Sing a song of soccer ... but try not to be naff

Brace yourselves. Cover your ears. For the nation's airwaves are about to be assaulted by an unprecedented number of football songs.

The FA Cup finalists, Manchester United and Liverpool,both made Top of the Pops as well as Wembley, and they are likely to be joined soon by three more soccer singles and an album.

There are signs that music has gone football-crazy, though some aficionados dismiss the new soccer sounds as nothing more than slick marketing. The quality, nevertheless, is improving.

Ever since England's 1970 World Cup players went to number one with "Back Home", the squad song has been a fixture as big games loom. A year later Arsenal entered the charts with its FA Cup Final hit.

But "Good Old Arsenal", which got to number 16, warned fans what to expect: players warbling the lyrics, composed by Jimmy Hill, "Good old Arsenal/We're proud to say the name/While we sing this song/We'll win the game" - to the tune of "Rule Britannia".

Twenty-five years on, it's more sophisticated. Both this year's finalists' songs were written specially, while England's effort for Euro '96 was by the pop star Ian Broudie of Lightning Seeds, with lyrics by comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel.

This will feature on the Euro '96 album with material from some of the country's top bands, such as Blur and Black Grape.

Ric Blaskey, executive music producer for the tournament, said the days of the embarrassing football record were gone. "It used to be so naff. Now the players are almost like pop stars themselves.

"All the bands are football fans, and they jumped at the chance to be involved," he added.This year's crop of releases ranges from the traditional squad singing a well-known tune - with Scotland doing "Purple Heather" in aid of the Dunblane appeal - to a "proper" song appropriated as the theme to Euro '96 - Simply Red's "We're In This Together".

England's effort tries to diminish the players' embarrassment by giving them lyrics relating to great games of the past: "That tackle by Moore/and when Lineker scored/Bobby belting the ball/and Nobby dancing."

This season has also seen the release of an unofficial Manchester United cup final single, "We're All United", partly recorded in a pub near Old Trafford on a match day.

Unofficial it may be, but the lyrics - "We're all United fans/The greatest club there's ever been/We are the finest team/The world has ever seen"- recall nothing more than the rhyme on a birthday card.