I’ve already written 2 posts about songs and lyrics that are about war. (Songs and Lyrics about war – part 1 and Songs and Lyrics about war – part 2). Another great musical theme to explore is sport anthems. We know that sport is enjoyed by billions of people across the globe and that it generates passion and debate like almost no other topic. That makes sport anthems a fantastic type of song to explore. In this article I will highlight a few famous (and maybe less famous) sport anthems and I’ll also present a couple of examples from my lyrics.
Why are sport anthems popular?
It’s obvious that part of the answer is that so many people enjoy sport, whether it’s playing sport or watching it. However, there’s more to it than that. I think sport is so popular because it allows us to see great stories played out in front of us. Most people love routing for the underdog and it’s fantastic when a team or individual that has been written off manages to conquer adversity and win.
And then there’s the tribal element. Somewhere along the line, if you get interested in sport, you will select a team or individual that you want to support. And the chances are that this will take the form of a really deep bond of affection. You’ll cry when the team loses. When they win, you’ll feel elation, it will make your week. You may cry with the big wins as well!
I think as well that for some people, especially men, sport provides a mechanism to have conversations with other people. There is a sense of connection that comes from being part of a tribe or group.
Whatever the reasons are, you don’t have to look far to find people who are deeply passionate about sport. Young people, old people, men, women, all nationalities. So it stands to reason that songs about sport have the potential to evoke strong emotions and make people happy.
Understanding the 2 types of sport anthems
If you start to think about all the sport anthem songs that you know, you’ll probably quickly realise that they fall into two broad categories.
Songs that are specific to one sport or team
We all have our favourite sports and sporting teams and many of them will have sport anthems that are specific to them. As an example, it’s been traditional over the years for English football clubs to realise songs if they reach the FA Cup final. The two examples that spring to mind were when Tottenham Hotspur released Ossie’s Dream with help from Chas and Dave, and the Anfield Rap which was Liverpool’s effort from 1988, complete with John Barnes on rapping duties. Okay, the Tottenham effort was pretty rank and the Liverpool one only has novelty value but they are remembered fondly by their team’s fans.
There are also occasions when songs are used as official national anthems. ‘Flower of Scotland’ is a powerful example. It was written by Roy Williamson from a band called The Corries but was later adopted by the Scottish Rugby team as their national anthem, and its usage has then extended to other sports that Scotland participates it.
‘Ireland’s Call’ is another interesting sporting national anthem. It’s used by the Ireland Rugby team and they actually play 2 anthems ahead of their matches. The other is the Irish official national anthem, ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’ which is more often referred to as ‘The Soldier’s Song’. Ireland’s Call was actually commissioned by the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) ahead of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The Ireland Rugby team is a little unusual in that its comprised of players from 2 countries, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. ‘The Soldier’s Song’ is only the anthem of the Republic of Ireland and is sung in Gaelic which many people don’t speak. So the IRFU wanted to create a new anthem that would be more inclusive. What an opportunity that must have been for the songwriters who got that commission!
Songs that don’t specifically reference a particular sport but get adopted as sport anthems
Queen got onto a good thing with these types of songs. In this article on Uproxx, Chris Morgan explains how Queen became unlikely kings of sport anthems. Songs like ‘We are the champions’, ‘We will rock you’, and ‘Another one bites the dust’ have all been adopted as sporting anthems even though they weren’t specifically written with that usage in mind.
‘Swing low sweet chariot’ being adopted as the unofficial rugby anthem of the England Rugby Union team is another example. The song’s origins are linked to the era of slavery in America and the song’s writer could never have imagined that it would be picked up and sung by middle classed white Englishmen in the 21st century! Indeed, its adoption as a rugby sport anthem has caused some controversy. In an article on The Independent’s website, journalist James Moore explains how he felt uneasy about the song once he discovered its origins, commenting that the song is ‘a call for the release of death by a slave who has been brutally mistreated’ and that it’s perhaps not appropriate to appropriate a song with some a powerful message for something as trivial as a sports anthem?
My sport anthem lyrics
I’ve written a couple of lyrics with the express intent of them being sport anthems. Hopefully it’s a theme that I’ll return to as I found both of them fun to write.
I wrote Comeback Kid when I was on holiday with my family on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. The location didn’t play any role in the song but it’s one of those instances where reading the lyric conjures up thoughts of where I was when writing it.
I seem to recall that I had come up with the title and wanted it to be an inspiring song about not giving up. I think I toyed with having the lyric be about a tennis player but as things worked out boxing felt like a more apt sport to base the song around.
Here’s a snippet of the lyrics:
What doesn’t kill us will make us stronger
(And I’m battered and bruised)
Look into the eyes of any winner
(They hit the ropes and paid their dues).
F/X: Sound of boxing bell
(Spoken) Seconds away
I had both my eyes
Set on the prize
And a heart that’ll never fail,
But I came up short
Of the dream I’d bought
Couldn’t grasp that holy grail.
I’ll come back later and I’ll come back stronger
And the time that passes won’t quell my hunger
I’ll learn to be a little wiser
This was just the appetiser!
I’ll be the COMEBACK KID
You better believe
My name’s on that Trophy
Heart’s on my sleeve!
I’ll be the COMEBACK KID
My day in the sun
I’m gonna earn it!
I also added in a Muhammed Ali quote right at the end of the song. The quote is:
‘Only a man who knows what it is to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even’.
I was quite pleased at finding that quote. Having decided that the protagonist is a boxer I thought that it might be cool to have an Ali quote overlaid onto the song, as I knew that he had provided many wonderful quotes during his career. The one I found is one I’d never heard of before but it seemed to fit the lyric really well.
I entered the lyric in a Lyric Contest on the Musesongwriters website in July 2017 but it didn’t do very well. I was a bit disappointed but I still believed that it was a good lyric and could be turned into a great song. So I posted it on the Kompoz music collaboration website and am delighted that it’s been picked up and worked into two separate songs by musicians.
First up was American musician George Schiessl who created a really cool version of the song, supported on lead guitar by Paul Ramsay.
Final Song – Schiessl version: https://www.kompoz.com/music/collaboration/842471/file/843515
Simon Wright – Lyrics
George Schiessl – Vocals, Production, and all music apart from lead guitar
Paul Ramsay – Lead guitar
Then, as a wonderful added bonus, Canadian musician Pascal Vanier took the lyrics and created a different piece of music around them. I’m always delighted when I get to hear different interpretations of my lyrics and Pascal’s version was then augmented when talented singer Alice Minguez added the vocals. I must admit that I hadn’t seen the song being sung with a female vocal but it’s worked brilliantly
Final Song – Vanier version: https://www.soundblend.com/store/release/854808
Simon Wright – Lyrics
Pascal Vanier – All music and Production
Vocals – Alice Minguez
My other sports-related lyric is about a sports star who is at the end of their career. Indeed, they’ve just played their final ever match and they’re sitting in the locker room reflecting on what might have been. This protagonist had, I imagined, had a decent career but without ever really scaling the heights of their sport. But they had been tantalisingly close to making it all the way to the top. In the lyric we see that on a night when scouts were watching he suffered a bad leg injury.
Here are some of the lyrics:
F/x: Sound of a whistle being blown and the fading muted sound of a crowd cheering.
The roar of the crowd subsides
Your dreams have now all played out,
The locker-room’s empty and bare
And the ghosts of your past hold court.
A whisper of what might have been
Niggling until you scream,
Ambition, desire, the fire of youth
A game that you hid in, now face the truth.
Time waits for no-one
The years grind you down,
The passion, the glory
All part of the story
But it’s over now!
That night when the scouts stood watching
You should have been on top of your game,
But you lay crumpled, leg buckled
Fighting hard not to scream from the pain.
Work in progress song: https://www.kompoz.com/music/collaboration/743817/file/812106
Simon Wright – Lyrics
Markus Lammarsch – All music and Production
Rakan Ayyoub – Vocals
Some Football (Soccer) World Cup song anthems
Okay, with the 2018 FIFA Football World Cup in full swing at time of writing, I couldn’t resist including references to a few songs from major Football Championship over the years.
Three Lions, by The Lightning Seeds (1996)
The Lightning Seeds partnered with the England Football team to produce this classic ahead of the 1996 European Championships, which were hosted by England. Three Lions is rightly considered to be a rare exception to the norm – a football anthem that’s actually pretty good. The idea was that it would rouse the England team to end 30 years of hurt.
Sadly, for England fans, this didn’t work and they exited to Germany (on penalties yet again!) with current England boss Gareth Southgate missing the crucial penalty. His miss was to land him a starring role in a Pizza Hut ad though, so not all bad! My abiding memory, from living in Scotland, was of masses of Scotland fans singing ‘They’re going home, they’re going home, England’s going home’ on that night! Football tribalism, eh? 🙂
Ally’s Tartan Army, by Andy Cameron (1978)
Talking of Scotland, ‘Ally’s Tartan Army‘ is worth a mention, not for its artistic quality but for possessing what is possibly one of the most dubious claims of all time. The song includes the lines ‘And we’ll really shake them up when we win the World Cup / Cos Scotland are the greatest football team!’
Scotland lost 3-1 to Peru and suffered an embarrassing 1-1 draw against no-hopers Iran. Those results were enough to see them eliminated at the group stage despite a fantastic 3-2 win against eventual runners up The Netherlands in their final match which included that famous goal by Archie Gemmill! Andy Cameron did have the consolation of being his song reach number 6 in the UK pop charts.
Yer Man, by Dana and the Northern Ireland World Cup squad (1982)
1982 saw Billy Bingham’s unheralded Northern Ireland team cause THE shock of the World Cup when they beat hosts Spain. That win meant they topped their group and went into a second round group of 3 teams. A 2-2 draw against Austria meant that a win against France would be enough to secure a place in the semi finals. Sadly it wasn’t to be but at least the team had put in a performance that was memorable. Perhaps the same can’t be said for the song?
Finally, if you want to explore World Cup-related songs more, I found this YouTube video from FTD Facts, that claims to show the best 10 World Cup songs ever. They’re not necessarily songs for a particular team though and most of them sound (to me) pretty boring! It features Shakira who I’m pretty sure is the Switzerland winger? Must admit, he looks a bit different in the video! 🙂
Inspired to write a sport anthem?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post about sport anthems. If so, then why not write one of your own? It doesn’t have to be about football or any other mainstream sport. You could write a sport anthem about any sport. Or, as we’ve seen with Queen, your song doesn’t even necessarily have to be explicitly about sport. It just needs to resonate with sports fans. I think there’s lots of scope to have fun writing sport anthems and I’d love to hear about any sporting lyrics that you decide to write.