Spiffing up soccer with a song — actually, an anthem

Sam Borden of The New York Times tells the tale of how “Champions League” — the anthem composed by Tony Britten specifically for the UEFA Champions League competition — has gained as much popularity as the soccer it introduces since it debuted 20 years ago.

The Lords of European soccer, Borden writes, were seeking an image upgrade after some dark, dreadful years, blotted in particular by the Heysel tragedy at the 1985 European final in which 39 fans were killed:

Craig Thompson, a former managing director at the marketing company, TEAM, said there was a negative perception of European soccer at the time — “there had been a lot of hooligan incidents, fan disasters and all that,” he said — so the aim in creating the Champions League was to “class it up.”

The lyrics are in three languages, and the work is something of a riff from Handel’s “Zadok the Priest.”

Borden notes the original recording was in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields chorus.

“I wasn’t trying to pretend to make a piece of art,” Borden quotes Britten as saying. “I was concerned that it did what it was designed to do.”

Neither did it contain the irritating drums in the clip below, something you thankfully won’t hear when Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich line up at Wembley Stadium Saturday.

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