Football anthem that’s set to score for Ireland

Johnny and Mick Cronin with Shane MacGowan
Johnny and Mick Cronin with Shane MacGowan
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A group of musicians have teamed up with Shane MacGowan to record a song for Ireland’s Euro 2012 campaign. Chris Bond reports.

THERE have been some cracking footballing anthems over the years.

New Order’s World in Motion, featuring a memorable rap from John Barnes, and Three Lions by David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, aided and abetted by the Lightning Seeds, are two that spring to mind. There have also been some howlers including Ant and Dec’s woeful We’re On the Ball, which ought to have gone before a court for crimes against music.

But few football songs will have had quite such an unusual genesis as The Rockier Road to Poland, which features Irish band The Aftermath, Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan and a posse of musicians from Leeds.

Johnny and Mick Cronin from The Aftermath came up with the idea last October after the Republic of Ireland football team had just sealed their passage through to the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine – the first time Ireland had reached the finals in 24 years.

The Brothers, who grew up in Leeds before returning to their Irish homeland, wanted to celebrate the team’s success and came up with the idea of remaking the classic Irish folk song, The Rocky Road to Dublin, but replacing the final destination with Poland. With the kernel of this idea in place, the brothers contacted some of their musician friends to see if they wanted to get involved. One of these, Tom Creagh, happened to be good friends with legendary Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan who was invited to join them on the recording of the track. “We decided to do it as a bit of craic, as we do in Ireland,” says Mick.

But having chosen the 19th century song, made famous by The Dubliners and Luke Kelly, they were unsure how to tackle it. “We were out the night before the recording, playing pool with Shane and discussing what we should do,” explains Johnny. “Then Shane put David Bowie’s Jean Genie on the jukebox. Listening, he put down his drink, and said, that’s how to do it. So it’s The Dubliners picking up Bowie’s Jean Genie on The Rocky Road to Dublin – it sounds mad but it works.”

The Cronins, MacGowan and Creagh wrote the lyrics. “It’s a jokey song that’s about drinking and friendship with a bit of a football theme to celebrate Ireland’s great achievement in reaching the Euros,” says Mick.

Although the brothers have played with MacGowan before, this was the first time they’d recorded a song with him. “He’s the real deal,” says Mick. “He’s everything you expect him to be but once he’s in the studio he’s a true professional. He can turn it on just like Frank Sinatra and he’s a walking encyclopaedia of music, from the blues to traditional Irish music and to get to play with one of my heroes was great.”

After the initial recording in January, the Cronins got in touch with some more friends to finish the track including five Leeds musicians – Sean Gavaghan, who plays the accordion and has won various All Ireland Championships, and Irish ex-pats Paddy Flannery, Chris and Kieran O’Malley and Martin Gray.

But having finally recorded the song, they discovered that another group including Danny O’Reilly, Damien Dempsey and The Dubliners were doing a rival version of The Rocky Road to Dublin. Their version, called The Rocky Road to Poland, also features members of the Irish football squad and has become Ireland’s official anthem for Euro 2012.

“We went to press on the same day which was a complete coincidence, we had no idea whatsoever that they were doing a version of the same song and they didn’t know about ours either,” says Mick.

Despite this unlikely turn of events, their unofficial version is proving popular with fans. “It’s gone down great, it’s getting played on the radio stations over here and it’s even got people listening in America and Australia. Our song is a rockier tune, we’ve rocked it up for Ireland.”

And for those musicians like Sean Gavaghan who travelled over to Ireland to play on the track, it’s something to treasure. “To play on the same song as Shane MacGowan is great for someone like me; it’s definitely one to tell the grandkids.”

The Rockier Road to Poland is available for download on soundcloud.

The rocky road of footballing anthems

Shane MacGowan, The Aftermath and their friends may have produced a rollicking good-old fashioned song for the terraces, but not all footballing anthems reach such sonic heights.

England’s official song for the 1998 World Cup (How Does it Feel to Be) On Top of the World, bizarrely featured the Spice Girls and Echo and the Bunnymen and performed about as well as the team.

1998 was a bad year for Scotland, too, with Del Amitiri’s Don’t Come Home Too Soon proving cruelly ironic as the Scottish team failed to win a single match.