"Gazza had the rhythm, everything, but you cannot understand one word of what he’s saying": the making of New Order's classic England anthem World In Motion

New Order and the England team in 1990
(Image credit: Chris Grieve/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

John Barnes’ rap towards the end of New Order’s England anthem World In Motion airlifted an already-classic football song into the stratosphere, former Liverpool winger Barnes delivering a note-perfect rap as nimble as his fleet-footed dribbling. But it could have been so different, as a recent episode of the podcast Transmissions: The Definitive Story Of Joy Division and New Order demonstrates.

Comedian and actor Keith Allen, who went on to create another classic footy anthem in Vindaloo, was co-writer on World In Motion and he recalled the chaotic attempts to get it written and recorded as well as the less-than-impressive attempts of other members in England’s 1990 World Cup squad to nail the pivotal rap. He said it was former Liverpool player Craig Johnston’s idea to stick a rap in the track. “I thought, ‘Oh, I better write a rap then’.”

The roguish Allen was determined to sneak some innuendos into the lyrics, and he managed it. “If you break it down, most of it is either homosexual innuendo or drug taking innuendo,” Allen says. “You've got to hold and give and do at the right time. You can be slow or fast, but you must get to the line.’ t's all about referencing drugs and homosexual activity. I always wanted ‘It's one on one’ which was the big thing of the day, ‘Are you on one? Are you on one?’”

New Order drummer Stephen Morris added that the most surreal moment of the recording was getting the team involved. “I thought we'd get away with just doing the song,” Morris said. “But eventually it was kind of like, ‘Now you've got to get the squad in to do the traditional shouting’. It turned out they were of the same opinion as me that football songs were shite and why are we doing this? So they all had to be bribed to turn up.”

The problem was, Allen continued, that no-one had thought to check whether anyone in the England squad could sing or hold a rhythm. “Steve McMahon rapping...” he recalls. “It's a joy to behold on many levels. One, it's completely arrhythmic, two it's toneless. And three, it reminded me of monks in the medieval times, intoning ‘You’ve got to hold and give, do it at the right time.’ Jesus Christ…”

Gazza had a go at the rap and impressed the future-Fat Les man. “Who arrives late but Gazza in a Merc,” he recalled. “I watched him drink three bottles of champagne in two hours. So we get Gazza in and the first thing he says, “Do you see this pop cover?’ -  it's a piece of nylon on a round frame that stops your voice popping – ‘Fuckin hell, Beardo, your wife’s knickers are here in front of the mic!’ It's like, ‘Oh, here we go!’ So then he starts… and he hits it just like that! He's got the tempo! He's got the rhythm, everything! Bang on it. But you cannot understand one word of what he’s saying. “

And then up stepped John Barnes to save the day, helping to usher World In Motion to classic status. Have a dive into what could’ve been by listening to Gazza’s attempt below:

World in Motion - Gazza Raps #shorts - YouTube World in Motion - Gazza Raps #shorts - YouTube
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And then, take a real deep dive into the cosmos and listen to Peter Beardsley’s attempt:

World in Motion - Beardsley Raps #shorts - YouTube World in Motion - Beardsley Raps #shorts - YouTube
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Season 2 of Transmissions: The Definitive Story Of Joy Division And New Order will be released in the not-too-distant future. Watch the video for the finished song below and lament that Peter Beardsley never got to share his rapping skills with the world:

New Order - World In Motion (Official Music Video) [HD Upgrade] - YouTube New Order - World In Motion (Official Music Video) [HD Upgrade] - YouTube
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Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.