Kicking off both a new series of Top 5’s and some football and music related posts to tie in with this summer’s World Cup, we begin with this list of the best/worst singles released by footballers. What this isn’t is songs about football or songs released to officially support a particular club or national teams, lists of which will appear in due course. No, this is a list of songs where footballers decided to try their hand at being pop stars for a while, something which never tends to end well. There are many absentees from this list so please feel free to leave comments with your own favourites…
Gazza/Lindisfarne – Fog On The Tyne
In 1990 Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne was undoubtedly England’s most famous footballer. An enormously gifted attacking midfielder with a larger-than-life personality, Gazza was a central figure in an exciting (albeit underachieving) Tottenham Hotspur team, and in the summer of that year played a pivotal role in helping England to the semi-finals of the World Cup, a match that is also remembered for ‘Gazza’s tears’ elicited when a yellow card meant he would have missed the final had England got there (somewhat predictably, we lost to eventual winners Germany on penalties).
These exploits resulted in what the press termed ‘Gazzamania’ and as well as being one of the first British footballers to officially endorse a video game, and sign an exclusive deal with tabloid newspaper The Sun, he also collaborated with fellow Geordies, folk-rock band Lindisfarne, to record a re-worked version of their 1971 ode to Newcastle ‘Fog On The Tyne’. Against anyone’s better judgment or expectations, it reached number 2 in the UK charts in November that year, with Gazza delivering an extremely amateur ‘rap’ over a generic dance beat in-between a football-chant version of the chorus.
The single was every bit as bad as that sounds, and the collaboration was a step too far for founder member Ray Jackson who quit the band over their decision to make the record. “It was totally at odds with our solid reputation, built over the previous two decades… we were selling out” he later stated, adding “Gazza was a great footballer and a Geordie hero but no musician”. Hard to disagree really.
Franz Beckenbauer – Du Ellain/Gute Freunde Kann Niemand Trennen
Tenuously linking from Gazza, we come to the man who was managing Germany in 1990, one of European football’s greatest-ever players. A two-time European footballer of the year and to-date the only man to win the World Cup as both a player (in 1974) and a manager, Der Kaiser (a nickname bestowed upon him by fans) was early in what would become a sparkling career for Bayern Munich when he released this single, in 1966.
Whilst ‘Du Allein’ (You Alone), a passable slice of mid-60’s pop balladry, was initially the A-side, the popularity of ‘Gute Freunde Kann Niemand Trennen’ (Nobody Can Split Good Friends or words to that effect) with its football-terrace clapping and more upbeat tone became the more popular song in Germany, resulting in them being switched and the single re-released the following year around the same time Bayern won the double of the domestic league and the European Cup-Winner’s Cup.
And whilst Beckenbauer’s footballing career would go from strength to strength this would prove to be the highpoint of his forays into the world of music, which I think history will show was probably for the best…
Kevin Keegan – Head Over Heels In Love
Liverpool legend, two-time European Footballer of the Year, winner of domestic and European trophies, and father of the footballer’s perm, Kevin Keegan was an irrepressible footballer, and later, manager. He was also never shy of the media and from his heyday in the 1970’s and for many years after he was more than happy to appear on chat-shows, game shows, and even adverts for Brut aftershave.
It was whilst playing for Hamburger SV in the Bundesliga that he recorded and released this rather forgettable 1979 single, written by members of the band Smokie (of Living Next Door To Alice fame) who were also very big in Germany at the time. It only reached no.31 in the UK before quickly disappearing without trace but was a top 10 hit in Germany, a reflection of his popularity there at the time and maybe a telling indication of musical taste in a country where David Hasselhoff is considered a serious artist.
Ruud Gullit – Not The Dancing Kind
During the 1980’s there were few players as distinctive as the Dutchman Ruud Gullit. An abnormally talented footballer, he combined speed, style, grace, athleticism and intelligence to become one of the very best footballers on the planet, winning the Ballon D’or, World Footballer of the Year (twice), and leading the Netherlands to victory in the 1988 European Championships, as well as winning domestic trophies with 5 different clubs. Indeed, in the 80’s he was probably second only to Maradona, although some, including George Best, have stated he was the better player.
So as you can imagine, he was a popular figure in the Netherlands at this time, a factor which I’m guessing was behind his decision to record this rather nondescript slice of reggae-lite. Despite a genuine love for reggae, and even having the dreadlocks to match the music, it’s questionable whether this is actually any good.
Slightly better, and certainly better intentioned, was the anti-apartheid single ‘South Africa’, a collaboration with Dutch reggae band Revelation Time, released in 1990, a no.3 hit on the Dutch charts in 1988. Gullit had dedicated his 1987 Ballon D’or to the then still-imprisoned Nelson Mandela, a move which didn’t go down well in Italy where he was playing at the time. When he met him as a free man in the 1990’s Mandela told him “Ruud, I have lots of friends now. When I was on the inside, you were one of the few.”
Chris Waddle and Glenn Hoddle – Diamond Lights
It’s fair to say that over the years this song by the then Tottenham Hotspur and England midfield duo has become something of a byword for how terrible footballers-masquerading-as-popstars can be, which might be slightly unfair considering where their afore-mentioned team-mate Gazza took things a couple of years later. That said, there’s no denying the cringey embarrassment of their infamous Top of the Pops appearance, which took dad-dancing to a whole new level of hilarity. What’s truly hilarious is that they only ended up on the show because the producers refused to show the little-seen video for the song, posted below, which again isn’t quite as terrible as you might think when you consider that the 80’s was chock full of laughably bad videos. It is pretty damn terrible though…
Their mercifully brief pop career came about after an impromptu karaoke appearance at a corporate event, witnessed by Bob Puzey, songwriter, and producer for, amongst others, the Nolan Sisters. Seeing an opportunity he must have regretted not resisting, he arranged a brief audition before giving them this newly-penned hit, inspired by his wife’s eyes. It reached number 12 in May 1987, and led to a follow-up single ‘It’s Goodbye’, a more upbeat affair with a video that for some reason decided to heavily feature the pair’s dance moves, which are reminiscent the kind of thing you will have seen at every drunken wedding party you’ve ever been to.
As baffling as the existence of these records is, what’s more baffling is why they decided to call themselves Glenn & Chris, failing completely to take advantage of their serendipitously rhyming surnames. It wouldn’t have rescued the music but Waddle and Hoddle certainly rolls off the tongue a bit better.