Along with the general excitement of there being an international tournament, one of the things everyone in the UK looks forward to is getting their first sight of the intros for the BBC and ITV coverage. These can become iconic, intrinsically linked to the glorious events on the pitch, or in some cases totally forgotten.
The Euros intros are a bit of a mixed bag. They’re not as iconic as the World Cup ones – no Nessun Dorma, Pavane or Sing Sing Africa. We never got Des Lynam reciting a poem over the ITV Euro 2000 intro music like he did for the BBC at France 98.
So i thought I’d take a look back at the two big UK channels’ efforts from recent tournaments and see who comes out on top. I’ve only gone back as far as 1992 as it’s the first tournament that I can find an intro from both channels on YouTube.
So let’s go!
Euro 92 🇸🇪
First things first, I know it’s slightly anachronistic to call this Euro 92 – the “Euro” branding didn’t come in until England four years later. But it’s catchier than calling it “The UEFA European Football Championships 1992” so let’s just go with it.
This tournament was almost unrecognisable from the one we know today. There were only eight teams, and as the last tournament before the backpass rule came in, Denmark spent most of their shock win over Germany in the final rolling the ball back to Peter Schmeichel.
Considering that two years previously the BBC’s opening for Italia 90 basically rewrote the rule book for what one of these could be, it’s pretty disappointing to see they didn’t really bother to do anything special for the Euros.
Ode to Joy playing over a few action shots with the flags of the competing nations in the background isn’t the most inspiring choice.
BRING THE CHEESE!
This is a quite amazing piece of music – seemingly used for ITV’s domestic football coverage in the early 90’s as well. You Are The Number One by Union is a brilliant slice of early 90’s cheese pop featuring the best use of the saxophone this side of Father Ted’s My Lovely Horse.
There’s a bit more effort put into the graphics of this one too, although the eagle-eyed viewer will spot that they never got round to replacing the Yugoslav flag with a Danish one. Presumably that kind of thing was a lot harder to fix at short notice in 1992.
ITV’s theme tune is definitely a guilty pleasure. They deserve the win just for that, but their graphics are better too.
Euro 96 🏴
The summer football came home! And then left again. As the first international tournament I have a clear memory of watching large amounts of, I can sometimes be a bit misty-eyed about Euro 96, but in reality the first 16 team Euros weren’t all that.
Lots of the group games were poorly attended, the quality of football declined in the knockout stages as the Golden Goal rule failed to encourage teams to be more attacking and instead lead to four of the seven knockout games going to penalties. Still, England fell in love with its national team again, underdogs Croatia and the Czech Republic endeared themselves to almost everyone and the Germans, despite an ageing squad weakened by injuries during the tournament, walked off with the trophy.
Ode to Joy again! Maybe Euro 92 was so unmemorable that someone at the BBC thought no one would notice if they just reused the same theme music.
At least they’ve put a bit of effort into the visuals this time, although they are undoubtedly a bit strange – aerial shots of the stadiums used in the tournament with clips of the competing nations shown where the pitch would be.
The image of a giant Craig Brown superimposed on Hillsborough is something that will stay with me for a long time. Whether I want it to or not.
An instrumental version of Jerusalem is a good choice as the music and while the graphics look a bit clunky today, we have to give them the benefit of the doubt.
It takes the viewer on a tour of English landmarks, mixed in with the usual clips of players in action before finishing up at the old Wembley Stadium.
Another point for ITV I think. Can’t really overlook the BBC recycling the theme music and the visuals are a bit lazy.
Euro 2000 🇳🇱 🇧🇪
Euro 2000 was arguably one of the best tournaments ever. Zidane was at his magisterial peak for France, an Italy side weakened by pre-tournament drop-outs almost pulled off a huge upset, a Figo-inspired Portugal were arguably the team of the tournament until a meltdown against France in the semi-final and Yugoslavia v Spain turned out to be one of the best games ever.
This is kind of a spiritual sequel to the iconic World Cup 1998 title sequence, taking place in a museum this time rather than a restaurant with the exhibitions forming the backdrop to the footage from past European Championships and clips of some of the top current players. I can’t really explain why, but I really like the bit with the table football players coming to life and moving.
The music is Canto Della Terra by Andrea Bocelli and it is a strong choice, even though it doesn’t really have anything to do with the Netherlands or Belgium.
Confetti is very much the theme here. It opens with people throwing some in the form of miniature flags, and it is present in the background of the shots of Dutch and Belgian landmarks as well as some of the player shots.
I can only imagine that this video is taken from ITV’s coverage of an England match as Kevin Keegan, clips from their play-off against Scotland and even some 1998 World Cup footage dominate the middle part of it, while they also use some footage from the early games of the tournament as well instead of delving into the archives.
I like the music here too, a section of Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, even though like the BBC effort it’s not really related to either of the host nations.
A first win for the BBC. Musically the two are well-matched, but I think BBC has much better visuals.
Euro 2004 🇵🇹
2004 was definitely the year of the underdog in European football. Ask the likes of Deco, Ricardo Carvalho Maniche and Paulo Ferreira who, fresh from being part of José Mourinho’s shock Champions League winners Porto, fell victim to an even bigger shock by losing the final to an implausibly negative Greek team. Elsewhere many of the traditional contenders underperformed – Germany, Spain and Italy all exited at the group stage, while the Czechs were easily the best team until they were felled by a Greek silver goal in the semis.
After using Faithless for their 2002 World Cup theme, the BBC stayed contemporary with Basement Jaxx for Euro 2004. Not particularly Portuguese but it works well in a fun intro featuring giant players kicking the ball around iconic Portuguese landmarks mixed in with the obligatory archive footage. The bit featuring Michael Owen looking directly at the camera is rather creepy though.
I must say that until I started researching this, I had absolutely no memory of what ITV used as their intro for this tournament.
Weirdly it shares a few similarities with the BBC one with archive footage of players (regularly sized this time) superimposed onto various Portuguese backdrops. Alas the music is utterly forgettable.
A pretty clear victory for the BBC this time.
Euro 2008 🇦🇹 🇨🇭
A summer mercifully free of the words “And now we go over to the England camp” produced an excellent tournament. The Dutch initially dazzled before being put out by a rampant Russia, Turkey kept coming back from the dead, Germany were extremely resilient, but eventually the honours went to a wonderful Spain team, who finally shook off years of underachievement to come good.
This is a novel one! Totally different to anything we’ve seen before, the intro is completely animated, featuring star players from the major nations (and for some reason Marco Van Basten, the Netherlands’ coach rather than one of their big players) and landmarks from the host cities.
The music, an updated version of Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 by Unkle, is great too.
ITV went for some Mozart too, but in a more traditional fashion with Welsh Opera singer Natasha Marsh performing the Queen of the Night aria from The Magic Flute. The intro features the singer and an orchestra performing mixed with shots of classic Euros matches, all in a slightly gold-tinged shade.
This is one of the closest so far, but I have to give it to the BBC. One of the most original intros so far, combining great music and some pretty cool animation.
Euro 2012 🇵🇱 🇺🇦
Spain’s reign continued in Poland and Ukraine amid growing accusations of them being boring. Meanwhile both hosts crashed out in the group stages, Roy Keane went mental about Irish fans having a good time while their players lost all three group games, England won their group but were panenka-ed out by Pirlo and Italy who went on to shock Germany in the semis before ultimately collapsing against Spain. All-in-all, an enjoyable tournament.
Upon tuning in for the first BBC game of the tournament, imagine my disappointment when I saw that their intro was literally just the same as the trailer they had been running for the previous few weeks.
The music is a bit leftfield, a section of the track Escape by Craig Armstrong (originally from the 1999 film Plunkett and Macleane) rather than something distinctively Polish or Ukrainian and there’s nothing really special about the visuals either – CGI renditions of the badges of the various competing countries. It all feels a bit sub-Game of Thrones. And it’s really short too.
Argh! The creepy models will give you nightmares for months. A mixture of current players, classic players and Roy Hodgson stare back at you with dead, unfeeling eyes with a few clips playing in the background.
The music is at least more appropriate than the BBC version, using Ukrainian composer Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf theme.
Can I put this one down as a 0-0 draw? If I had to, I’d give a slight edge to ITV for actually bothering to come up with something original, but I really can’t condone those creepy models. Honestly, this was the most disappointing one so far.
Euro 2016 🇫🇷
The summer of 2016 is maybe not the most fondly-remembered tournament, outside of Portugal, Wales, Iceland and of course, Northern Ireland. The tournament was expanded to 24 teams for the first time, but in many respects the quality of football was down from the previous few tournaments and the fact Portugal, who only won one match in 90 minutes over the course of the whole tournament, ended up winning wasn’t really the best advert for the new format.
This one is pretty good, it’s got an unmistakably French sound to it and it goes well with the very modern visuals, which combine notable landmarks with action shots of some of the key players involved.
Plus I literally can’t watch it without smiling when big Josh Magennis appears!
What is it with ITV and uncanny valley CGI renditions of players? The idea is actually pretty good – it’s based on classic French Tourism posters for each of the host cities – and the music, La Mer by Charles Trene, adds a bit of class to the proceedings but the animation is just weirdly off-putting.
It also loses a point for not prominently featuring a Northern Ireland player (I’m petty like that) I think one of the green-shirted figures behind Bale is supposed to be Jonny Evans, but can’t really be sure. Anyway, it’s a no from me.
One of the easiest ones to pick. BBC all the way.
Euro 2020 🇪🇺
A pan-European tournament represents a special sort of challenge for the people tasked with coming up with the Euro 2020 title sequences. No specific national characteristics to lean on, no composer from the host nation for an obvious soundtrack choice. At least both companies resisted the urge to dig out “Ode to Joy” again
The BBC have gone with an entirely animated intro for the third time in the last four European Championships, this time adopting a comic book style aesthetic illustrating key players and landmarks along with graffiti slogans.
I like the art style, but they’re very clearly caught between focusing on the teams and the host cities and there are a number of inconsistencies. Why are Parisian landmarks featured when it isn’t one of the host cities? The Spain screen features landmarks from Madrid and Barcelona but not from the actual host city Sevilla.
The theme music comes from 90’s dance duo The Chemical Brothers in the form of their track The Darkness That You Fear. Not being an expert in their discography, it could have been released at any time in the last 30 years without me actually being aware of it, so I suppose the fact it charted in April this year is some consolation to me.
Quite fittingly considering the events of the last 16 months, ITV’s title sequence is set in and around a family home.
It’s starts off with kids playing football in the back garden and running through the house which gradually becomes more football-ified (not a word but I can’t think of an actual one which fits better) with the family cat turning into a roaring lion, posters featuring players appearing on the walls and grass growing everywhere until the whole family sits down on the sofa to watch the game pitch side at Wembley.
Yes, it does have yet more dodgy CGI depictions of players, but they are sparingly used and I can forgive that this time for the lovely reference to Marcus Rashford’s campaign for free school meals.
The music, Michael Kiwanuka’s You Ain’t The Problem, has a couple of catchy hooks in the “la la la la” bits and the delivery of the title itself, perfect for the shortened version when coming back from an advert break.
The Result: It’s not a vintage year by any means but I’m giving the win to ITV. It’s just a bit more original and inventive than the BBC one and the music is better too.
BBC 4.5 – 3.5 ITV
So a narrow win for the BBC in the end. Overall, I’d say they had my two favourites (Euro 2000 and 2008) and a higher standard overall. As much as I love the music for Euro 92, ITV’s good efforts just aren’t as memorable and visually, their most recent ones have disappointed with their use of strange-looking CGI.