Published June 16, 2010
LONDON (AP) — Never mind who wins on the field. There's another, more melodic, World Cup battle afoot — on the music charts, in the stands and blaring from radios and mobile phones around the world.
As 32 teams compete in South Africa for soccer's highest prize, a musical outpouring by artists and supporters from London to Berlin to Seoul is urging their teams to victory — or, in England's case, begging them not to disappoint the fans again.
England's vast number of patriotic soccer anthems stand in contrast to its meager success in international competition. It hasn't won the World Cup since 1966, and the fans won't let the players forget it.
On the Simon Cowell-produced song "Shout for England" — currently No. 1 in the British singles chart — rapper Dizzee Rascal implores players to "set aside your ego/We're tired of bragging about 40-odd years ago."
John Aizlewood, a writer and broadcaster on both music and soccer, said English soccer songs express the hope of victory, but the expectation is of disappointment.
"There's always the underlying assumption that there are tears ahead," he said. "And for 44 years, that assumption has been absolutely infallible."
Music is a vital part of soccer, whether it's the pop songs advertisers use to sell running shoes and soft drinks or the tunes downloaded by soccer supporters around the world, or the chants and anthems bellowed by fans.
Trevor Watts, 35, an AV technician and soccer fan from Bracknell in southern England, said songs are an integral part of the World Cup experience.
"It is what the fans can take part in," said Watts, who has co-written his own World Cup anthem, "A Message to You, Rooney" with his band the Bogus MCs. Inspired by the ska classic "Rudy, A Message to You," it urges England star Wayne Rooney to control his infamous temper and lead the team to victory.
"They can sing the song, and they become like the 12th man (on the team)," Watts said. "That's what it is. It is all about inspiring the team to victory.
"Football is about carnival — bringing people together from all over the world. And our song I think gives you that sort of atmosphere."
Alongside the fans, big businesses and a host of major recording artists are also seeking a bit of World Cup magic.
Tournament organizer FIFA has named both an official tournament song, Colombian singer Shakira's "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)," and an official anthem, R. Kelly's "Sign of a Victory."
Bono, never one to miss a global occasion, has joined Benin's Angelique Kidjo on a cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up."
Coca-Cola has chosen Somali-Canadian rapper K'Naan's "Wavin' Flag" as the song to capture the joyous sense of community at the event — and sell some soda. Pepsi is using Akon and Keri Hilson's "Oh Africa" for its World Cup ad.
In England, many fans are lamenting the absence of an official World Cup anthem, for the first time in more than 40 years. The tradition of selecting an official song — usually with a contribution of dubious musical quality from the players themselves — fell victim to national coach Fabio Capello's strict and serious approach to tournament preparation.
A slew of unofficial anthems has rushed to fill the gap in a country where bookmakers take bets on which World Cup tune will top the charts. This year's winner is "Shout for England," a hip-hop reworking of Tears for Fears' 1984 hit "Shout."
On a mellower note, former national team manager Terry Venables has turned crooner with a cover of Elvis Presley's gospel number "If I Can Dream."
There is also a reworking of "Three Lions" — an established fan favorite whose chorus promises "football's coming home" — sung by Robbie Williams and comedian Russell Brand.
"Three Lions," first recorded in 1996, is considered the classic England anthem, both rousing and melancholy: "All these years of hurt," Williams sings, "never stopped me dreaming."
Contrast that to Germany's official song, "Torch in the Wind" by rapper Bushido, which confidently predicts: "We'll win the cup — for the fourth time!"
England has avoided that level of confidence since 1982, when the official anthem proclaimed "This Time (We'll Get It Right)." They didn't.
Other countries embrace the tradition of the rallying song with varying levels of creativity. Italian fans tend to adopt the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" as an unofficial anthem for major tournaments. South Korean fans, in contrast, can choose from 14 official cheer songs sung by the national squad's official supporters group, the Red Devils, as well as 30 other World Cup anthems.
The tradition may even be taking root in the U.S., where soccer remains a relatively minor sport and there's no official song. The band Weezer has released a free track "Represent" in support of the national team.
New York's We Are Scientists also has released a World Cup song, but decided against writing an anthem for the U.S. team. Instead "Goal! England" is rooting for Rooney and the lads.
"People ask why we didn't record a football anthem for America," lead singer Christopher Cain told the BBC. "When you want to give your girlfriend a great gift, you give her something you know she wants, not something you want."
Online: the Daily Telegraph guide to unofficial World Cup anthems:
Associated Press Writers Andrew Khouri in London, Melissa Eddy in Berlin, Sangwon Yoon in Seoul and others around the world contributed to this report.