The Round Ball on the Square Box: Part Four - Top of the Pops: Side B - 1981 to 2006

(Part Three covering Football related appearances on TOTP between 1964 and 1981 can be found here)

In July 1981, the Top of the Pops theme tune for the last eight years was replaced by the Phil Lynott  and Midge Ure produced ‘Yellow Pearl’.  The former Thin Lizzy lead singer said with regard to the song: ‘It has made me a fortune; every time I see Top of the Pops the cash register in me head starts ringing…I wish I'd written the theme tune to Coronation Street’.  The first football-related appearance on TOTP of the ‘Yellow Pearl’ era occurred later in the year, as former Real Madrid goalkeeper Julio Iglesias (father of Enrique) would hit the UK number one spot with ‘Begin the Beguine’.

In March 1982, Garth Crooks - absent from football duties due to injury - found time out to co-host TOTP with Peter Powell.  The episode also included performances from Altered Images, Bucks Fizz, Irish Folk duo Foster and Allen, The Boomtown Rats, The Nolans, Chas n Dave with German outfit the Goombay Dance Band at number one with their ‘Auld Lyng Syne’ sound-alike tune ‘Seven Tears’.

That year’s FA Cup Final would again feature Spurs, this time against fellow Londoners QPR.  Chas n Dave would again be involved in their Cup Final Song with ‘Tottenham Tottenham’.  The show ahead off the final, hosted by Simon Bates, would be unique for the featuring of three football songs within one show.  The show would begin with introduction of Simon Bates to England’s Kevin Keegan and Scotland’s Frank Gray.       

There then followed the performance of ‘We’ll Flag the Flag’ by the England World Cup Squad, the double A side to ‘This Time We’ll Get it Right’, which had risen up to number two in the charts.  This would then be followed by an interview with Glenn Hoddle and Ray Clemence of England and Spurs.

It would often be inaccurately said that Steve Archibald of Spurs would be the first person on TOTP to appear on the same episode performing two different songs.  This honour however went to Paul Weller’s band the Jam earlier in the year, who performed both of their double A side songs ‘Precious’ and ‘A Town Called Malice’ back to back.  The honour of being the first person to perform two songs with different acts went to his Spurs team mates Glenn Hoddle and Ray Clemence just minutes before.  Archibald was a part of the Scotland Squad who performed the B.A. Robertson penned ‘We Have a Dream’, voiced by John Gordon Sinclair – star of the 1981 Football movie ‘Gregory’s Girl’.  Also appearing on the show would be Junior, perfoming ‘Mama Used to Say’, as well as Depeche Mode and Patrice Rushen performing her one big UK hit, ‘Forget Me Nots’. 

1982 would also see the reintroduction of John Peel to presenting TOTP, thirteen years after his calamitous error filled first episode, which had been shot live but luckily for him not captured on film.  For much of the late 1970s, when football crowds had been dogged by hooliganism and associations far right hangers on, John Peel had been the sole crusader for Football within ‘cool’ circles.  He was once even booed at a pop festival for reading out the football results on stage over the PA system.  Throughout his stint hosting the show, John could often be spotted wearing a Liverpool jumper or scarf. 

In 1982, once again, the FA Cup Final would go a replay and once again a shortened TOTP episode.  Hosting this episode would be John Peel with Blondie’s Debbie Harry as co-host.  The shortened show meant that Peel – who was initially to interview Debs – was given just fifteen seconds to ask her about her new single.  Annoyed at this, Peel deliberately asked an overly long question so that she would not have time to answer for comic effect.  Debbie though was amused by this and therefore in on the joke.  Peel – decked out in a jumper paying homage to Liverpool’s list of League titles - introduced the show as ‘the rundown to the replay of the North London Charity Cup’. Also appearing on the show would be QPR fans Genesis, Soft Cell, Japan and a brief interview with Roger Taylor of Queen by Debbie Harry.

Disruption to the show from the Espana ’82 World Cup that summer came on 1st July episode, which had been shunted to the 7.10PM slot and reduced by ten minutes to a half an hour show in order for the BBC to show Northern Ireland’s first Second group phase fixture with Austria, which ended in a 2-2 draw.  The following Monday, England exited Espana ’82 unbeaten after a 0-0 draw with hosts Spain.  This meant that from the three-way group that West Germany would progress to the Semi Finals to face France the following Thursday.  TOTP would feature at the earlier time of 6.50PM for coverage of this Semi Final.

The episode would feature an appearance from German band Trio performing their one major hit in the UK ‘Da Da Da’.  The band took the opportunity to troll the British public during their performance @02.20 with a Football baring the words ‘Thank You’ – which could be seen as either a way of thanking the British public for making their song a hit - with high hopes of a fourth German number one in a year, following on from Kraftwerk’s ‘The Model’, ‘Seven Tears’ by the Goombay Dance Band and Nicole’s Eurovision winner ‘A Little Peace’ - or thanking England for the result on Monday which allowed the West Germans to progress (and of course, if it was meant to be the former, why was it specifically written on a Football?).

Germany cruelty that night wouldn’t end there.  Later on in the Semi Final, an horrific foul by keeper Harold Schumacher on Frenchman Patrick Battiston would knock the latter out cold.  The Germans pulled back a 1-3 deficit to draw level and beat the French on a penalty shoot to progress to the final.  They would however suffer a 1-3 defeat at the hands of a Paolo Rossi and Marco Tardelli inspired Italy in the Espana ’82 Final on Sunday evening. 

Being the biggest supported club in the UK, the club most likely to bag a hit single is obviously Man United who have eight singles which have charted within the Top 75 singles.  Their first top ten hit came ahead of their 1983 FA Cup Final appearance with a relegated Brighton & Hove Albion side.  For the third year in a row, the Final went to a replay, which meant that a slightly shorted edition of TOTP preceded coverage of the replay at an earlier than usual time.  A video of United’s single ‘Glory, Glory Man United’ featured on the show, along with appearances from Big Country, Paul Weller’s Style Council, Hot Chocolate and the Police.  Man United romped home in the replay with a 4-0 win and the single peaked at number six in the UK charts.

The following year, Watford reached the FA Cup Final.  Surprisingly though, Elton John resisted the temptation to do a Chas n Dave and didn’t release a Cup Final anthem for his side, who crashed to a 0-2 defeat to Everton in the Final.  In 1985, the introduction of ‘Eastenders’ meant that TOTP was moved to a 7PM slot and permanently reduced to just half an hour in duration.  There had also been a rarity in the fact that both sides competing in the FA Cup Final released singles which reached the top twenty.  Everton’s ‘Here We Go’ reached number fifteen, while Man United’s ‘We All Follow Man United’ peaked at number ten.  There was however no TOTP appearance from either of them.


In May 1985 – with several hooligan related incidents such as Millwall at Kennilworth Road and the Heysel Disaster - it seemed that Football couldn’t be less cool and certainly not worthy of a TOTP appearance.  One element of Football’s ‘Annus Horribulus’ however reached the pop charts.  On May 11th, an horrific blaze at Bradford City’s Valley Parade led to the tragic deaths of fifty six spectators.  Following on from charity singles such as Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas’ and USA for Africa’s ‘We are the World’ came Gerry Marsden’s ‘The Crowd’, which took a cover of the football anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ to number one, with TOTP featuring the video.


The song featured an assortment of guest vocals from Paul McCartney, Tony Christie, Smokie, Graham Gouldman of 10CC, Bruce Forsyth, Kenny Lynch, Bernie Winters, the now disgraced Rolf Harris, Rick Wakeman, Lemmy from Motorhead, female Rockers Girlschool, the Nolans, Kiki Dee, and John Entwhistle from the Who.  From Auf Weidersehen Pet was Joe Fagin who sang the show’s theme tune, as well as Tim Healy and Gary Holton who within a year died of a drug overdose, as did Thin Lizzy lead singer Phil Lynott, who also appeared on the track.  The song stayed at number one for two weeks in June 1985 and raised £132,000 for a burns research unit in Bradford to treat the victims.  This figure however was reduced by the fact that the song’s publishers refused to waive their royalties.

1986 saw the ‘Yellow Pearl’ theme tune replaced by Paul Hardcastle’s ‘The Wizard’.  There had been an all-Merseyside FA Cup Final, as well as World Cup where England, Scotland and Northern Ireland all qualified.  Despite this, there had surprisingly been no football related top forty hit singles.  Mexico ’86 briefly dislodged the show from its usual Thursday night slot to Wednesday, to accommodate the showing of Brazil v Northern Ireland, which had been Pat Jennings’s final appearance before retiring on his forty first birthday.  In 1987, Football returned to TOTP with a vengeance.  First up was the highly unlikely matter of Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle becoming pop stars.


Chris Waddle in an article for the Guardian twenty two years later explained how this unlikely scenario came about, stating that: ‘Glenn and I used to get sponsored cars off Budget car rental, and one time the two of us went to their annual awards in Coventry. At the end of the night there was a band on. By this time we'd had a few too many and we ended up on stage with this group. When it ended, a friend of ours who was there told us it sounded all right.  He knew a few people in the music business and he put us in touch with this guy called Bob Puzey, who'd written a few songs for the Nolan Sisters. We went to his house in Barnet and we both sang for him, and he said we sounded all right…So we recorded the song and tried to find a record label, but we didn't tell anyone who was singing. They either liked it or they didn't. Eventually one little company took it and we put it out’.

The duo spurned the obvious moniker of ‘Hoddle and Waddle’ in favour of simply ‘Glenn and Chris’.  Incredibly, the song peaked at number twelve in the UK singles chart.  As Chris Waddle tells it, the duo had to appear on TOTP because: ‘The video for Diamond Lights was really cheap. We had to go on Top of the Pops ourselves because they said the video was so bad they wouldn't show it’.  The episode was hosted by Gary Davies also appearing on the same show as the Spurs pair were Five Star, Kim Wilde performing a duet with Brit Soul artist Junior, The Smiths and Terence Trent D’Arby.  Waddle said of the latter that he: ‘said hello and that he liked our song. We didn't know if he was taking the piss, because he said it all sincere’.


Waddle himself looked uncomfortable during his appearance and that: ‘Going on Top of the Pops was the most nerve-racking thing I've ever done. Football-wise, cup finals, any game I've ever played in, it doesn't come close. Every day in your life you kick a football, you know what you're doing. This was something alien‘.  Incredibly, a follow up single was planned, recorded and a video shot.  It even entered the charts at number ninety two.  Glenn Hoddle in the meantime however had transferred from Spurs to Monaco, which meant he was unable to promote the single.  No further records were pressed and Hoddle and Waddle’s tenure as pop idols was over.

Spurs again reached the FA Cup Final, this time against Coventry City.  Once again, Chas n Dave performed the Cup Final song – a ditty called ‘Hot Shot Tottenham’.  TOTP however came calling five days after their 2-3 final defeat to the Sky Blues (Spurs’s first ever FA Cup Final loss).  The Tottenham squad were too busy licking their wounds to put in an appearance.  Instead the song’s video was played during the ‘Chart Breakers’ section of the show, while the song itself peaked at number eighteen.  Twelve months on, Liverpool were riding high in the League and having reached the FA Cup Final against Wimbledon decided to follow in the tradition of recording an FA Cup final song.


Though John Barnes was not the first Black Liverpool player (that honour went to Toxteth-born Howard Gayle, after his brief spell in the side back in 1981), ‘Barnesy’ became the first Kop idol of colour, as Liverpool stormed to the title on the back of his blistering form in 1987/88.  In honour of this, the Reds went ‘MOBO’ with their Cup Final tune and recorded the ‘Anfield Rap’.  The Liverpool squad never went on TOTP to promote the single, but the video appeared on the show two weeks running, as the song peaked at number three in the Charts.  Liverpool however crashed to a 0-1 defeat.

Eleven months later, Liverpool reached the FA Cup Semi Final again.  The tie at Hillsborough was halted after six minutes due to severe crushing at the ground’s Leppings Lane end, which resulted in the deaths of ninety six spectators.  Liverpool won the replayed Semi Final to meet neighbours Everton in the final – the third all-Merseyside Final in just five years. The usual FA Cup Final song was spurned in favour of a Stock, Aitken and Waterman produced tribute cover of Gerry & the Pacemakers track ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’ performed by Gerry Marsden, in conjunction with fellow Merseyside born stars Paul McCartney, Holly Johnson and The Christians.  There had been no TOTP performance, though the video was shown for the three weeks in which it held the number one spot in the UK Singles Chart. 

In 1990, for the first time in seven years an FA Cup Final went to a replay.  This meant that week’s edition of TOTP was to be moved to a Friday night for one week only.  It would also be a World Cup year, John Barnes however got his chance to record another rap in 1990, with Manchester Electro outfit New Order who agreed to perform England’s official Italia ’90 World Cup song, called ‘World in Motion’.  The song cut with the grain of the Acid House epoch and as stated by New Order’s Stephen Morris: ‘it did come at a bit of a turning point for football. Until that point it was all very laddish. After ‘World in Motion’ everybody got a bit loved-up with it’.  By the time the song reached number one, the England side were already in Italy preparing for the finals.  Paul Gascoigne and John Barnes were interviewed by TOTP host Mark Goodier, before the video was shown.

The song remained at number one for a fortnight, before former Watford Chairman Elton John bagged his first ever solo UK number one by knocking the song off of the top spot.  For one week, TOTP would be pushed out of its Thursday night slot again to cover England’s deciding group phase fixture with Egypt, where a 1-0 win saw England through to the last sixteen as group winners.  England progressed as far as the Semi Finals, where Gazza’s tears marked a watershed moment for the English game, seemingly reversing the horrors of the 1980s.  The aftermath saw ‘Gazza Mania’ break out across the country.  On the back of his new found fame, Paul Gascoigne released a single, performing a rap version of ‘Fog on the Tyne’ with a ‘revisited’ version of Geordie folk group Lindisfarne that reached number eleven in the charts.  Over the Christmas period, Gazza released a follow up called ‘Geordie Boys (Gazza Rap)’, which reached number thirty one.  This led to the song’s video shown on TOTP in the first week of 1991.      

It’s after thought that the Italia ’90 World Cup and ‘World in Motion’ suddenly made the previously cringe-worthy Football song fashionable.  There was however a four year gap before any football related tunes became became big enough hits to qualify for a TOTP appearance.  The next was after the creation of the breakaway FA Premier League and the rise of Britpop/Cool Britannia.  Man United decided to cash in on their return to title winning prominence and Premiership/FA Cup Double, by releasing ‘Come on You Reds’ with Status Quo, based on the tune to ‘Burning Bridges’ by the latter.


The song became the first ever UK number one single by a British club side, with TOTP featuring the song’s video.  Man United returned to the FA Cup Final a year later, as well as returning with another Cup Final tune, which was a rap with an artist called Stryker called ‘We’re Gonna Do it Again’.  It reached number six in the charts, but Man United lost the FA Cup Final and finished the season trophy-less.  TOTP co-host and comedian Richard Herring cheekily remarked on their 1995 losing streak on this TOTP countdown, in the video below. 

One element of Football becoming ‘cool’ again was the creation of shows for the post-pub audience, such as Fantasy Football League with laddish comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel.  In one sketch, the show sent up the Jimmy Savile era TOTP with a nod and wink reference to the urban myth (later widely accepted as true) of the host’s sexual misdemeanours (something they’d repeated again three years later).  

Baddiel and Skinner would be on the forefront of football’s new found coolness going into the late 1990s.  The provided the official soundtrack to Euro ’96 – the first major international football tournament to be hosted by England for thirty years – in the shape of ‘Three Lions’, their collaboration with Britpop band the Lightning Seeds.  The song’s intro chant of ‘Football’s Coming Home’ went down a storm and went to number one, with the video featured on TOTP.  England however lost to the Germans on a Semi Final penalty shootout.    

There would also be an unofficial offering from Shaun Ryder’s Black Grape in collaboration with Joe Strummer of the Clash and Lily Allen’s dad Keith.  The song was called ‘England’s Irie’ and had been Joe Strummer’s first ever appearance on TOTP after nearly twenty years of shunning the show.  The same episode also featured the Sex Pistols, who as a group also never previously appeared on the show – promoting their upcoming comeback gig at Finsbury Park (where they were introduced by England’s Euro ’96 hero Stuart Pearce) by performing ‘Pretty Vacant’ and ‘New York’.   

During Euro ’96 however came arguably the biggest ever change for TOTP in that it was permanently removed from its traditional ‘eve of the weekend’ Thursday night slot to air instead on Friday Night at 7PM.  It could be argued that the move to Friday Night began a slow painful death for the show over the next decade, as much of its potential audience were often spending Friday night out on the town, rather than watching the show.

The mid to late 1990s had also been the era of the TOTP guest host.  In May 1996, Ian Wright became the first footballer to host the show since Garth Crooks fourteen years prior (though Wrighty became the very first footballer host the show solo).  The former Arsenal forward went on to host the show on three occasions, the last in late February 1997.  His appearances help to bag him his own chat show – ‘Friday Night’s All Wright’ – which ran on ITV for two series.

In 1998, it was World Cup year again.  Never had the Football song been more popular or credible.  The official F.A. endorsed track had been performed by a collective called ‘England United’, which included Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch and members of Britpop acts Space and Ocean Colour Scene.  The song reached number nine in the charts and despite being officially endorsed, England Squad members Ian Wright and Rio Ferdinand referred to it as ‘bollocks’ and ‘rubbish’ respectively.

Scotland’s official track was performed by Scots rock band Del Amitri.  Self-deprecatingly pointing out Scotland’s tendency to not make it past the first round, the track was called ‘Don’t Come Home Too Soon’ and reached number fifteen in the UK singles chart.  Scotland however still came home too soon, failing to make it past the group phase.

As pointed out by their critics, the two officially endorsed tracks were not terrace chant friendly.  Unofficial tracks made up for this deficit.  The story of the charts in June 1998 was a battle between two official tracks, by a couple of old-schoolers when it comes to football tracks.  Keith Allen, who penned ‘World in Motion’ and ‘England’s Irie’ created a collective called Fat Les, who also consisted Blur’s bassist and Arsenal legend namesake Alex James and turner prize winning artist Damien Hirst.  Their track successfully encapsulated both drunken laddishness and a nod to England’s late twentieth century multi-culturalism and called ‘Vindaloo’.


The appearance on TOTP included a remake of their video on the ‘Eastenders’ set with comedian Paul Kaye aping The Verve’s video for ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ from the previous year, along with appearance of comedian and Arsenal fan Matt Lucas.  The song went down well, but stalled at number two.  The number one track for three weeks solid was a 1998 remake of ‘Three Lions’, with the opening line of ‘We Still Believe’ and thirty years of hurt replaced with ‘No more Years of Hurt’.  England however still crashed to a second round exit on penalties.

That would be the last football related TOTP of the millennium.  The first football related TOTP appearance of the twenty first century was ‘Jerusalem’ by Fat Les, for England’s Euro 2000 campaign as a follow up to Vindaloo.  This included an appearance by comedians Michael Barrymore and Roland Rivron.

In 2001, Belle and Spurling honoured England’s qualification to the following year’s World Cup with the first non-English boss of the English national side with the track ‘Sven, Sven, Sven’.  The pair followed it up the following year ahead of the finals with an ode to the England captain of the day: ‘Goldenballs (Mr Beckham to You)’.

The biggest ‘football’ related hit from the 2002 World Cup had been a JXL re-mix of the long forgotten Elvis Presley track ‘A Little Less Conversation’, which along with coinciding with the twenty fifth anniversary of Elvis’s death was also used in a Nike advert featuring Eric Cantona and several World Cup stars.  It kept off the top spot the Oasis track ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’, used as the soundtrack to the compilation of clips used by the BBC after England’s Quarter Final exit to Brazil (with a 9AM kick off, most people in England were hoping for ‘Morning Glory’). 

England’s official song for Euro 2004 would be a reworking of the Farm’s 1990 hit ‘All Together Now’.  The song reached the top ten and the band made an appearance on TOTP.  The biggest football related track that summer would be another reworking – this time ‘Come on Eileen’ by Dexys Midnight Runners – with a track called ‘Come on England’ by a group called 442.  It reached number two in the UK Singles Chart, which meant an appearance on TOTP one week on from The Farm.  It came one day after England’s 3-0 win over Switzerland.  Also on the show that week would be Jamelia, Will Young, Kanye West and Rachel Stevens.  The song however fell short of the top spot, as England suffered an exit to Portugal on penalties six days later.

By November 2004, the ratings for TOTP had dwindled to under three million.  The BBC made the decision to drop the show from its prime time slot and move it to Sunday evenings on BBC2 as of July 2005.  A clip of 442’s ‘Come on England’ was repeated two years later in June 2006.  This turned out to be the very last football related appearance on the show.  After declining ratings, a decision that month was made to axe TOTP for good, with the final episode airing on 30th July 2006.  Christmas specials remain, showing all of the previous year’s biggest hits.  Repeats of the show also remain a cult hit on BBC4, despite the controversy which hit the show amid the Savile revelations in 2012.


There have also been several calls to revive the show, though each has amounted to zero.  However - even if the show still been in existence today - with the kind of salaries which footballers now earn, coupled with the collapse of revenue reaped from recorded music, it would be extremely difficult to imagine many modern day footballers wishing to embarrass themselves by pretending to be pop stars for a few extra quid like Chris Waddle did in 1987 (on the bright side, maybe that’s one less thing to bemoan about modern footballers or modern pop music!).

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The Box Set for 'Round Ball on the Square Box' can be found here

*Published July 31st 2017