Seems rather fitting that on the day Brexit finally happens, that this blog covers an event from 50 years ago in which this country was embarrassed on the world stage, doesn’t it?
Three weeks before the England football team began their defense of the FIFA World Cup in Mexico, they had their first number 1 single. The jolly, charming anthem Back Home marked the start of a not-often-grand tradition, in which the squad recorded an official, FA-approved song to mark that year’s failed attempt at the World Cup or UEFA European Championship.
Football songs were not a new idea – UK clubs had been recording them for years, and in 1966 skiffle king Lonnie Donegan released World Cup Willie before England’s legendary win. But this was the first (and only time) we were the world champions, and they were going into the tournament with a supposedly superior line-up to 1966 and so it must have been felt we had momentum, and that this should be commemorated.
I’m assuming it was the FA who asked Bill Martin and Phil Coulter to write and produce Back Home. After all, with their two previous number 1s and Eurovision big-hitters, Puppet on a String and Congratulations (plus Coulter was involved in All Kinds of Everything), the duo were more than capable of getting the nation to sing along in a big competition.
And so Alf Ramsey’s boys were assembled to record their vocals. It’s unclear who out of the 22 men picked to represent the country made it on to the recording, but the biggest names in the squad included captain Bobby Moore, goalkeeper Gordon Banks, Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst, Nobby Stiles and Emlyn Hughes. Also recorded was the bizarre B-side Cinnamon Stick. It’s not a weird song, it’s a typical mid-60s lightweight pop song about a pretty girl, but lots of footballers singing it together is weird.
I’ve never been a fan of footballers such. I tried, but I was terrible at school, and so I took no interest in clubs. However, I do get swept up in the World Cup and Euros, going right back to Mexico 86, where I can still remember being an upset seven-year-old, as angry as my dad at Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’. I have felt the dizzying highs and terrible lows intensely. I don’t think I have the nervous disposition to cope with the tension more than once every two years. So I do take notice of the official England songs, or at least I used to before they ceased to be. Obviously the best are World in Motion and Three Lions, but I have a soft spot for Back Home.
Opening with the familiar stadium clap-a-long bit (forgive the terrible terminology), Back Home is a lovely, charming postcard from more innocent times, set to a brass band backing, in which our proud, brave boys sing about how the fans will be watching their every move. Here are the world champions, at the top of their game, but rather than boast, they just hope they won’t let their country down. There’s no mention of them winning again (just as well), they just say they’ll give all they’ve got to give. Nice, isn’t it? I’m probably also fond of it because it became the theme tune to BBC2’s mid-90s comedy competition Fantasy Football League, presented by Three Lions singers Frank Skinner and David Baddiel.
The 1970 World Cup began on 31 May, while Back Home was still at number 1. Before England had even played a game they faced a setback when Moore was arrested and released on bail three days previous in Colombia on suspicion of stealing a bracelet.
England were in Group 3, along with Brazil, Romania and Czechoslovakia. They came second in their group, beating the latter two but losing to the mighty (and eventual winners) Brazil, one of the greatest teams of all time, featuring legends including Pelé.
The quarter-finals saw a repeat of the 1966 final, with England facing West Germany on 14 June. It looked like Moore and co would win once more, as they were up 2-0. But Banks was ill and out of the match, and substitute goalie Peter Bonetti let a goal by Frank Beckenbauer through in the 70th minute. And then Charlton was substituted, and Uwe Seeler made it 2-2 in the 81st minute. In extra time, Gerd Müller made it 3-2. It was all over for England.
There would be no more England World Cup songs for 12 years – we didn’t qualify in 1974 or 1978. And it would be 20 years before the England team would make it to number 1 again.
How many years before we’re back in the EU? Less than that, let’s hope.
Written & produced by: Bill Martin & Phil Coulter
Weeks at number 1: 3 (16 May-5 June)
Journalist Louis Theroux – 20 May
Field hockey player Jason Lee – 21 May
Model Naomi Campbell – 22 May
19 May: The government made a £20,000,000 loan available to help save the financially troubled car maker Rolls-Royce.
2 June: Cleddau Bridge, in Pembrokeshire, collapsed during erection. Four people died.
4 June: Tonga became independent from the UK.