How World In Motion changed English football forever

World In Motion by New Order, some say EnglandNewOrder, is indisputably the best football record ever made. You can keep your Three Lions, and your Back Home, and your All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit. It is the best football record ever made because: a) It’s by one of England’s greatest ever bands; and b) It helped change the face of English football – and some might say football in general – forever.

Cast your mind back to the end of the 1989/90 football season. English football was virtually unrecognisable compared to the bells and whistles phenomenon it is today. Liverpool won the Barclays First Division, but they didn’t get into Europe. English clubs had been banned from European competition for five years, and Liverpool for six. The shadow of hooliganism still hung over the game.

It was only a year on from Hillsborough, and the memories of that disaster remained fresh in the mind. Racism was prevalent on the terraces, and football was hardly an attractive place to take the family. And there was very little football on the telly. Armchair fans were restricted to the occasional Big Match and lamentable highlights shows on ITV.

Overall, English football was in a pretty miserable state. There was absolutely no reason to think that the national team would have any success at the World Cup that summer in Italy. There was very little optimism.

And then came World In Motion. New Order, fresh from the success of the Ibiza-infused Technique, teamed up with Keith Allen, Dad of Lily, to record the track. Also roped in were secret rapper John Barnes and various team-mates including Paul Gascoigne and Peter Beardsley (both of whom, legend has it, recorded versions of the rap that never made it onto the final track). Throw in some Kenneth Wolstenholme samples, and the end result was something quite special.

The genius of World In Motion is that, as the rap admits, it ain’t a football song. Yes, there is talk of creating space and beating your man, but really it’s bigger than that. ‘Love’s got the world in motion,’ the chorus proclaims. Love, not football. It’s only at the end, as it swells to a climax, that the song throws in, ‘We’re playing for England, En-ger-land!’, and by then you’ve been drawn in and can hardly help singing along.

World In Motion helped create belief in a national team that arrived at Italia 90 with little to no chance. Peter Hook has said that the song ‘enhanced patriotism’, and that’s true. These were the days before every other car flew a cross of St George, and just about the most commitment anyone gave to showing their support for England was to collect World Cup coins or Panini stickers.

It’s obviously an exaggeration to say that World In Motion propelled England into the semi finals, but it certainly helped. It encouraged us to go out and buy England shirts, have a couple of beers, throw our arms around our mates and holler, ‘En-ger-land’. It encouraged us to love the game again.

What happened next is securely stored in the memory of any football fan. Sir Bobby’s genius, Lineker’s goals, Waddle’s penalty, Gazza’s tears. And that was that. English football was never the same again.

Within a couple of years we had the Premier League and wall-to-wall TV coverage. We had an influx of new talent, sponsors and money. There were new stadiums and kits and haircuts and multi-coloured boots. Not all of the changes were positive, of course, but overall the English game became a bigger and better thing.

And World In Motion was the starting point. Had it not created a surge of pride and goodwill that propelled the England team into the semi finals of Italia 90 who knows where our national game would have ended up? We might still be watching the bloody Big Match. And that would be no good at all.

So now it’s 20 years on, and it’s World Cup 2010, and England have no chance of winning the thing. Or do they? If they hold and give and do it at the right time, surely anything is possible.

Published by Paul Brown

Writes about football, history, true adventure. The Guardian, Four Four Two, When Saturday Comes, The Blizzard, Longreads, Deadspin, etc. Latest book: The Ruhleben Football Association. Twitter: @paulbrownUK