Friday, 11 May 2012

Chris O's Favourite 5... Football TV Theme Tunes

Continuing our 'Favourite 5' series, here's my best five TV theme tunes for British football shows (in no particular order of preference...)

'Jellicle Ball'
(World Cup Grandstand, BBC 1982) 

A rip-roaring in-your-face toboggan ride of a theme tune, composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber for the musical Cats. It’s a great theme tune because it encapsulates all the drama and excitement usually associated with a World Cup. The quiet start quickly explodes into a bold and (literally) brassy fanfare that hints at the urgency to succeed and the memory of erstwhile defeats. The final euphoric flourish, however, is born of a growing, repetitive momentum resulting in ultimate glory and a realised sense of exaltation. (That’s except for viewers in Northern Ireland.)

(The Big Match, ITV 1980) 

Another fanfare to kick this one off, this time to herald a symphony of blaring synthesisers and twanging guitars. Like Jellicle Ball, the biggest virtue of this piece is its relentless pace that somehow symbolises the pace of modern football. The six-note signature phrase is wonderfully catchy and crops up at the beginning, end and several points in between, fitting in beautifully with the dynamism that Jeff Wayne used throughout. And yes, we are talking about the same Jeff Wayne that composed the musical version of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds, along with countless other musical pieces for TV and radio. Why here’s another one…

(World Cup ‘82, ITV 1982) 

In many ways, this ITV theme tune from the 1982 World Cup just doesn’t work. It’s slower and more ponderous than my first two choices, has a moody feel to it which is perhaps at odds with the action-packed nature of the game and leans more than a little on the sounds of Mexico rather than host nation Spain. For all that though, this is a beautifully crafted tapestry of Spanish guitar, electric guitar, pan pipes, a melodious string section and Jeff Wayne’s ubiquitous synths. Probably not everyone’s cup of tea but certainly evocative of that wistful feeling back in 1982 as we waited for one of the British sides to do well under the blazing Spanish sun.

‘Tutti Al Mondo’
(World Cup ’90, ITV 1990)

Staying with ITV (why did their theme tunes always outrank the BBC’s in my mind?), here’s a wonderful composition by Rod Argent and Peter Van Hooke that was used by the commercial station during Italia ’90. While the Beeb went for the safe operatic option with the Pavarotti-fest Nessun Dorma, ITV were altogether more creative by using this energetic fusion of both operatic and contemporary styles. This piece seemed to have everything: soaring vocals, crashing drum sequences, synth stings… all set to a beguiling rhythm. Scandalously overlooked, this was the perfect accompaniment to a World Cup that seemed mediocre by comparison.

'Argentine Melody'
(World Cup Grandstand, BBC 1978) 

And as if to prove that Rod Argent was no stranger to this sort of thing, here's another contribution of his, this time for the BBC back in 1978. Once again, we go through the list of national musical stereotypes, this time for Argentina: Castanets? Tick… Accoustic guitar? Tick… Yet for all that it's a positively harmonious romp through the foothills of Patagonia that seems to work delightfully despite being a little too slow to complement football coverage on TV. Working with Andrew Lloyd Webber (who wrote and produced the piece), the song was was released as a chart single 'performed by San Jose featuring Rodriguez Argentina'… or 'Rod Argent' for short. Who says musicians don't have a sense of humour?


  1. At last, someone else who thinks Tutti Al Mondo was waaaaaay better than Nessun Bloody Dorma!
    Got it on 7" the day after it came out and drove my dad nuts with it, playing it at full volume in the car! :)

    Aztec Gold is also a brilliant theme tune :)

  2. I remember loving 'Tutti Al Mondo' right from day 1, and the accompanying title sequence only made it better! I was lucky enough to find the full extended version on a 'TV Themes' CD a few years ago on eBay... top tune!

  3. Agreed that Tutti Al Mondo did the business and was a worthy challenger to the admittedly barnstorming Nessun Dorma. That 78 theme will always be special for me as the sheer excitement of a 9 year old on his first exposure to World Cup football cannot be calculated.

  4. Understandable, Lanterne Rouge. I think it was one of the first theme tunes I heard too, as a 6-year-old...

  5. Ah that '78 theme music and those images - the ticker tape, Menotti smoking, McLeod's head is hands, the Peru shirts, the Scotland fans... Great memories.

  6. Quite so, Frank. Argentina '78 was unique in all its imagery and the football that was played back then. Glad you liked the clip! :)