BBC vs ITV: The battle of the World Cup theme tunes

1986: Mexico

The BBC's 1986 effort was a corker which conjured images of some unappreciated-in-its-time '80s cop show starring Dirk Benedict as a straight-laced border patrol officer, and Eddie Murphy as his wise-cracking assistant. No? Just us?

Yet, if there's a sign of quality as far as theme tunes are concerned, it's that tune being adopted by Saint and Greavsie. This was an honour bestowed upon ITV's 1986 theme Aztec Gold, performed by Silsoe. It's certainly a piece that evokes memories of the era, but only because the slightly cheap-sounding electronicness isn't something you'll have heard much of since about 1991.


1990: Italy

So one-sided it hardly seems worth mentioning.

Big Pav's booming Nessun Dorma makes Rod Argent and Peter Van Hooke's Tutti Al Mondo sound as wet as Paul Gascoigne's chubby cheeks.

A good vintage, but only one winner...


1994: USA

The United States don't have quite the same history when it comes to classical music, so the BBC instead went for the appropriately titled and suitably celebratory America, originally composed by Leonard Bernstein for Broadway Romeo and Juliette knock-off West Side Story.

ITV leant towards the cheesier end of the American cultural spectrum, with Daryl Hall (of '& Oates' fame) belting out Glory Land - possibly the most 1994 ditty you'll ever hear. The accompanying video features four shots of an eagle, but just one shot of a football. Come on now...


1998: France

The BBC stuck rigidly to the 'atmospheric local composition' model that brought such praise four years previously, with a suitably gallic (i.e. moody) montage accompanied by French composer Gabriel Faure's Pavane. The Beeb's version was performed by the less exotic-sounding Wimbledon Choral Society, and reached No.20 in the charts. Incidentally, Pavane was later sampled by Xzibit, S Club 7 and Little Mix. So good company.

ITV again went for a more contemporary option, but this time they hit the mark. Merseyside-based alternative dance outfit Apollo 440 re-worked Jean-Michel Jarre's 1986 single Fourth Rendez-Vous, creating an uplifting slice of Europop that matched a thoroughly enjoyable tournament.


2002: Japan & South Korea

If you thought the biggest shock of the 2002 World Cup was Senegal beating France, USA beating Portugal or England beating Argentina, you were wrong. It was, in fact, the role reversal that saw the BBC begin their shows with the thoroughly modern Tarantula, by Faithless, and ITV go for One Fine Day, taken from Japanese-themed opera Madame Butterfly.

Both channels mixed in plenty of vaguely-Oriental-sounding instruments, and crammed their videos with geishas, sumo wrestlers and shots of western businessmen drinking alone in hotels, just to ram the point home. You could not possibly forget this World Cup was in Japan. You maybe could forget it was in South Korea too, but you'd remember Japan. Definitely.

It's at least worth checking out the ITV intro to hear Matt Smith frantically whisper "watch out boys" to Ally McCoist, Robbie Earle, Andy Townsend and Clive Allen, who had presumably been discussing women's bits and ticket touting just moments before the cameras started to roll.


2006: Germany

The Beeb ticked a lot of the right boxes when it came to marking a big occasion in Germany. Handel - check; Brandenburg Gate - check; Michael Ballack seemingly on fire - che... Wait, hang on. Despite Herr Ballack's untimely demise - and Cristiano Ronaldo appearing in the clouds like Mufasa (opens in new tab) - the BBC effort hit the spot, combining international football with local culture. Brooding, yet fun - like Bradley Cooper.

The same can't be said for ITV's intro. Although the visual aspect was pretty snazzy, we're not quite sure what they were thinking with their awkward Kasabian cover of David Bowie's Heroes. Mercifully, some youngsters won't be familiar with the work of the Thin White Duke, and will therefore not be saddened by this limp imitation. More mercifully still, some younger readers also won't be familiar with Kasabian. The Leicester four-piece did as much to taint the 2006 World Cup as headbutt-happy Zizou, and should feel suitably ashamed.


2010: South Africa

Sure, 2006 may not have been a vintage year for ITV, but they roared back four years later, with the marginally less patronising effort of the two British broadcasters.

While the BBC opted for Rainbow Nation by Dallas Guild, ITV went for something a little more folky. They opted to use Pretoria-born singer Vusi Mahlasela's When You Come Back . The refrain of 'sing, sing Africa' was a real ear-worm and was repeated constantly throughout the tournament by anyone who wasn't too busy honking on a vuvuzela or shouting: "A GOAL FOR ALL AFRICA" at the top of their voice for no reason. In fact, the song was so popular with viewers in the UK it made a brief appearance on 'the hit parade' (at No.70 - yes, that still counts).


2014: Brazil

For the 2014 competiton, the Beeb plumped for Stevie Wonder's Another Star, citing its 'South American vibe', adding that the song "captures the feel-good, carnival atmosphere we will bring to our viewers".

ITV again went for something more local, with Brazilian artist Thiago Thome's recording of Aquarela do Brasil, a samba ditty originally composed by Ary Barroso back in 1939.

Stevie Wonder is great, but he isn't Brazilian and to FourFourTwo's knowledge has never expressed an interest in football...

Final score: BBC 3-5 ITV. Mark Pougatch has his paws on the cup. Gary Lineker sobs. Didier Drogba doesn't look at all bothered.

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