For 24 years now the solemn and rousing overture and chorus of the Champions League anthem have been the indispensable soundtrack to mid-week football. It might help recall some of your favourite ever moments as a fan.
And for others it could represent the dream of finally seeing your team on club football’s biggest stage. Whatever, when you first hear those strings you know that the football season is now getting into full swing.
And the word is that it gives even the most experienced footballers frissons before the match.
As the Champions League final has become more of a worldwide event, UEFA has had to find new ways to capture the grand tone of the occasion.
So, since 2009 there’s been a live vocal version of the Champions League anthem before each final, usually performed by an international opera star supporting the recorded version.
Ever the slick operators, UEFA makes sure the Champions League anthem is sung in the native language of the nation hosting the big game.
Well, it was it was a bit of a joint effort actually. If you know your baroque classical music or British royal history you might recognise the tune from somewhere else.
That’s because it was adapted from George Frideric Handel’s Zadok the Priest. This was composed as the coronation anthem for King George II in 1727, and has been used at every British coronation since.
The British composer Tony Britten then made a few tweaks in 1992 for the launch of the competition. The theme was recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Choir of St. Martin in the Fields.
With that portentous, baroque style it can be hard to work out what on earth the choir is actually singing, apart from the word, “Champions”.
So if you’ve ever been curious what the lyrics are, here you go. Of course, the part you’ll usually hear is the chorus:
Ce sont les meilleures équipes
Es sind die allerbesten Mannschaften
The main event
Les grandes équipes
Une grande réunion
Eine grosse sportliche Veranstaltung
The main event
Les grandes équipes
Ils sont les meilleurs
Sie sind die Besten
These are the champions
Les grandes équipes
Not much to it is there? These were written when the competition really was the “Champions” League, and not the Champions – plus the other best-placed teams from around Europe’s dominant divisions – League.
The ritual of the live performance began with the tenor Andrea Bocelli in Rome in 2009, and has been going for eight years now, apart from a hiatus in 2013. Let’s talk you through each one, if you don’t mind our philistine appraisal.
So here’s the definitive list:
As the players stepped onto the pitch Bocelli sang Il Gladiatore, which was inspired by the score to the movie Gladiator, appropriate for the venue.
The smoky Peruvian tenor is more of a serious opera star, but if the clips are anything to go by, he was forced to compete with the deafening recorded version of the Champions League anthem, rather than partner it.
This was a bit more like it. The all-girl classical crossover group’s accompaniment sounded a bit like the Sull’aria bit from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro.
You know, the song that Andy Dufresne plays over the speakers in the Shawshank Redemption!
This time two famous German classical performers teamed up. David Garrett you can see bowing away like crazy on his violin. Jonas Kaufmann, described as the “the most important, versatile tenor of his generation” provided the stirring vocals.
If you have to pick a fault with it, you’d say that it’s not easy to pick up Garrett’s violin over the swelling strings of the anthem.
There were no guest vocalists this time, but if you listen closely you’ll hear that the chorus is repeated. This set a trend that would be followed in subsequent finals.
In 2014, the season Ronaldo flexed his abs, it was time for a bit of understatement off the pitch, as the Portuguese Fado singer led the chorus. It was a break from the ostentatious style of previous years.
Beforehand Mariza had described how she had to work with the organisers to find a way to marry the Fado style to the overbearing Champions anthem.
In this performance you could see the singers take a bigger role in proceedings, as they’re elevated on a podium in the centre-circle.
Both of the singers involved are a little more under the radar than those in the past, as Berlin plumped for up-and-coming classical stars.
Nina Maria Fischer is a German soprano while Manuel Gómez Ruiz is a Spanish tenor with a growing reputation in Germany and his home country.
Last season the opening ceremony was expanded, and Alicia Keys became the first artist to perform in a mini-concert during the build-up to the kick off.
Bocelli once again treated the crowd at the San Siro to Il Gladiatore before breaking into a rousing Italian rendition of the famous anthem
In the early years it was difficult for these divas and tenors to compete with the choir and orchestra, but the organisers seem to be doing a better job of getting the mix right with each passing year.
For our money, Nina Maria Fischer and Manuel Gómez Ruiz made a valiant effort in 2015, but Andrea Bocelli’s 2016 performance topped the lot.
Due to the symbolism that accompanies the anthem, disgruntled fans have used it as a chance to air their grievances with UEFA before matches.
In 2015 Barcelona fans jeered the anthem at the Camp Nou.
This was because the governing body had previously fined the club after Los Cules had unfurled the Estelada, the Catalan independence flag at matches.
Mild political statements are frowned upon by UEFA, even more than racist abuse it seems.
Ludicrously, voices within UEFA have threatened to come down on other booers with an iron fist.
Manchester City fans have never really warmed to the competition, due to what they see as inconsistency in UEFA’s disciplinary system and lax attitude to racism. At the Etihad the anthem is greeted by withering jeers.
There were suggestions that UEFA were going to fine the club for this infraction, but thankfully good sense prevailed.
So as we enter the second quarter of a century, this grand piece of music continues to herald club football’s biggest event.
For the Arsenal fans among us, it might one day be associated with a trophy. Well, you can’t blame them for dreaming, can you?
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