Football: Making beautiful gains out of the beautiful game

Phil Shaw looks at one lucrative area of the tournament - the pop record
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Minutes after the final whistle at Wembley on Saturday, heads in the crowd turned towards the Royal Box. A roar went up, a regal wave was returned. Was it the Queen, we wondered, or perhaps footy-loving Harry and Wills? No. Milking the applause, as if they were the architects of England's glory, were David Baddiel and Frank Skinner.

Apart from tormenting Jason Lee into shaving off his "pineapple" hairstyle, Frank Clark's favourite comedians were responsible for England's Euro 96 song, "Three Lions". Their partners in crime were the Lightning Seeds, whose "Life of Riley" is the soundtrack to Match of the Day's Goal of the Month competition, and the England squad.

The natural alliance between pop and football has been exploited ruthlessly by the record companies in their bid to extract some beautiful gains from Euro 96. There is even an "official" album of the tournament, The Beautiful Game. Most of its tracks, by bands ranging from Northern Uproar through Blur and Supergrass to the Beautiful South, have only a tenuous connection with the game. Black Grape and Massive Attack have made the effort, however, and the compilation also features the England single.

Suggestions that Scotland's song ought to have been titled "Three Games" are, sadly, looking less like a joke. "Purple Heather" (formerly "Wild Mountain Thyme") is a transatlantic collaboration between Rod Stewart and the squad, a scarf-waving spine-tingler in the "Sailing" mode, made possible by the technology which paired Frank Sinatra and Bono.

Superior to the Baddiel- Skinner number, on which waiting for the chorus is like waiting for Scotland to score, its proceeds go to the Dunblane Fund.

The alternative Scottish anthem is "The Big Man and the Scream Team Meet the Barmy Army Uptown" by another from the Vialli-Furlong school of improbable partnerships, Primal Scream and Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh. An infectious terrace-style chant-rant, its sleeve depicts the tartan ransacking of Wembley in 1977 and sports a sticker warning (boasting?) that the contents are offensive.

The Bend It! series has proved there is a market for the collectable, if largely unlistenable, football songs by supporters, squads and sundry opportunists. England's Glory, which collates 30 years' worth from "World Cup Willie" to the "singing" of Kevin Keegan, Glenn Hoddle, Gazza and Lindisfarne and Billy Bluebrit (sic), is in the same, sublimely kitsch tradition.

Helping the tartan army lug the carry-outs come Serious Drinking, whose power-chord charge through England's 1970 chart-topper "Back Home" updates a discography that includes the classic footie 45, "Love On the Terraces". It is a raucous antidote to Simply Red's so-called official theme, "We're In This Together", a song in the same sickly, ersatz gospel vein as "We Are the World" et al.

Other strange bedfellows on the CD racks include Dean Martin - whose 42-year-old No 2 hit "That's Amore" is mysteriously being played everywhere as stadiums empty - and Ludwig van Beethoven, whose 173-year-old chartbuster "Ode to Joy" is the BBC's attempt to recreate the success of "Nessun Dorma" in Italia '90. Curiously, coverage on German television is being introduced by Oasis' "Don't Look Back in Anger".

Talking of Britpop, the DJ spinning the discs before the Denmark-Portugal game at Sheffield hit on an early contender for the song of the next European Championship finals. Pulp's "Disco 2000" entreats us: "Let's all meet up in the year 2000...".

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