Spice Girls and England United performed this, and it was underwhelming in comparison to the two unofficial songs. Personally, it didn’t feel like a proper football song, just a pop hit, and it was met with a lack of critical success. The weak and generic lyrics were unsatisfying and clichéd and made this one to avoid.

Verdict- Ugly

1998- ‘Three Lions 1998’- by Baddiel, Skinner & Lightning Seeds


This song was originally released for the 1996 European Championships, but was successful and re-released years two later. That time around, it remained the top song in the UK charts for three weeks, which was an increase from the Euros. Whilst for me it was a real improvement on the previous and was well received, the iconic song isn’t as great as everyone suggests. But, it is up there.

Verdict- Good

1998- ‘Vindaloo’- by Fat Les




In my opinion, the chorus just epitomises everything good about football. If someone asks you to tell them the first song you think of in association with the beautiful game, this is what most would say. Whilst it fell behind ‘Three Lions 98,’ as it only came 2nd in the UK charts, it is my personal favorite and is appreciated all over the world.


2002- ‘We’re on the ball’- by Ant and Dec


The song never reached its potential in the charts with only a 3rd place, but it is one of my personal favorites. It is perhaps well known for the iconic listing of the players, “From Neville to Campbell.” It also has a small cameo from John Motson, which brings it to life. Sometimes you can be biased because you prefer songs you have grown up with as opposed to others. Whilst it is more style than substance,  it would have the highest mark if I was considering nostalgia alone.


2006- ‘World At Your Feet’- by Embrace


This is one that I disagree with in terms of the charts. It ranked 3rd, but was met with a mixed reception. It just feels rather lifeless to me and doesn’t reflect the unity of a nation where previous entries did. Reviewers have said that it isn’t even a good Embrace song, and that isn’t saying much.


2010- ‘Shout’- by Dizzee Rascal ft James Corden


The best we’ve heard for a few years, and the last truly great song we’ve released until present day. Written by the successful Dizzee Rascal, the lyrics are relevant with the references to current players of the time. This included Wayne Rooney and Aaron Lennon. The chorus is also infectious and instantly recognizable. It is one of those tunes that you don’t need a second invitation to listen to again and again.


2014- ‘Sports Relief’s Greatest Day’- by Gary Barlow and others


This one is perhaps well known for the somewhat painful singing of Gary Lineker. This is alongside the shock of youngsters that Glenn Hoddle has a surprisingly good voice. The mixed release meant that the song wasn’t released, but it is not as painful as some people make out, despite the forced acting at the start. It seems as if the doubt at the start from Hansen, Savage and Lawrensen is now justified.


2018- Rasputin Rebooted- by Ricky Wilson and Freddie Flintoff

What, on earth, is this? Whilst it is unofficial, it is one of those versions that you love and can’t stop watching because it is genuinely that bad. Flintoff’s lack of vocal skills is laughable, but at least he is having a good time. It would have an ‘ugly’ but doesn’t because it is entertaining, and that is undeniable. That doesn’t make it good though.



Let me know in the comment section below whether you agree with my opinions and what your favourite England anthems are!

Video usage courtesy of Youtube.com

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