On paper, I should love this next #1. It combines my two great passions-since-childhood: the pop charts and the World Cup. Except… Music isn’t something you enjoy on paper. It has to go in between your ears. Which is where the problems start with this song.
Back Home, by The England World Cup Squad ‘70 (their 1st and only #1)
3 weeks, from 10th – 31st May 1970
First, some history. England had hosted and won their first, and so far only, football World Cup in 1966, beating West Germany 4-2 in the final. Four years on they were off to Mexico to defend their title. This record, then, was an au revoir to the fans. And it gets going with hand claps and that beat that goes with any sporting occasion – you know: da da dadada dadadada da da. Does it even have a name? Then it’s a marching band and some rousing lyrics.
Back home, They’ll be thinking about us, When we are far away… Back home, They’ll be really behind us, In every game we play… The players put their all into it, singing it like they’re down the pub, rolling out the barrel. We’ll give all we’ve got to give, For the folks… back… home… Interestingly, there’s no explicit mention of them winning the cup, which I suppose is quite modest and sensible.
I have to admit that I’m not a neutral party here. I’m Scottish. Scotland have a fairly terrible football team, and have done for a long time. They last qualified for a major tournament when I was twelve. So for me and most of my fellow countrymen and women – and I’m not proud to admit this but here we are – much of our enjoyment during a World Cup comes from England getting beaten. I hold my hands up. I am biased when it comes to this record.
Then again, even the most ardent England fan would struggle to argue that ‘Back Home’ has much merit beyond nostalgia for a time when they were the world champions. Midway through we get a trumpet solo and some piped-in crowd noises. I half expect Kenneth Wolstenholme’s ‘They think it’s all over…’ commentary, but no.
It reminds me of a song from the trenches (unfortunately not the last time that the English will equate football with the World Wars.) There’s the simple music hall melody for a start. And the lyrics are all about the folks ‘back home’, as if the team is homesick before they’ve even left, as if they’re missing their sweethearts, as if they don’t really want to go…
And with good reason, perhaps. Their campaign in Mexico was fairly disastrous. Captain Bobby Moore was falsely arrested for stealing a bracelet, keeper Gordon Banks was knocked out by food poisoning (some have since suggested foul-play) and West Germany exacted their revenge by beating them 3-2 in the quarter-finals. Brazil went on to win an iconic final against Italy – Pele, Carlos Alberto and all that.
I accept that there would have been a lot of hype surrounding the defence of their title – they released this record a full two months before the World Cup started – and that this song is fairly inoffensive in the grand scheme of things. At least it’s short, wrapped up in exactly two minutes. But I’d happily never listen to it again. The players clearly enjoyed their experience in the recording studio though, as they went and made a whole album! Ever wondered what ‘Congratulations’, ‘Lily the Pink’ and ‘Sugar Sugar’ sound like when sung by footballers? Wonder no more – the whole album’s on Spotify.
If anybody out there actually enjoyed this latest chart-topper – and who am I to judge? – then you’ll be happy to hear that this is the first of four World Cup themed #1s (plus a European Championship themed #1 for good measure.) They will all be about England – boo! But most of them will be better than ‘Back Home’ – yay! And, just to show that I may be biased but not that biased, here’s a link to the Scotland World Cup Squad’s highest charting single: ‘We Have a Dream’, which reached #5 in 1982. (Spoiler Alert: It’s just as bad, if not worse, than ‘Back Home’.)