The playing of national anthems before international football matches is a long-standing tradition of the game.
Players line up on the sideline for what is effectively one final rousing gesture before battle commences on the pitch.
For some – players included – the national anthem stirs up emotions and singing it is an essential component of international football. Others respectfully observe the moment in silence, while the odd few may even dislike it.
Here, Goal takes a look at one in particular: that of England.
England football team national anthem
The England team uses a variation of ‘God Save the Queen’ as its sporting anthem for international matches.
Officially God Save the Queen is the national anthem of the United Kingdom, but it has been synonymous with England since it first appeared.
Generally speaking, only the first verse of God Save the Queen is used, which means that it falls within FIFA’s regulations regarding national anthems, which dictate that each team’s anthem should not exceed 90 seconds in length.
The song tends to be used when the nation is represented in sporting endeavours but there are some exceptions. The England cricket team, for example, uses ‘Jerusalem’ as its anthem.
‘God Save the Queen’ lyrics in full
God Save the Queen (sometimes God Save the King) was adopted as the British national anthem in 1745 and it has remained so to this day.
The song is an ode to the sitting monarch and calls for the divine preservation of his or her reign as well as the demise of their foes.
The original lyrics referred specifically to the then British monarch King George II and a number of versions, including some of a more militaristic hue, have appeared through the years.
However, the song has since been standardised and you can see that version in full below.
God Save the Queen
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!
O Lord our God arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall:
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix:
God save us all.
Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause,
To sing with heart and voice,
God save the Queen!
Controversy & alternative England anthems
In football the United Kingdom is represented by four national teams: England, Northern Ireland and Wales. However, only the England and Northern Ireland teams use the British national anthem before games, while the Scotland and Wales teams have their own unique national anthems – ‘Flower of Scotland’ and ‘ Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau ‘ (‘Old Land of My Fathers’).
With Scotland and Wales both adopting separate, distinct anthems for sport, England’s use of the British national anthem – which officially encompasses the entire UK – has been an occasional talking point among politicians, supporters and athletes alike.
The question has been raised on a number of occasions and in 2016 a motion put forward by Labour MP Toby Perkins, calling for a uniquely English national anthem to be adopted, was debated in the British parliament. Perkins observed that God Save the Queen before England games “reflects a sense that we see Britain and England as synonymous.”
A 2007 poll conducted by the campaign group ‘Anthem4England’ saw ‘Jerusalem’ – the song used by the England cricket team – come out on top as the preferred alternative ahead of suggestions such as ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and ‘Rule Britannia’. Others, including Perkins, have suggested that a new song could be specifically penned.
Interestingly, God Save the Queen has sometimes been met with negative response from opposition fans. In 2005, for example, the anthem was booed by Welsh fans in Cardiff ahead of a World Cup qualification game between Wales and England. At the time, then England captain David Beckham remarked: “The players were hyped up for the game anyway but when they heard that, it definitely motivated us.”
In 2017, the Scottish Football Association (SFA) was fined £4,000 by FIFA after fans booed God Save the Queen ahead of a World Cup qualification match between Scotland and England in Glasgow.
Use of God Save the Queen by other teams
As mentioned the Northern Ireland team also uses God Save the Queen as an anthem before international games, but not without controversy.
The anthem is particularly divisive in Northern Ireland because it is not felt to be representative of those individuals from the region who consider themselves Irish and not British.
Former president of the Irish Football Association (IFA) Jim Shaw acknowledged the difficulty of the anthem in a 2016 interview with the Belfast Telegraph .
“If we keep it, we annoy people and we know if it goes, there will be plenty of angry supporters,” Shaw said. “But it’s not for the Irish FA to decide what the national athem of Northern Ireland is. That is for the devolved government at Stormont.”
Being the anthem of the UK, God Save the Queen was also used by the British football team during the 2012 Olympics. However, some players on both the men’s and women’s teams – specifically those from Wales and Scotland – faced criticism from some quarters for not singing.
Elsewhere, while it doesn’t use God Save the Queen, Liechtenstein’s national anthem ‘ Oben am jungen Rhein ‘ (‘High on the Young Rhine’) uses the exact same melody, which has been a source of minor confusion at games against Northern Ireland or England.
Interestingly, Commonwealth nations such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada use God Save the Queen as an official royal anthem, but they each have their own anthems too.