Euro 2020: Why do England fans love singing Atomic Kitten?

Liz Maclarnon, Natasha Hamilton and Kerry Katona of Atomic Kitten

Football fans are known for their love of recycling unlikely pop songs into uproarious terrace anthems.

From “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys to “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes and on through Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Dave Clark Five, Earth Wind and Fire, the Village People and even Joy Division (“Giggs, Giggs will tear you apart!”), no artist is safe from having their most lovingly crafted three-minute masterpiece overhauled into a full-throated chant bellowed by thousands.

Ray Davies and the Kinks must have been utterly stunned when shirtless Newcastle United fans first erupted into their version of “Lola” praising Shola Ameobi and god only knows what Simon & Garfunkel can have made of “Mrs Robinson” being reimagined by Leicester City fans as: “Here’s to you, Danny Drinkwater, Leicester loves you more than you will know.”

The more improbable the source material the better, with perfection surely attained within the last decade when “Freed from Desire” by Gala became: “Will Griggs on fire! Your defence is terrified!”

Your correspondent has vivid memories of being woken in the dead of night in a university hall of residence by an ode to Portugese deity Cristiano Ronaldo to the tune of “My Guy” by Motown icon Mary Wells.

“There’s nothing you can do when he goes past you, Ronaldoooo…”, a fellow scholar crooned beneath the light of a silvery moon.

The England team of course has inspired a fine selection of original compositions, not least “Three Lions” by Baddiel and Skinner, “World in Motion” featuring New Order and John Barnes and “Vindaloo” by Fat Les.

But there must always be room for spontaneity in these things and perhaps there is no stranger England anthem than the repurposing of “Whole Again” by Liverpudlian girl group Atomic Kitten as a profession of love for Gareth Southgate.

Quite why this particular song from the group’s Sven-Goran Eriksson-era album Right Now (2000) should have caught on is anybody’s guess but it certainly did at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where the nation learned to fall back in love with its national team.

So often a disappointment at tournament level in recent years, Southgate’s men dared us all to dream with their valiant charge to the semi-finals (before crashing out to Croatia on penalties).

In that heady summer of three years ago, M&S experienced a run on its range of men’s waistcoats as the England manager found himself an unlikely fashion icon while the nation’s sweltering pubs rang out with the frankly deranged refrain:

“Looking back on when we first met,

“I cannot escape and I cannot forget,

“Southgate you’re the one,

“You still turn me on,

”Football’s coming home again!”

The craze did not go unnoticed by the Kittens themselves, with Natasha Hamilton posting a video of herself singing the new version of their old hit on Twitter and the band apparently considering reissuing the track with the revised lyrics.

But the popularity of “Whole Again” as a football anthem actually predated its adoption by England fans, apparently originating with Celtic fans seeking to pay tribute to Swedish defender Mikael Lustig during the 2017-18 season, the player otherwise best remembered for his woeful peach fuzz moustache.

“Any time something you’ve created becomes widely accepted is humbling and touching,” one of the song’s four credited writers, Andy McCluskey of 1980s synth-pop greats Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, told The Guardian in 2018.

“I wonder who made that first connection by starting to sing it… suddenly everyone was doing it.”

We can expect to hear plenty more of it when England’s belated Euro 2020 campaign gets underway against Croatia on Sunday.

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