Like the World Cup, the Euros have a history of turning little known players into highly sought after stars with a few dazzling performances over the course of a several weeks. But Euro 2016 has proven different in that the player it has launched to international stardom didn’t actually play a single minute at the tournament.
In their first ever appearance at the Euros, Northern Ireland reached the round of 16 before losing to fellow home country newcomers Wales. Naturally, this success delighted their fans and introduced the team to the world. As Euro 2016 has progressed, more and more people — entire stadiums full of people — have been singing about Northern Ireland striker Will Grigg despite the small fact that he spent the entirety of all four of his team’s matches on the bench.
When the team returned home from France, he received the biggest reception of any member of the squad — bigger than goalkeeper Michael McGovern, who performed brilliantly throughout the tournament, bigger than Gareth McAuley or Niall McGinn, who scored the nation’s two goals, bigger than anyone.
And now, supporters of Bundesliga side HSV have launched a petition urging their club to sign Grigg — not any Northern Ireland player who actually played at Euro 2016 — with nearly 6,000 signatures gathered in just a few days.
Grigg’s popularity was sparked by the song “Will Grigg’s on Fire,” which has become the unofficial anthem of Euro 2016 — usurping the official effort from French DJ David Guetta, who has sold more than nine million albums in his career. The song began with Wigan fan Sean Kennedy on his webcam. He changed the words to Gala’s 1997 hit “Freed from Desire” at the end of this past season to honor Grigg, who scored 28 goals in all competitions during his first season with the club, helping them win League One.
The reworked song quickly gained popularity amongst Wigan supporters and even earned Kennedy a free season ticket from the club’s chairman for “inventing the best chant ever known to man.”
Northern Ireland fans then adopted the chant ahead of Euro 2016 and a full blown club jam was produced.
Upon reaching France, stadiums across the country bounced with cries of Will Grigg being on fire as he sat there and watched his teammates actually, you know, play.
— Telegraph Football (@TeleFootball) June 21, 2016
Germany defender Mats Hummels was even asked if he was terrified by Will Grigg figuratively being on fire during a press conference before his side beat Northern Ireland 1–0 without an appearance from Will Grigg.
— UEFA EURO 2016 (@UEFAEURO) June 21, 2016
The HSV petition specifically cites the song, the “international reputation” Grigg gained during Euro 2016 (despite not playing), and his merchandising potential as reasons to sign him (in addition to his talent, of course). And now, agents across Europe are surely trying to hire songwriters to change the lyrics to ’90s dance hits to promote their clients. Because we live in a time when playing football can only get in the way of a footballer’s rise to stardom. Clearly this is where England went wrong at Euro 2016.