The Champions

In 1992 the European Cup became the Champions League. Not only was it the introduction of a new group stage format, but it also gave us a piece of music that would become iconic in its own right.


James: I'm James Parkinson. From 3nil, this is By Association, a show about football and the connection we all share with the beautiful game.


James: In 1992 the European Cup was rebranded as the UEFA Champions League. Along with changes to the competitions format, including the introduction of a group stage, UEFA called for a complete design overhaul.

It was the process that gave us the distinctive “star ball” logo. And of course…..this…..

[ UEFA Champions League Anthem ]

James: Simply titled “Champions League”, the official anthem has become one of the most recognisable pieces of music in world football.


Tony: My name’s Tony Britten. I’m a composer and filmmaker. I composed the Champions League anthem.

James: UEFA commissioned a marketing company call TEAM - that’s Television Event And Media - to carry out the rebrand.

Tony: And so they came to me for some ideas for a proper anthem which would be allied specifically with this new competition.

They knew they wanted something “classical”, in inverted commas. They weren’t quite sure what. They knew they didn’t want the three tenors.

James: But, UEFA were inspired by George Frederic Handel’s Coronation Anthem, Zadok the Priest…..

[ Zadok the Priest audio ]

Tony: They said “oh we like that”. So I thought “Okay, yeah I can use that.”.

So I stole the first few bars of the rising string phrase which you hear in the Champions League Anthem.

Tony: I’m here to say that’s all I did steal, although some unkind people have said it’s an “arrangement” of Zadok the Priest. It’s nothing of the sort, because it’s got nothing else to do with it.

James: UEFA though, were happy with the composition, but they had one more request.

Tony: They said they was quite funny, they said they wanted, um, words. Because I said, you know “what words am I setting”, and they said, “oh, we don’t know.

So I said, “well, give me a clue”. And they said “well, we want something in the three official UEFA languages. English, French and German.” And I said “Oh right, okay, that’s a clue.”

So I just sat down one day and wrote a huge list of superlatives, and employed a linguist to translate them into literal French and German.


James: Apart from some of those initial suggestions, UEFA took a fairly back seat approach, and the entire project was completed in about a month.

Tony: It’s a very interesting illustration of what happens when you let creative people just get on with it and trust them. I’m saying, you know, not just about me but the whole thing came together very quickly because there wasn’t too much interference.

James: For Tony, the trickiest part, wasn’t writing the music but organising different versions for TV broadcasts. Remember this was 1992, long before the digital age.

Tony: Every broadcaster wanted the music on a different format. It doesn’t seem possible now. Now you just send them a file haha.


James: The original Champions League composition was performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, giving the anthem that big classical sound.

Tony: It was trying to get a piece of music which had a kind of, had a sense of grandeur to it. So my job was to make sure there was something that gave that feeling of gravitas but wasn’t too alienating for the average football fan.

James: It’s fair to say the Anthem has become synonymous with the world's most prestigious club competition and earned it’s place in the hearts of fans and players alike.

Tony: You know it means a lot to the players as well as the fans. I mean there’s lot’s and lot’s of examples. I mean most recently, Gareth Bale, bless him, when he went to Real. He said look, you know I want to go to a team where I’m guaranteed of playing Champions League football. I want to stand there and hear that anthem.

James: Why do you think the theme has become so iconic? What is it about it that grips people?

Tony: I think because, it does have a, you know, inverted commas “classical feel”. It means that it’s timeless.

The problem you get with most music you hear, you know underpinning sports programs is it tends to be whatever the latest sounds are, you know. In the end they are, by definition, that sort of popular music is ephemeral. It’s you know, here one year and gone the next year.

James: I have to say, as an Australian who regularly wakes up as early as 4:30am to watch Champions League football, even in those early hours, it still gets me, every time.

Tony: The way the piece ends particularly. You know, it’s kind of very bold and ‘in your face’. It is quite emotional, I mean I’ve seen, I’ve been up close with players over the years when I’ve done the odd on-pitch performance of it.

It’s a moment in the whole process of the match where there is a bit of emotion firing and you know, if I’ve achieved that then it’s job done.


James: This episode was produced by me, James Parkinson. And a huge thanks to Tony Britten.

Music featured in this episode comes from Aerocity, Strange Day, Dexter Britain, Little Glass Men and Chris Collins under Creative Commons.

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  • Champions League anthem courtesy of UEFA