The Story of Pop: 2002 (Chapter 23)

Casting a weekly eye back over the biggest singles on the UK charts of two decades ago every Thursday, this is The Story of Pop: 2002. This week: our first of two entries this series connected to the beautiful game…

  • Artist: Ant & Dec
  • Song: We’re On The Ball
  • Released: 27/05/2002
  • Writers / Producers: Harold Spiro / Anthony McPartlin / Declan Donnelly / Mike Hedges
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #3
  • Weeks on Chart: 11

This year aside (for we will have the unusual multiverse sighting of them in December, due to this year’s FIFA World Cup being held in Qatar, a move made ostensibly to avoid the scorching heatwave conditions that country has in June), if red and white flags are displaying from every car windscreen whilst the pollen count is high and BBQ supplies are plentiful in the supermarkets, then it usually means an international football tournament involving the England team is under way.

For those of us who are listening to and watching the UK singles chart with regular interest, that usually means the chart descends into one of its few silly seasons outside of Christmas, where suddenly the listings are flooded for a solid month with a wave of footie related releases. Almost always, it’s a mixture of the established anthems (“3 Lions”, “Vindaloo”, “World In Motion”) with the sometimes baffling newer efforts that are less likely to become perennial favourites.

As the England squad geared up for their campaign at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, so too were the charts running alive with both old favourites getting another opportunistic re-release, and some that we would love to have been a fly on the wall in the marketing meeting of at record companies when they were green lit. For we are fairly certain no one needed DJ Otzi’s “Hey Baby” mixed in with Five Live commentators praising David Beckham’s left foot. Just saying.

But in amongst the no less than 23 singles being released with some connection to that year’s tournament in the Far East, there was also that year’s FA approved official anthem. The honour of which, in 2002, fell to two Geordie lads that were quickly becoming British TV’s most in-demand pairing.

First seen in 1989 on the Children’s BBC drama series Byker Grove (apologies if you’re now remembering the infamous paintball episode, readers of a certain age. “I CANNAE SEE MAN, I’M BLIND!”), Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly – more commonly known as Ant & Dec – were to eventually break away from the show as a pop duo based around their characters, PJ & Duncan.

From 1993 to 1997, it was a good for a run of no less than twelve top 40 hits, four of which broke the top 10, including probably the most singularly British sounding pop song ever released in the 90s: “Let’s Get Ready to Rhumble”. When the hits dried up, however, their change to their real names and switch to the world of kid’s TV presenting, with their hugely successful run fronting Saturday morning show SMTV Live with Cat Deeley, bought them to a completely new audience.

By 2001 however, they had been signed up by ITV to host the first ever series of Pop Idol, and it was all but apparent that they were about to graduate to the glitzy lights of primetime, which – as two unbroken decades of Best Presenter gongs at the National Television Awards has testified – is a position they have remained in ever since, hosting the likes of Saturday Night Takeaway, Britain’s Got Talent and I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!

But the promise of perennial royalties for recording a potential chant for the terraces was enough to lure them back out of retirement for just one more single release. “We’re On The Ball” is a bit of a mashup of several things; the original chorus was written by Harold Spiro, whose connections to writing football hits were well documented. As a season ticket Tottenham Hotspur fan, he’d written “Nice One Cyril”, a top 20 hit and ode to then Spurs left-back Cyril Knowles in 1973.

Ant & Dec added in additional lyrics, whilst production on the single came from Mike Hedges, better known for working with the likes of Manic Street Preachers, U2 and Travis. It’s a suitably sprinty sounding beat – think Collapsed Lung’s “Eat My Goal” meets The Lightning Seeds’ “Life Of Riley” – with brassy stabs of trumpets punctuating the chorus’ arrival, and half rapped lyrics straight out of the ‘How to write an England anthem’ textbook referencing the team of the time: “A nation reunited / England comes alive / Golden balls is Captain / And Heskey makes it five!”

As well as some cheeky interaction during the middle 8 with bursts of football commentary from John “Motty” Motson, and a promo video that saw them attempt to go to the World Cup in disguise as then gaffer Sven Goran Eriksson and assistant manager Tord Grip, “We’re On The Ball” debuted and peaked at #3, at the time becoming Ant and Dec’s biggest ever single success, a position it would retain in their chart history for the next eleven years.

But as with all football records before it, it’s shelf life beyond the tournament was fairly short lived, and it doesn’t seem to get spoken about in the same plaudits as say, “3 Lions” does today. That said, 2002 proved to not be a vintage year for the England squad, who eventually found themselves knocked out 2-1 to Brazil in the quarter finals, as thirty years of hurt turned into thirty six, so maybe that’s the reason why it isn’t.

However, things did end happily for Ant and Dec in an unexpected way; a repromoted “Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble” shot to number one in 2013 off the back of a performance they did of it on Saturday Night Takeaway with a selection of the bands from the ITV2 show The Big Reunion. But perhaps the biggest song of all with football connections of sorts was yet to arrive on the chart that year. More on that next week…

Don’t forget to follow our brand new playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 2002. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments, Tweet us or message us on Instagram, using the hashtag #StoryofPop2002.

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