As a football-shunning nipper in the 80s it seemed to me that an FA Cup Final song barged its way into the charts every year, swayed through the top ten full of song like a beery fan on a train carriage, and was gone. And looking at this Wikipedia page – a memento to the rise and fall of the genre – I was basically right.
By the time I got to University, my terribly narrow social circles were broadening a little, and football was gentrifying a lot, so I had friends who bought FA cup records. The songs themselves were no better than they had ever been, often – to the extent that they sounded ‘up to date’ – quite a bit worse. But why should they improve? Who would it benefit? To criticise a club song for its music would be like criticising a souvenir scarf for its insulating properties. Cup Final songs were souvenirs, and maybe something to fuel your sense of belonging and anticipation in the lead-up – “belonging” being the emotion these bluff, comradely, incompetent things managed best and most often.
The year before, one Arsenal fan had come back from town with a cassingle of the stupefying “Shouting For The Gunners” – an honest title, at least. He put it on repeatedly while we played point-and-click games on his PC, making us hunt through its bellowing wreckage for a forgotten fragment of tune. Next to that, “Come On You Reds” was Bacharach and David – and certainly it’s crafted enough to have all the elements you’d want in a Cup Final song. The dab-your-eyes reminder of past triumphs or tragedies. The noble attempt to make the current team roster scan. Yeomen of light entertainment doing their duty for the lads – a manful job by The Quo here. Only a decision to marinade the song in trebly, plastic keyboards spoils the mood.
It’s still terrible, but it’s the right kind of terrible, just about. Which doesn’t explain why it got to number one when the likes of “Ossie’s Dream” and “Anfield Rap” had fallen short. Its platonic incarnation of Cup Final hit-ness can’t explain that on its own. But consider that the friend who bought it had also bought an “Eric The King” duvet cover, and that he’d shown no interest in football at all the year before, and things become clearer. Man U and the Premiership were rising together, the club winning on the pitch and exploiting the new football audience and its hunger for stars. I’d also guess – though I still wouldn’t have cared enough to know – that England’s failure to qualify for USA 94 was good business for Man U, as a huge potential audience turned more of its eye on the domestic game. They weren’t yet the most popular club in the country, but they were hungry, many were young, and some walked like rock stars already. Pop rewards such things. Even I knew who Eric Cantona was.