Euro 2012 will be upon us soon, which means lots of national anthems (and football). We blurt out national anthems with pride at sporting events, the perfect opportunity show some patriotic zeal. Of course, all national anthems are ridiculous – an attempt to summarise a nation and its people in a brief verse. How does that work when populations are increasingly diverse and multicultural? Who cares, this isn’t a Guardian editorial. I like national anthems, which is why I feel so cheated by England’s dire offering.
It’s a song about a monarch, and nothing else. It says nothing of this nation. Liverpool fans booed the national anthem ahead of the FA Cup final and were accused of treason by one prominent Chelsea blogger. Treason, for booing a song? Makes you wonder what kind of political ideology that Chelsea fan would like to see ruling England. It might seem trivial, because to a lot of football fans the national anthem is just that – an anthem – something to bind the support together before the match begins. At international fixtures it’s simply a contest as to who can sing theirs the loudest, although if you happen to be playing England, expect some boos in return.
But, although England fans can make a bit of noise, it always feels like the anthem is lacking a bit of genuine emotion. The same could not be said of a Welsh crowd singing Land of My Fathers. Just have a read of this translation of the opening verse and Chorus:
This land of my fathers is dear to me
Land of poets and singers, and people of stature
Her brave warriors, fine patriots
Shed their blood for freedom
Land! Land! I am true to my land!
As long as the sea serves as a wall for this pure, dear land
May the language endure for ever.
Now, compare that to:
God save our gracious Queen
Long live our noble Queen
God save the Queen
Send her victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the Queen
In seven short lines, the Queen is mentioned four times. While the Welsh are singing about poets and singers and warriors, we’re singing about a family that own a lot of land. En-ger-land! Even if you’re a huge royalist, you cannot deny it’s a dreary anthem, a prolonged grey drone.
The problem is, you can’t engineer this stuff overnight. You can’t really engineer it all, national culture evolves slowly, and England’s is what it is. We could have a new anthem, but it’d probably be such a contentious project, we’d end up with something farcical that nobody liked. So, for the very foreseeable future, we’re stuck with what we’ve got. Sigh. Here are some examples of how national anthems can be done:
Basing this selection purely on appreciation for the fact that Brazil are cocky enough to open with a lengthy intro. With further consideration, you could conclude this is a terrible anthem, given that it’s all over the place and has about twelve different parts. However, I think this is deliberate – they’re settting their citizens a challenge. I’m also impressed by the tempo, you’d feel a sense of achievement just keeping up, let alone singing in tune. However, I think they might have been pushing it with the 2002 World Cup final rendition.
Whoa there! This is absolutely caked in national pride and propaganda, which is hardly surprising, given that it was the anthem for the Soviet Union. Check out the lyrics for the chorus:
Glory to you, our free Motherland,
Age-old union of fraternal peoples,
National wisdom given by our forebears!
Be glorious, our country! We are proud of you!
Too much? Come on, it’s pretty special:
Flower of Scotland
I can’t believe I’m including this. The Scots droning on about how amazing their nation is, again. But, while the Braveheart-esque references to fighting with England are a bit cringe, it’s got bag pipes – and some of these guys look so proud they’re about to burst.
France – La Marsaillaise
What a belter – before the World Cup final in ’98. “Oui! Oui!” says Aimé Jacquet, with wonderfully restrained enthusiasm.
Wales – Land of my Fathers
As discussed above. This is the standard. Here’s a modern version, but this, from 1968, is the epitome of stirring (note – there’s a bit of booing of God Save the Queen before it starts).