The song had become the Azzurri’s unofficial anthem and there was no escaping it after the country’s World Cup final win over France in Berlin.
Jack White was enthused, bemused and amused all at once. “I am honored that the Italians have adopted this song as their own,” said The White Stripes frontman. “I love that most people who are chanting it have no idea where it came from!”
Indeed, most Italian fans knew nothing of the song’s origins - let alone its lyrics, as evidenced by the fact that it was most commonly known as the 'Po po po po po po po' song. So how exactly did 'Seven Nation Army' become the theme for the Azzurri’s 2006 World Cup campaign?
It all started in Milan three years previously. On October 22, 2003, Club Brugge fans gathered in a city bar ahead of their side’s Champions League clash with AC Milan at San Siro. The Belgian brigade was in high spirits and when ‘Seven Nation Army’ - a popular rock song released that March - came on, they sang and bounced along to the track’s distinctive riff.
As with any good tune, it stuck in the heads of those that had heard it and they continued to belt it out with gusto during the game at the Giuseppe Meazza. Club Brugge pulled off a shock 1-0 win over its Italian opponent and the club’s supporters had themselves a new anthem. However, it was taken from the club on February 15, 2006 when it hosted Roma in the UEFA Cup.
When the Belgians equalized just after the hour mark, the Jan Breydel Stadium erupted to the sound of ‘Seven Nation Army’. Club captain Francesco Totti was immediately blown away.
“I had never heard the song before we stepped on the field in Bruges," the attacker said. "Since then, I can't get the 'Po po po po po po po' out of my head. It sounded fantastic and the crowd was immediately totally into it. I quickly went out and bought one of the band's albums."
Roma’s fans were just as enamored with the tune and instantly embraced it, launching into an improvised version of their own when Simone Perrotta struck a late winner for the visitors. The Giallorossi then brought the chant back to Italy with them and it quickly spread throughout Serie A. By the time the World Cup rolled around in June, supporters all across the country were familiar with the tune (if not the original song).
It had already become a favorite of the Azzurri faithful by the time they were crowned champions on a dramatic night in Berlin. That the melody lent itself so readily to the words ‘Campioni del mondo’ only sealed its status as the national team’s alternative anthem.
Indeed, Totti led some 500,000 revelers in a rendition of the song during the country’s post-World Cup celebrations in Rome. Teammates Alessandro Del Piero and Marco Materrazzi also joined the Rolling Stones on stage in Milan to sing along to the adapted lyrics.
Ahead of this summer's World Cup in Brazil, ‘Seven Nation Army’ remains very much a staple of the Italy supporters' set list. It now belongs to the Azzurri and its followers as much as it does to Jack White.
"Nothing is more beautiful than when people embrace a melody and allow it to enter the pantheon of folk music," the musician said of the song's surprise status among Italy's football fans. “As a songwriter it is something impossible to plan." Seven Nation Army's journey from a Milanese bar to the Olympiastadion in three years proves just that.
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