The eternal struggle for title sequence supremacy.

As the 24 teams competing in this summer's tournament prepare to do battle, there is another war on our hands, one that will be settled well before the competitions' close—the battle for the broadcaster intros.

The eternal struggle for title sequence supremacy.

As the 24 teams competing in this summer's tournament prepare to do battle, there is another war on our hands, one that will be settled well before the competitions' close—the battle for the broadcaster intros. I'm sure I'm not the only one who loves these pre-match themes; they bring back warm fuzzing memories of tournaments past before reality douses a cold shower on our pre-tournament optimism. In the UK, covering Euros and World Cups has fallen to BBC and ITV for years. Now in 2021, there's quite a back catalogue to sink our teeth into, so we'll be looking back at the previous tournament intros and deciding which broadcaster won the tournament.

World Cup 1986 - Mexico

We'll start with ITV in Mexico 1986 - I think that's far enough in the past, basically ancient history. Silsoe's Aztec Gold provided the tune, which was apparently so popular with the British public that it cracked the top 50 in 1986. I also feel obliged to say the theme was later adopted by Saint & Greavsie - I know, I'm also too young. The electronic, synth-pop number was accompanied by some stellar mid-eighties graphics with some classic footballing montages sprinkled in for good measure. I won't lie, I wasn't a fan at first, but after pressing repeat for the 20th time, I had to concede defeat to Rod Argent and his delightful tune.

BBC went for a very different feel, a lot more punchy with a grand opening as some Mayan iconography made way for an image of the world cup trophy atop El Castillo. This is our first taste of a key ingredient of tournament intros, something sorely lacking in ITV's entry, some cliched or downright culturally insensitive images to let me know what part of the world I'm being taken to. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the title for the song, even Shazam couldn't track it down, but after its serious opening, it quickly turns into an all-out funk fest with a flurry at the end. The usual montages are aplenty, interestingly the first appearance of Paolo Rossi's iconic celebration seen four years prior. I'm a big fan of both of these, but ITV takes it for me with that glorious synthesiser; all it's missing are Roger Troutman's dulcet tones over the top.

Euro 1988 - West Germany

Apparently, ITV had better things to do in 1988. Literally the same tune as two years prior, basically the same graphics but with West Germany and European Championships instead of Mexico and World Cup. Oh, and of course, some updated, competition appropriate, stock footage. If it ain't broke, I guess.

I couldn't find one for our national broadcaster; I guess they both phoned it in that year. But, to be honest, I would have given it to Aztec Gold again regardless.

World Cup 1990 - Italy

ITV's 1990 intro was a little strange. It felt like they couldn't commit and were stuck between the new hip 90s and classical Rome. This weird combination is shown in Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance theme, with some synth drums in the background. You've also got Michelangelo's statue of David heading a football with World Cup mascot, Ciao, dancing in the background. Probably should have brought back Aztec Gold again, but even that would have found it hard to beat BBC's entry.

BBC turned in an all-time great in 1990. Like we'll see later with France, Italy is prime meat for music and images evocative of the nation. There is no need for subtleties; let's have Luciano Pavarotti and Nessun Dorma, dancing Roman women, Pele, Cruyff, Maradona, and obviously Paolo Rossi. I mean, it's a mix of ingredients that can't fail; this matchup is unfair.

Euro 1992 - Sweden

Oh, ITV, I hear a saxophone! A sweet, sweet saxophone. Union's You are the number one plays as some much-improved graphics wiz past the screen followed by the obligatory montage. It's straightforward, but I'm a fan. I'd also be remiss not to mention the Sega ad just before Union's saxophone kicks in. Some vintage 'of its time stuff' as real-world footage is overlaid by computer game menus and sound effects that sound more like they're from Super Mario than any football game I've played - nice try.

Now I can appreciate what the BBC did here. Unfortunately, it doesn't work, especially when the classic number they decided to go for is German, not Swedish. Ode to Joy is the soundtrack, but the intro lacks any Swedish flavour, something ITV struggled with as well, to be fair. Sadly, it's pretty dull, just the music and montages, not even any graphics. Makes you wonder where my hard-earned taxes were going in 1992.

World Cup 1994 - USA

No complaints here. Gloryland by Daryl Hall and The Sounds Of Blackness! Springsteenesque and the perfect amount of stereotyped USofA - the bald eagle probably gets the most screen time. We do get a little montage at the end, but it's a welcome change not to have them the whole way through. The early parts are dominated by kids with national team colours painted on their faces, clearly hitting on the 'inspiring the new generation' pitch the American's delivered to FIFA. Shame Panasonic couldn't get their grubby MNC hands out of the intro, I mean, really. Minus points for that.

Quick side note before we continue, is anyone else hearing the PS2 loading screen sound in the BBC sport theme - no? Just me? Okay.

You don't normally associate the word brash with the old storied institution that is the BBC, but maybe that's what we Brits thought of our American neighbours back then. It's manic, but I love it. From the off, we get images of the Statue of Liberty, White House, Twin Towers, a helicopter shot of New York harbour, Golden Gate Bridge and on and on as America from West Side Story blares in the background. The montages follow, but when cut to that song, they feel energised and alive. Rodeo, Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, Times Square - it's brilliant. This was a difficult decision because Gloryland is fantastic, but BBC takes it for me in 1994.

Euro 1996 - England

A home tournament, what have you got, guys? Not much; it's pretty poor from ITV. For starters, they have a very sleepy rendition of Jerusalem providing the backdrop to pre-drone drone footage of Hobbiton, I mean an English countryside. This is probably what every nation would think watching our depictions of their exotic lands, but, unless I'm mistaken, ITV is a British company and should definitely have done better - Britpop, anyone? Should have gone with Three Lions instead.

And it's Ode to Joy again from the BBC. They decided against bringing out the British stereotypes, instead going with strange aerial shots of host stadiums with their pitches replaced with - you guessed it - montages. Should have gone with Three Lions instead. No one's the winner; I'm thoroughly unimpressed.

World Cup 1998 - France

After a very shoddy performance in '96, ITV went back to the drawing board and back to basics. Their intro in 1998 was basically a French version of BBC's 1994 entry. In my opinion, you can't go that wrong although it's not as effective but a welcome improvement. Unfortunately, I have to mention the ads. Amazingly, entirely taking up the first 6 seconds of the minute intro. It is, at least, kind of incorporated into the intro as a whole which makes me feel a little better but again, minus points. As for the music, it's pretty annoying. Actually, now that I think about it, the whole thing feels rather vapid and empty. I know I'm a hypocrite, but it just doesn't feel right.

ITV weren't the only ones who needed to step up their game after 1996. Like their rivals, I think BBC's 1998 intro is an improvement, and I actually really like this one. Watching so many of these in a row, you really see the cut and paste - I used to think a lot of time and effort went into these when I was a kid. But it's about how you cut and paste and maybe, most importantly, the music you choose. BBC stuck with the program with another classical number, the glorious Pavane, op. 50 by Gabriel Faure. All of the intro takes place in a French restaurant, which I guess is nice. There are the standard montages, but this time they're 'cleverly' superimposed onto all parts of the restaurant - oh, there's Paolo Rossi again. In truth, it's the music that makes this a winner; the number swells to a crescendo as the camera pans to a stained glass window decorated with the World Cup trophy in its ceiling. An easy victory for the BBC here.

Euro 2000 - Belgium, Netherlands

Honestly, I'm running out of things to say for these entries. I think ideas were a little scarce at this point. It's good, I guess. Standard stuff from ITV in 2000. Classical music, montages, no Rossi, though. Some better graphics and some confetti animation to go with our usual diet of stock footage and badges. Maybe I'm being a little harsh; Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra is pretty stunning and will almost certainly become my new alarm - sorry Succession theme! On the whole, good job.

What was it about the BBC and images projected onto walls and stuff? It's basically the same as France 1998, but this time we're taken through a museum filled with European championship memorabilia. Graphics are again improved, as we're treated to a funky ribbon flowing through the sky and tickets or postcards on the wall going haywire after their 'life forces' connect - I don't know either; it's a bit random. It's the BBC, so obviously, there's classical accompaniment, but it doesn't hit as hard as Benjamin Britten. For that reason, ITV wins here for me.

World Cup 2002 - Japan, Korea

Not since USA 1994 have we had such 'exotic' hosts, and the far east provided some much-needed energy to the formula. For starters, we get some fun new fonts and some distinctly different sounding music. The song, weaving this all together, is called One Fine Day by Opera Babes - what a name. Of course, it's Japan, so there's no chance ITV were going to miss an opportunity to show off a Samurai, though, unfortunately, our brave soldier isn't wielding a Katana. It might have been a little unfair as he appears to be in battle with a footballer in what feels like, to me anyway, a clear homage to Shaolin Soccer. We also get a Geisha and what appears to be an animation of Silk acting like a terrible projector screen for all the montages it displays.

The change of scene worked an absolute treat for the BBC. Not classical here, instead replaced by an upbeat, vibrant tone to match the visuals that blend traditional Japan - sorry South Korea - with this new world infused with some pretty cool looking light trails whizzing through the landscape. I previously lamented their superimposition of images on weird objects; I apologise. I was wrong. When the Maglev train came flashing toward the station and provided the canvas to Michael Owen's blistering run and finish against Argentina in World Cup '98, I was speechless. Nice try, ITV, but no contest here, I'm afraid.

Euros 2004 - Portugal

I admired this effort in 2004, but I think it was too soon. It really was a bold attempt to cut out footballers and place them in everyday Lisbon. But, for the most part, it works, and I imagine in 2004, it would have looked pretty special. The music is also a breath of fresh air. Happy by Max Sedgley gives this a fun, even euphoric feel. They needed to respond after being blown out of the water in 2002, and that's what they did—also, no ads. Well done you.

Clearly, the team at BBC had the same idea, choosing to put footballers through their paces in the toughest of environments. It feels pretty similar to their last entry, the light trails return, and the music was provided by Basement Jaxx - they were down with cool kids by this point. BBC's intro also does the player thing better than ITV. They include this futuristic electricity-like energy force around the players featured and, they're huge. Seeing Henry teleport into the frame like Nightcrawler from the X-Men and then skip over Portuguese rooftops is impressive and still holds up 17 years later. So again, nice try, ITV, but the BBC did it better!

World Cup 2006 - Germany

Our second German edition, well, really the first as both broadcasters phoned it in in '88. For ITV, it was worth the wait. This year's intro was a wonderful ode to World Cup's past, with posters coming to life and slick pop up animations. Clearly, they couldn't get the rights to Bowie's original version of Heroes, but Kasabian's cover doesn't dampen it for me. It's great!

However, in the other corner, it looks like someone got a little complacent over at the BBC or forgot their coursework was due and handed in last year's draft. A couple of effects are good. To be fair, Henry appears on the screen T2 style this time around, but it really does feel like they were treading on old ground. Oversized players in a cityscape, and oh, no, the classical music is back. Not for me, Geoff. After defeat in their last two entries, ITV comes away with a comfortable win.

Euros 2008 - Austria, Switzerland

In a tournament hosted in basically the home of opera, what did I expect? I won't hold against either entry because I think, on the whole, they're both strong. ITV accompanied Natasha Marsh's performance of Queen of the Night with some illustrative effects on our standard montages. I think it works, and Marsh's performance is excellent, which adds some gravity to the whole thing. That being said, it's pretty vanilla and easily forgettable.

It appears these broadcasters operate on a four-year cycle because BBC came out with such a fun intro in 2004. Animated playing cards in a popup style theatre, I understand it's not for everyone. Still, when you sit through dozens of these, it's great to get something original. Our cast of current players and Marco Van Basten, for some reason, take us on a guided tour of the tournament's host cities with Mozart's Symphony 41, performed by Unkle to warm the cockles. Easy win for the BBC.

World Cup 2010 - South Africa

A tournament on a new continent! I can't wait for the cliches. To be honest, it was pretty understated from ITV in 2010. It felt like the focus was on 'the people.' Aside from the very audible lyric in Vusi Mahlasela poignant When you come back, the early parts focus on everyday people with our montage staples relegated to miniatures. The liquid gold effect is pretty cool, and I love the note the whole intro ends on as that same liquid gold effect forms the continent of Africa with the title descending on screen. I think it could have gone very badly, so I understand entirely playing it safe. Solid if nothing else.

The BBC went for a more joyous tone this year. Very light on the graphics and not a lot to remember from the music either - maybe expenses were being investigated in 2010. There's not much to say; montages on walls are gone, I guess. In an unspectacular year, ITV just shades it for me.

Euro 2012 - Poland, Ukraine

In 2012, I think someone over at ITV was hitting it a little too hard. I'm all for different and original, but the puppets in their intro are straight out of Spitting Image. I do like the inclusion of players both past and present, even a manager in Hodgson, who, sorry Roy, looks nightmarish. Ukrainian born Sergei Prokofiev's contemporary version of the Peter and the Wolf theme provides some much-needed warmth. The Game of Thrones-like traversal through European miniature sets is majestic as the number swells. If those puppets weren't so damn freaky, I'd probably love it.

Sorry BBC, this isn't your year. Their intro in 2012 was hollow, lacking in any connection or invention. Most of the piece takes place in a completely CG realm of mythical beings representing the nations whose crest they embolden, sizing each other up for battle. Now I know that sentence sounds pretty exciting, but it reminds me of Questworld in The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, which I doubt is what they were going for. Chalk up another decisive victory for ITV.

World Cup 2014 - Brazil

It was an excellent year for intros in 2014, and in my opinion, ITV hit a winning tone. From the first note of Thiago's Brazil, we are transported into the warm, joyous glow of Brazilian football with the cliched montages spliced with recreations of 'normal people' playing out iconic World Cup moments. It's something we can all remember doing, seeing our favourite players producing something extraordinary and trying to recreate it on the field ourselves. It's brilliant and one of my all-time favourites. Nicely done.

BBC went for a similar joyous tone with Stevie Wonder's Another Star providing a wonderful backdrop to the theme. Unfortunately for me, the images are a bit messy. I was a fan of the Subbuteo inspired figurines that adorn the early parts of the intro and the tour of downtown Rio, as we follow our kid protagonist on his journey to the Maracana. It's pretty good and might have won in a weaker year, but that Thiago song is just magic, so that's three in a row for the ITV team.

Euro 2016 - France

You can tell both broadcasters were taking this battle very seriously by this point, and it shows in the step-up in quality. It was another great year for ITV. The classically French number La Mer by Divers Artistes coolly saunters us through France. First, we depart London on the Eurostar and then meet up with Pogba in a gorgeous vintage whip in Lille. Next, we find Buffon juggling vegetables in a Lyon kitchen, join Bale on the slopes in Saint Etienne, and spot Ronaldo in Nice. Eventually, we meet Rooney in Paris - wishful thinking, I know. Additionally, the art style contributes to making it a delightful experience—another favourite of mine.

As I said, it was a bumper year, and the BBC turned in a stylish classic of their own. Utilising the 'cutting edge' technology that was a fisheye camera lens, we get a fresh take on the old montage. While being transported through Europe as we encounter our key players throughout the intro. The MVP, though, is Izzy Bizu and her stunning version of La Foule. Maybe it's my Eurovision persuasion, but I could listen to this song all day. In all, a very slick, professional iteration of the model. This was probably the closest contest of them all, but maybe controversially, I'm giving the dub to Izzy and the BBC.

World Cup 2018 - Russia

ITV returned to the back catalogue in 2018 and basically repurposed their 2008 intro. A dark sound stage, lots of classically Russian things, namely a ballerina and a ringmaster, with a modern version of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake theme to see us through. It's not bad but not particularly good for me either.

I'll be honest, I wasn't a fan of this one when I first saw it. I think it's because the music does nothing for me, but it allows the visuals to take centre stage on further reflection. The BBC went for an interesting time-lapse effect as we are taken on a journey to St Petersburg. The montages are creatively incorporated with a couple of iPads and even a TV in a Russian granny's front room. They didn't miss a trick with the inclusion of some Russian dolls, either. It could have been a classic with a better musical number, but it's more than enough to triumph over ITV's entry.

After tallying up the scores, I've come out with a stalemate. So to break the tie, I'll declare BBC the victors in Euro '96, although neither were deserving of any points that year. Looking through the comments on some of these videos, it's clear that it's really a matter of taste. I couldn't tell you what makes an intro work, but I just know when I see it. It's been very insightful to see the very obvious formulae that run through all of these entries. There's usually classical music, iconic football montages, probably Paolo Rossi, a journey through a host nation, etc. On the other hand, the broadcaster intro has the fantastic ability to take you back to wonderful tournaments past. I cannot wait to see what ITV and BBC have been cooking up in the extra 12 months they've had on their hands.