12 of football's most memorable theme tunes
Nick Moore takes a misty-eyed look back at a dozen jangles that have lived longest in the memory - whether for the right or wrong reasons...
We've enjoyed quite an array of football coverage over the years, but programmes only get one chance to make a first impression. Where some intro theme tunes have become the stuff of legend, others are best forgotten. Read on for a comprehensive guide to the best – and worst – footy-related dittys in circulation...
1) Match of the Day
The planet’s longest-running TV football show also boasts the BBC’s most iconic theme. Frankly, it’s almost the national anthem – in fact, shouldn’t we just jog on that plodding dirge God Save The Queen and officially install MOTD’s glorious staccato parping as England’s official melody? It’d certainly put a spring in the step at Olympic medal ceremonies, Three Lions friendlies and Last Night of the Proms.
Anyway, the ditty was composed by Barry Stoller six years into the show’s run in 1970; he eventually bashed it out in his basement with a drummer and a trumpeter. “Those fanfare harmonies give the music a gladiator feel, akin to entering the ancient games arena in Rome,” he reckons. It also evokes getting some toast on and slumping into the sofa. Great work, Bazza.
Between 1968 and 1997, midweek football meant Sportsnight. On Tuesday or Wednesday nights, we marvelled at impossibly romantic, foggy European Cup Winners' Cup ties from beyond the Iron Curtain (as well as FA Cup replays and midweek internationals) brought to us by BBC Sport’s fab five anchormen: Carpenter, Coleman, Gubba, Rider and Lynam. The theme tune chimed perfectly with the demeanour of these smooth, jacket-clad sex titans: an urgent, news-bulletin marimba with swinging, big band good times dolloped on top, it suggested that while they may be serious men of sport, they’d be popping the champagne corks in a jazz club literally minutes after the programme finished.
3) Sports Report
Radio’s timeless Match of the Day equivalent, Sports Report’s Out Of The Blue evokes a green and pleasant land that doesn’t exist and never did – yet upon entering its aural wonderland it’s impossible not to believe that we aren’t about to cut over to Winston Churchill direct from the War Office, who will tell us that we’ve just given Mr Hitler a bloody nose in Normandy.
There's no bluetooth or ISIS here, you can leave an apple pie to cool on the windowsill without it being snatched by cyber perverts, and after a picnic with some ladies in long frocks and frilly umbrellas, we can all gather around granddad’s wireless and enjoy Tom Finney score a splendid goal for North End. Impressive.
4) Midweek Sport Special
“MIDWEEEEEEEK! SPORT SPECI-ALLLL! YES IT’S MIDWEEEEEK! A-SPORT-Y-SPEC-I-HULLLLL!”
There was no point resisting the theme to ITV’s Sportsnight equivalent: like Coronation Street, the title of the show fit perfectly to the lyric-free orchestral majesty, providing viewers with the ideal makeshift karaoke opportunity.
The gargantuan multicoloured letters SPORT possessed every pixel of your TV – stark warning obelisks to anyone who thought this might be Taggart or that Jesus of Nazareth mini-series – before Nick Ross or Jim Rosenthal’s exceptional haircuts loomed into view and we went over to Kenilworth Road.
5) Saint and Greavsie
Before the moronic animal grunting of Fletch and Sav beckoned in western society’s cultural nadir and ultimately signalled the approach of end times for mankind, there was Saint and Greavsie – a gently genial pair of ex-footballing superstars who, between 1985 and 1992, warmly built up to Saturday afternoon’s action over lunchtime. The initial theme tune was a forgettable whistled effort, but this was eventually replaced by the pleasant Aztec Gold, which had already been used for ITV’s Mexico World Cup coverage. Click here to enjoy it– then marvel at one of Greaves’s most eye-watering shirts.
6) The Big Match
ITV’s live weekend coverage, The Big Match, never hit the musical glories of our other contenders. The initial song used was La Soiree, by David Ordini, a trumpet-led effort (what is it with football themes and trumpets?) that sounded more like the fanfare you’d get in a bad film in which a king emerges from his castle grandly before commanding 50 men on horseback to retrieve a stolen goblet.
It then deteriorates into sickening jazz-light hell – including a hate crime of a ‘comedy’ middle stanza – as images of Ray Wilkins clutching his thigh, the massed ranks of the Coldstream Guards at the FA Cup final and Alan Taylor’s moustache flash before your horrified eyes. Reminisce if you dare.
7) Kick Off
A Granada special, this 1970s Friday teatime effort was presented by Gerald Sinstadt, and was often quite bolshy (“we’ll be asking Lawrie McMenemy why his Southampton team were so boring at Old Trafford last week”). The theme tune reflected this chirpiness: as images of turnstiles, referees tossing the coin and feet being bandaged up pre-battle were beamed forth, one of those new-fangled 'keyboards' screamed into life. The song begins in the same whirling cosmic realm as Dr Who before breaking down into Minder-like funk-bass jam.
8) Football Italia
“Campionato… di Calcio… Italiano… GOLAZZO!” Was there a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon in the nineties? Football Italia became a staple hangover or roast dinner accompaniment, with Channel 4 introducing British viewers to an overseas league in an immersive way like never before (a revelation in those unsaturated days). Highlights sister package Gazzetta rounded things up perfectly, and saw James Richardson enjoy numerous espressos in attractive piazzas. The theme music was a perfect fit: I’m Stronger Now by Definitive Two, a New Order-meets-Art of Noise electroblip mini masterpiece.
9) BBC Italia ’90
Still the most popular football TV credits of all time, even though they only ran for a few weeks one summer. The use of Nessun Dorma, boomed lustily by the vast lungs of Luciano Pavarotti, for the Beeb’s 1990 World Cup coverage was a masterstroke.
England’s (relative) success that year made the final Aria of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot an immediate shortcut to goosebumps and endorphin release for fans of a certain age, and before you knew it, the Three Tenors were performing in Hyde Park. Still the only opera most British citizens could whistle you a tract of (although give FFT a minute and we’ll have a crack at humming you the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy).
10) The Premiership
ITV’s risible ratings rotter – who can forget Andy Townsend inviting a furious-looking Ugo Ehiogu aboard the Tactics Truck to explain why his side lost? – The Premiership was briefly shown in a primetime slot before being shuffled back to 10.30pm where it belonged. The credits were equally dreadful: a middle-management man’s cack-pawed attempt to make a Coca-Cola advert, with U2’s Beautiful Day slapped over the top of artistically splashing turf, a football representing the sun, and Harry Kewell jogging. Tripe.
11) Fantasy Football League
Baddiel and Skinner’s mould-busting Friday night show (“this week’s guests, Eddie Large, Andrew Ridgeley and Basil Brush!”) parodied everything about football, including its theme songs, without ever losing its love for the sport. Their intro credits were a reworking of old fave Back Home, with John Motson gibbering merrily over the top (“this is almost Fantasy Football!”) and the two comedian’s heads crudely superimposed over those of actual gaffers.
12) Soccer AM
Like it or not, Sky dragged football into the modern era. As such, the light orchestras, timpani sections, handclaps, whistles and amusing bassoon breakdowns that dominate many football show’s tunes were ushered out, and bone fide thumping rock ’n’ roll studio recordings were brought in.
Soccer AM’s bombastic credits are a remix of Mark B & Blade’s Ya Don’t See The Signs, and are a suitable entree to their buffet of nonsense that follows. Watch the original – with accompanying rap – below.
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Nick Moore is a freelance journalist based on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. He wrote his first FourFourTwo feature in 2001 about Gerard Houllier's cup-treble-winning Liverpool side, and has continued to ink his witty words for the mag ever since. Nick has produced FFT's 'Ask A Silly Question' interview for 16 years, once getting Peter Crouch to confess that he dreams about being a dwarf.