For the first, and possibly only time, an England World Cup song surmounted the seemingly impossible divide between football and the culturally cool. LAURA JONES looks back at how New Order’s hit surfed the zeitgeist.
When the licence for the infamous Hacienda nightclub in Manchester was due for renewal in the April 1990, Greater Manchester Police were ready to oppose it. The reason? Drugs…lots and lots of illegal substances.
It’s no secret that those who owned, appeared in and frequented the nightclub were partial to experimentation. Anyone who has seen the film 24 Hour Party People will know what I mean but one man was determined to argue that club was ‘culturally valuable’ to Manchester and not just a den of iniquity.
Tony Wilson, manager of the Hacienda, record label co-owner and local TV presenter, was as infamous as his club. According to his biography You’re entitled to an opinion but… by David Nolan, Wilson wrote an article in the Manchester Evening News, prior to being taken to court, which highlighted that the Hacienda was integral to the city’s value ‘in terms of youth culture, international kudos and local economy.’
Here was a man who could take a shitty occasion, cover it in glitter and make you want to buy it. Looking back it was very perceptive of the Football Association to approach Tony Wilson to help create the 1990 England World Cup song.
As we near the 25th anniversary of the release of New Order’s World in Motion song, it seems like an appropriate time to discuss why this anthem, of all the other England anthems, has remained in our consciousness. Is it because it is the “least worst” or because, as Tony Wilson may have argued, it is a culturally valuable piece of our football and music history?
During the 1980s, the music culture had shifted in Britain, stylistically and geographically. Manchester was breeding bands from The Smiths to Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays to The Stone Roses. Tony Wilson’s Factory Records were at the heart of the success of some of these bands. The Hacienda opened in 1982 and it provided a live venue for this scene to thrive.
In the late eighties dance music began to penetrate the scene and with it the drug culture rose too. Ecstasy was becoming the leisure drug of choice by 1988 and the Hacienda fed into this loved up mood. Although New Order and The Stone Roses were still playing and becoming increasingly successful, House DJ’s were now being invited to play for the crowds. With the likes of Graeme Park and Frankie Knuckles on the stage, clubbers were now choosing to come for the DJ and not just the ‘baggy’ bands.
Culturally, the youth scene had an acid house smiley face pinned firmly on the map, right in ‘Madchester.’
Meanwhile, David Bloomfield was appointed media liaison for Bobby Robson and the England team. He was also a New Order fan. When he was tasked to look at the World Cup anthem for Italia ‘90, he knew what would appeal to young football fans, he knew who he wanted and he knew who he had to go through to get to them.
New Order didn’t want to do it. Why would they? They were successful, talented and artistic. The England World Cup song was just a variation on a theme; England players wearing ridiculous clothing, singing badly devised puns about playing football and winning victory for the great nation.
Their interest in football was also fairly limited. Bernard Sumner, New Order’s lead singer, was a lapsed Manchester United fan from a family full of Manchester City supporters. Peter Hook, the bassist, is also a United fan but in an interview with Absolute Radio in 2012 he confessed he found “the fans were vastly more interesting than the actual football.”
Tony Wilson had tried to make the connection between the band and the game in 1988, when he asked them to write the music for a new show he had pitched to Granada called ‘Best and Marsh.’ It was a seventies nostalgia show presented by Wilson with George Best and Rodney Marsh, reminiscing about their playing days. The band obliged their manager but confessed the experience was all a bit underwhelming and unsatisfactory.
The decision to take the FA up on their invitation divided a band, who by 1990, were already divided by internal politics, finances and personalities. Bernard Sumner doesn’t conceal the fact that he wanted to work on another project at the time.
Michael Powell, director of Black Narcissus and the seminal film The Red Shoes, wanted to work with the band on an art film project. The prospect excited some members of the band but others were more pragmatic. There would be a buy-in to the Powell project of £100k where as the England World Cup song had the potential to make them money. As the Hacienda continued to haemorrhage money (as co-owners, New Order put in an estimated £1 million each to stop the club from going under), the band came to the agreement that the FA’s offer made more sense.
New Order would have free rein over the artistic direction of the World Cup anthem with only one caveat from the FA, it mustn’t make reference to hooliganism. The perceived football culture and the reality of football culture in the eighties couldn’t have been any worse. Violence on the terraces was a reflection of the dissatisfaction of an ever-marginalised underclass. Years of unemployment, strikes and austerity had left a mark on the working classes. As their sport of choice it was a release of tensions and frustration.
Maybe I’m being too generous about their plight, some of these people just wanted to fight each other.
The FA engaged in talks with Tony Wilson less than a year after the Hillsborough disaster. At the time the rhetoric was very much about fans causing the deaths of 96 of their own. It would take years for the findings to emerge about cover-ups, corruption and incompetence.
Lyrically, World in Motion, or called by its Factory Records catalogue number FAC293, put the love back into football. From Sumner’s lyrics “Love’s got the world in motion”, not football. In an interview with CNN in 2014, band member Stephen Morris said;
"I think up until that point it (football) was all very laddish and after 'World in Motion' everybody got a bit loved-up with it. Love is a universal thing, so is football."
The cultures of football, music and drugs came together in one set of song lyrics, the love of football, the love of good music and the euphoric feeling of taking ecstasy. Keith Allen, who was brought in to help translate New Order’s vision into football terms, wanted to call the song ‘E for England’ but the FA point blank refused to be associated with any hint of drug taking. Although, Allen maintains that the lyric “it’s one on one” is a double entendre of being on an ecstasy high meaning ‘are you on one’.
The music was an easier concept for New Order. Maybe indicating their lack of enthusiasm for the project, they “cannibalized” a tune that band members Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert had written for a TV programme. They had written the theme tune for a BBC youth programme called Reportage, which they adapted and presented to the rest of the band.
The day of recording did nothing to improve the musician’s opinion of football or the project they were embarking on. In the book Shadowplayers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records by James Nice, Gillian Gilbert from the band recalls her feelings of meeting the chosen footballers.
“When you’ve not met any footballers, you have an image of what they’re like. We were really disappointed. It was like having a load of lager louts let loose in the studio, making jokes about the size of our organs.”
Bernard Sumner elaborates on this in his autobiography when he recalls Gazza walking into the studio, taking one look at the mixing desk and saying “fucking hell, man, that’s a big organ.” Whether it was a salacious remark as Gillian Gilbert thought it was or whether Gazza just didn’t know what a keyboard looks like, we’ll never know.
Although the band thought the players were “lager louts” it was difficult for some of them to take the moral high ground. Sumner admitted to meeting the players with his “head still in a bucket” after spending the previous evening supporting 808 State at the G-MEX. The “buckets of champagne” in the studio allegedly calmed all the participants’ nerves.
It was Keith Allen who wrote the infamous rap. The decision to add one was again a drunken and drug-fuelled one. The FA had insisted that England footballers appear on the record, as was the tradition. The ones chosen for the task were Paul Gascoigne, Steve McMahon, Chris Waddle, Des Walker, Peter Beardsley and John Barnes.
Barnes was the only one who had the timing and the accent to get away with rapping, although the rest of the players did audition. How I would dearly love to hear Peter Beardsley rapping.
World in Motion survives on a wave of nostalgia. Much like Skinner and Baddiel’s Three Lions, the fondness for the song is closely connected to the success of the England team. Beyond the 1966 World Cup win, 1990 and 1996 were the most successful periods of football for England in tournaments. As each game passed, the songs continued to be played everywhere.
Culturally it does stand the test of time because it is a microcosm of the music and football scene at the time. FAC293 was the final song for New Order on the Factory Records label. Musically it was the end of an era.
Bernard Sumner in his autobiography, Chapter and Verse, said “We weren’t setting out to change the face of football records, but we wanted to write a good song.” Bad or good, football songs are remembered but a great song like World in Motion will continue to be relevant in our football history as long as people of a certain age can still recite the John Barnes rap verbatim.