Music and Football: History, Transition & Representation

Music and Football’s history

11th July 2021; Neil Diamond’s 1969 classic ‘Sweet Caroline’ reverberates throughout Wembley Stadium before the year-prolonged final of Euro 2020. No matter how old a song may be: football faithful can resurrect it out of nowhere, and make it sound as fresh as the day. You could not go a day of this summer’s Euro 2020 tournament without hearing Sweet Caroline. But England have only recently adopted it as a football anthem, as Northern Irish fans have been bellowing it at games for the best part of 20 years. Clearly not the first time England have taken something from a country.

Italian singer Gala’s 1996-released top-10 smash ‘Freed from Desire’ was the influence behind Wigan fans making a song for their former striker Will Grigg. ‘Will Grigg’s on Fire’ became ubiquitous amongst football followers whether you cared about Wigan or not. There was never a more famous rendition of the chant than when Wigan upset Manchester City in the FA Cup in 2018. City were on course to a record-breaking Premier League season. In the cup, however, Grigg scored the winning goal 11 minutes from the end to dump them out.

Whether it be the remixed chants from the crowd, soundtracks for video games or the now extinct popularity of cup final songs; music and football are synonymous in portraying and connecting audiences. While chants on the terraces are embodied within the culture in Britain and are a mainstay, there has been a steadily growing impact outside of pop culture that is now here to stay within football. On top of that BAME representation in music and football’s matrimony has quietly emerged to the forefront without ever being overwhelming. A cultural shift in England that is not hung up on the past obsession of perpetuating nostalgia within football is here. It has taken long enough but times have changed. 

Music and Football today

In September; the Premier League’s Wolverhampton Wanderers became the first UK club to launch a record label. The club have asked artists worldwide to submit tracks to them signifying a new era. It both helps the club’s exposure around the globe as well as providing acts with a different route to success and this is regardless of their chosen genre.

Wolves have also delved into the eSports world and the fashion industry, giving the perfect platform to showcase any new music for their respective advertisements. Having new (and possibly old) artists have their music played at Wolves’ home games could also lead to the possibility of live pre-game and half-time performances in the future, who knows? As well as this with the massive push there would be on the clubs’ social media, getting signed to the label could in potential be gargantuan. The idea was sooner or later going to come from a football team, but possibly people thought it may have been from a bigger club and brand. 

Football clubs’ famous supporters from the music industry

Manchester United are arguably the biggest club in the world and commercially they cannot really be consistently rivalled. So with musical acts like the UK’s Harry Styles, Stormzy, Tinchy Stryder and Krept to name a few being supporters of the club, you may have felt it would have been them to make the ground-breaking move Wolves have. For example; 2016 would have surely given United the perfect segway. In what is regarded by some as the best introductory video made for a new signing; Stormzy blessed us with his usual charisma to announce that French international Paul Pogba had re-signed with the Red Devils.

As well as being a great promotion for all parties involved it was original and timely. Stromzy demonstrated his talents to people who may not have heard of him, while Manchester United’s social media networks thrived. It gave Adidas even more publicity, as both Pogba and Stromzy are faces of the brand. Since that significant moment in 2016, other big names who are United supporters have emerged in the likes of Dave, Aitch, Avelino & Not3s. Should the club embark on a label its reach would be phenomenal.

Football’s marketing prominence and form of relation engages people all around the world. The sport is nowhere near being the biggest in America, despite a men’s World Cup was held there back in 1994, but it is still growing rapidly thanks largely to the success of its women’s team. The recognition and more importantly the revenue you can bring when aligning yourself with it business-wise continues to be more and more evident.

Roc Nation Sports

Back in 2003 on Missy Elliott’s song ‘Wake Up’, mogul Jay-Z boasted “Evisu jeans cover the rectum, my kick game just like David Beckham”, fast forward 10 years to 2013 and he founded Roc Nation Sports. Roc Nation Sports is the sports management division of Roc Nation (founded in 2008), and a talent agency with well over a 100 athletes from varying sports. The sports element only came into play after Roc Nation had established itself as a pivotal music management and global brand. The aim of Roc Nation Sports is to propel athletes’ careers both on and off the field.

Knowing the worldwide reach football has it only made sense to start recuiting international footballers. The ceiling of marketability gets even higher for the player and Roc Nation. Players grow in name across the border and Roc Nation’s brand awareness increases globally even further than it is. Premier League stars Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne, Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku and Reece James, Manchester United’s Eric Bailly and Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings are all a part of Roc Nation Sports. Until recently Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford was on their roster too. There are also a plethora of lesser known male and female players under their books. 

In regards to Roc Nation’s Belgian international Lukaku, who recently went back to Chelsea this summer after originally leaving them in 2014, a meticulous introductory video was created. The 35-second video titled ‘LukWhosBack2026’ had a montage of Lukaku when he first joined the Blues in 2011. It then showed him in the present day accompanied by Jay-Z’s iconic lyric “Allow me to re-introduce myself, my name is Hov…” from the ‘Public Service Announcement’ on his 2003 LP ‘The Black Album’.

The beauty of this was that there was no need for any sample clearances, or a chance of copyright infringement, it was from a song by Jay-Z, for an athlete from his sports agency. It was all was quick and painless. Everyone won, Roc Nation Sports, Lukaku, Chelsea and Jay-Z who gets streamed millions of times in a month regardless would have got even more plays in close proximity of its release.

‘LukWhosBack’ – 

Football’s mix with ‘Urban Music’

The recent change of direction in football’s mix with ‘urban’ music and actually even black representation was long overdue. In the 90’s it was more of a gimmick. Legendary black Premier League strikers Ian Wright and Andrew Cole were given single deals to make pop and rap songs respectively that they may look back on and cringe a little at. In 1993 Arsenal’s cultural idol Ian Wright released ‘Do The Right Thing’ which at its zenith got to 43 in the UK’s Official Chart.

In 1999, Manchester United’s marksman Andrew Cole had just won the treble with his club, and then dropped the single ‘Outstanding’. The song sampled the 1982 hit of the same name by The Gap Band. Due to the familiarity of the sample and some of Cole’s lyrics it was a more feasible song than ‘Do the Right Thing’. ‘Outstanding’ peaked at number 68 in the charts. 

In terms of the role of black players mixing with music, things were not all gimmicky like Cole and Wright, the decade actually began in a different fashion. The 90’s started with England’s timeless ‘Italia 90’ World Cup anthem ‘World In Motion’ by New Order which featured the England football team. Jamaican-born football icon John Barnes rapped on the track and flowed at times like an actual artist giving us the most memorable part of what was ultimately a pop song. England’s later anthems for tournaments were to stay in the pop culture. For Euro 1996, pop group The Lightning Seeds partnered with comedy duo David Baddiel and Frank Skinner to make the omnipresent song ‘Three Lions’. The anthem has been re-released on numerous occasions, and despite being made for the European Championship it has been a constant for whenever England participate in an international competition.

Diversity in music and football

Despite the phenomenon of ‘Sweet Caroline’ this song will never die until England win a tournament, and even then it will still be about. It took well over 20 years, but a significant breakthrough for black representation and English football did come this year however. The World Cup official anthem was given to the aforementioned grime/rap duo Krept & Konan. They were to collaborate with Silva, Millionz and Morrison to make ‘Ole (We Are England ’21)’. Whether you like the song or not this was a big step in regards to diversity. 

Not only has men’s football provided more inclusion for BAME portrayal. The women’s game had arguarbly the most critical moment in the last few years. The Women’s World Cup in France in 2019, saw South London artist Ms Banks perform the rap that opened the coverage of the tournament. Banks remixed American group Fort Minor’s ‘Remember the Name’. With the growth of women’s football, the World Cup being shown on the BBC meant this really grabbed your attention and left a mark.

A black woman being put at the forefront changes the outlook. It allows young people of varying race to believe in achieving something they may not have deemed possible before. “Banks’ rendition of ‘Rememeber The Times’ spoke to more inclusive practices and spaces – both sonic and physical – of experiencing and consuming football, including those that occur outside of the environs of the stadium”, (Burdsey & Doyle, 2021). We now hope more BAME children continue to immerse themselves into sports. Not only football and music can clearly be a catalyst for this. 

(Ms Banks – World Cup Rap – 


The BBC also feature MOTDx (Match of the Day Xtra) presented by Jermaine Jenas. It regularly has artists (quite frequently urban artists) on there to discuss their affinity with football as well as their latest musical ventures. All these things continue to build bridges that were not there before. BT Sport also deserve their flowers. Wretch 32 provided the ‘Road to Madrid’ before the Champions League final between Tottenham and Liverpool in 2019, a brilliant rap going through the stages of the competition.

With the visuals it was dazzling and showed the artistry and mastery of the north London artist. 2019 also saw Rapman, a South London born artist and filmmaker perform the ‘Premier League Wrap Up’. Rapman spoke on Manchester City who had just won the 2018/19 title, as well taking us on a trip through memory lane. Rapman is incidentally also signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, where he will cover film as well as music.

(Wretch 32 – The Road to Madrid Champions League 2019)

Music defines sport

Also when talking of momentous roles played in the transition of musical influence, EA Sports’ notorious FIFA series have to be mentioned. Back in the 90’s indie band Blur’s ‘Song 2’ was a cult classic and headlined their ‘FIFA ’98: Road to the World Cup’ computer game but things are much different now. The soundtracks for their more recent releases have songs from artists all around the world, and making the cut for their soundtrack is now deemed as a major breakthrough and a defining point. No matter how big or small you are you can make it on there. Now was the time for EA to lower the age of their target audience. “Music defines sport. For a while, we were stuck with what soccer sounded like.

Back then, we didn’t have the opportunity of the global reach of video games. We had, frankly, a bunch of old farts who liked AC/DC & Queen”, states Steve Schnur, EA’s worldwide executive and president of music, (Source: FIFA not only has its usual soundtrack, but also there is one for ‘Volta Football’ their street football add-on. If the original soundtrack was diverse the Volta soundtrack delved even deeper to create the ambiance. FIFA 22’s Volta soundtrack features the likes of UK rappers and grime artists like Aitch, AJ Tracey, Big Zuu and Headie One as well as UK producer JAE5.

American producer Statik Selektah features as does rapper Kent Jones and the lesser known Wacotron amongst others. You can even find rap on there from Finland plus so much more in terms of genre. The orignal soundtrack features the UK’s Lil Simz (who was on the FIFA 20 soundtrack) and ArrDee. It is not just stemmed in urban culture however, you can still find tunes from the likes of the Chemical Brothers and up-and-coming Yorkshire rock group the Yard Act. 

Music and football: ever evolving

It may not be to everyones liking but living in this digitial era, music and football which have been intertwined for decades will merge even more. Through the ability to stream music, having the world at our fingertips gives us a power we never had 30 or even 20 years ago. The increase in the consumption of urban music throughout the last ten years especially has meant advertising now looks to feature songs and artists from genres such as hip-hop, grime, drill, trap and R&B more than ever before.

However hard you try you will not escape an ever-evolving market. The urban input will slowly but surely continue to help culturally and improve identification as football moves away from its base of pop culture and one-sided presentment. Football is a multi-cultural sport, and therefore should be depicted that way. Somehow there are people in the public who choose to oppose the growing modern illustration, but the bad news for them is it is not going anywhere anytime soon. We will see more of an urban input as there is a fight to improve equality and relation amongst other sub areas, and companies seem to believe performance is the quintessence of urban culture. On the marketing front more clubs will more than likely eventually take Wolves’ lead and merge with record labels. The dynamic is changing before our very eyes.

Daniel Dwamena



– Gary Wilson

– Darren Baillie

– Stel Stylianou

– ‘Football and the Sounds of the Black Atlantic’ – Daniel Burdsey (University of Brighton) & John Doyle (University of Sussex)

– Hugh Morris – ‘Picture Perfect – The Mighty Power of the FIFA Soundtrack’

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