A Brief History of Dubious Soccer Songs

The tradition goes back much further than “Haaland (Ha Ha Ha)"

June 9, 2023 6:30 am
Soccer songs
Which tune will you be humming as you root for your favorite soccer team?
Danica Killelea

The fact that Manchester City is playing in the Champions League final on June 10 is surely good news for the wags who came up with the song “Haaland (Ha Ha Ha).”

Posted online last summer and credited to CTID, the unspeakably catchy dance track extolls the brilliance of Erling Haaland. He is City’s hulking 22-year-old striker, who has scored 52 goals in 51 appearances this season and generally caused the slackening of jaws all over Europe. On “Haaland (Ha Ha Ha),” a pulsing beat and chintzy, zooming synthesizers push a chorus of matey male voices as they repeat the refrain and a few lines of of doggerel for three minutes, intercut with a middle break that owes a clear debt to the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.”

Like soccer itself, sports songs aren’t much of a thing in the United States, unless we count something like “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” the Chicago Bears’ wince-inducing 1985 single. Sure, there are occasional novelty songs about baseball players, and plenty of hip-hop tracks drop references to star athletes. Elsewhere in the world, however, sports songs — specifically soccer songs — are a bigger deal.

Indeed, while “Haaland (Ha Ha Ha)” has the benefit of timeliness as Manchester City prepares to face Italy’s Inter Milan Saturday in Istanbul, it is nowhere near the only song celebrating the top teams and players of the world’s most popular sport. As any soccer-obsessed eight-year-old with access to the Spotify search bar has discovered (hi, Charlie), plugging in your favorite player’s name is likely to unearth a trove of soccer-themed music, of varying quality. These aren’t the official club anthems, like Inter’s “Pazza Inter Amala,” or the numbers that fans traditionally sing at matches: Liverpool supporters and “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” for example, or Man City and “Blue Moon.” These are songs expressing specific adulation, general mockery or, sometimes, both at once. 

One example, dating back to the mid-’80s, comes from the Spanish rock group Glutomato Ye-Yé and their tongue-in-cheek “Soy un socio del Atletí” (one possible translation: “I’m an Athletic Supporter”). Supposedly co-opted from the hymn of the Spanish Legion, a military order with right-wing connotations in Spain, the decidedly leftist Glutomato Ye-Yé packed the madcap song with insider references for fellow, er, supporters, along with the occasional allusion to the band’s own catalog.

A decade later in the UK, singer Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds teamed with comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner on “Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home),” written to commemorate England hosting the Euro 96 tournament. The song, a maudlin Brit-pop tune that reached No. 1 on the singles chart in England, captures the sense of soccer fatalism that permeates English fandom.

“Instead of writing an idealized or triumphant song, like most of the ones beforehand, with their visions of winning the cup, this time more than any other time, we decided to write a song about assuming that we, England, were going to lose,” Baddiel told The Guardian in 2021. “Because that’s what experience had taught us. ‘Three Lions,’ really, is a song about magical thinking. About assuming we are going to lose, reasonably, based on experience, but hoping that somehow we won’t.”

Spoiler: they did. Yet the English women’s team finally brought football home last year by winning the 2022 Euros, prompting Baddiel to float the idea of retiring the song.

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Though soccer teams are occasionally the subject of songs, more often the players get top billing — lots of players, past and present. David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Roy Keane, Robert Lewandowski, Neymar Jr., Diego Maradona, Pelé, Wayne Rooney and Zinedine Zidane, among many, many others, are the subjects of celebratory songs, in various languages, often of dubious musical value. There are also tracks lauding (and poking fun at) Cristiano Ronaldo, the glory-hogging striker now playing in Saudi Arabia after star turns at Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus. Just as many songs embrace his chief rival, Lionel Messi, the longtime Barcelona goal machine who has spent the past two seasons at Paris Saint-Germain in France. 

One of those, “La Cumbia de Leo Messi,” offers a capsule history of the diminutive player’s career up through the end of 2013, which is when Guyi Campodónico wrote it in advance of the 2014 World Cup. Though Campodónico is a few years older than Messi, 35, each moved to Spain from their native Argentina around the same time. Campodónico felt a sense of pride, and also kinship, as he watched his compatriot make his way in a new country, developing from an undersized 13-year-old into perhaps the greatest soccer player of all time. As a singer and songwriter (he’s also a Latin dance teacher, all through his Mundo Guyi platform), Campodónico wanted to capture what Messi means to Argentinians, in part by using what is said to be Messi’s favorite rhythm, the cumbia. Campodónico also wanted to avoid the jokey novelty-song sensibility of a lot of soccer-themed music. 

“It wasn’t a joke — on the contrary, it was about love, the love of Messi,” Campodónico says in Spanish from Madrid. 

If we’re being honest, that’s surely the crux of all of these soccer-related tunes: they’re love songs. They’re a way for supporters to express how they feel about their teams, their favorite players and the camaraderie and community they find with fellow fans. CTID, the person or team behind “Haaland (Ha Ha Ha),” couldn’t be reached to weigh in on that idea (in fact, CTID seems not to otherwise exist), but another musical Man City fan said it sounded right to him.

“They are not love songs in a traditional sense, but love of one particular tribal thing in the club and the hearts of all City fans,” says Paul Hand, whose Manchester City-themed output includes tunes about Haaland, the winger Bernardo Silva, former striker Sergio Agüero and, on “We’ve Got Guardiola,” the team’s exacting coach. There’s also “Oh Kevin De Bruyne,” which consists in its entirety of the phrase “Oh, Kevin De Bruyne” repeated in time with the anthemic riff of “Seven Nation Army.”

Groups of City fans often chant Hand’s songs at matches — there’s even a YouTube clip of Pep Guardiola pumping his fist along as the club’s supporters serenade him after an away victory — which the singer says is the whole point.

The songs “are born out of love, passion from the loyal supporters of the club,” says Hand, who works with Manchester City and often performs outside the club’s Etihad Stadium on match days. “It’s a community, and from the fans for the fans.”

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