‘England 2 Colombia 0’: the story behind Kirsty MacColl’s classic song

Kirsty MacColl
Kirsty MacColl used the game at the 1998 World Cup as a backdrop to her song. Photograph: James Arnold/PA

Football songs tend to be fairly bland affairs, expressions of love for a team, celebrations of communality. More interesting are the songs that take the drama and conflict of football and use it as a backdrop for the kitchen sink dramas and emotional conflicts of real life: songs such as Strachan, by the Hitchers, in which the protagonist avoids engaging with his girlfriend because he’s watching “a programme about art” – the artist being Gordon Strachan, pulling the strings of the great early 90s Leeds United team. The greatest of all these songs is England 2 Colombia 0, from Kirsty MacColl’s 2000 album Tropical Brainstorm.

The titular game at the 1998 World Cup is only a backdrop: the narrator goes on a date to a pub in Belsize Park to watch the game, with a man who turns out to be a deceitful philanderer: “You lied about your status / You lied about your life / You forgot you have three children / You forgot you have a wife. Now it’s England 2 Colombia 0 / And I know just how those Colombians feel.”

England 2 Colombia 0 was shaped by two things. The first was MacColl taking a holiday in Cuba in 1992, which led her into the love affair with Latin America that shaped the music of Tropical Brainstorm. The second was the inadequacies of men, a recurring theme in her writing from first to last (her first hit, 1981’s There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis, set the template). Her collaborator Mark Nevin

told me in 2012: “If you took most songwriters, put all their lyrics into a computer and pressed ‘equals’ you’d get two lines that sum up everything [they’d written] in a nutshell. Kirsty’s would be: ‘All blokes are gonna lie, cheat and let you down.’”

He reckoned the reason for that was her father, the folk legend Ewan MacColl, who had left the family when MacColl was still a small child. “She didn’t talk about her dad much, but it was an underlying thing that coloured the way she saw the world – men would let you down and mess you about,” Nevin told me.

Tropical Brainstorm proved to be MacColl’s last album before she died, killed by a speeding motorboat in the sea off Mexico in 2000. But she left an indelible legacy. And on Tuesday evening, don’t bet against there being preening lotharios in the pubs, taking advantage of the boozy bonhomie to impress their deceitful charms on women looking for some fun, and for those women to later ponder: “Now it isn’t in my nature to ever pick a winner / I always pick a bastard who would have me for his dinner.”