Wally meets... The Pukka Pie England Band

Unlike those vuvuzela horns, which sound like a plague of mosquitoes, they won’t make you feel like droning your sorrows.

But when the England Band strike up their umpteenth chorus of the Great Escape in Rustenburg tonight, some of us will wish Steve McQueen had settled for the quiet life in his stalag.

As musicians, the Band’s greatest claims to fame are reaching No.14 in the charts in 1998 and being sponsored by the thinking football fan’s haute cuisine, Pukka Pies.

But their brass ensemble is a better listen than Ant and Dec’s recycled atrocity On The Ball eight years ago - conclusive proof that, as a nation, we are even worse at adopting World Cup anthems than choosing Eurovision Song Contest entries.

The England Band’s top brass includes senior citizen Bernie Clifton, who used to ride around on a pantomime ostrich called Oswald where Rod Hull’s more infamous feathered peril Emu once assaulted chat show hosts.

Apart from playing the trombone in the back row at Wembley, you may remember Clifton’s larking about on children’s TV, notably when it was Friday, it was five o’clock and it was Crackerjack .

They may not be the London Symphony Orchestra, but at least the England Band’s latest release Cabanga (Come On England) does not contain the stupid lyric “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough” like the racket endorsed by Simon Cowell, the sultan of naff.

And you know what? They are actually rather good - as long as they don’t play for the whole 90 minutes.

The England Band, originally a musical attachment to Sheffield Wednesday’s core support at Hillsborough, was ‘signed’ 14 years ago by Glenn Hoddle in the early months of his reign as Three Lions coach.

Leader John Hemmingham, 47, plays the trumpet and has recovered from the trauma of seeing his beloved Owls dipping through the Championship trapdoor on the last day of term.

He said: “We got called up, so to speak, when Glenn and the FA’s executive director David Davies heard us serenading Wednesday after we had gone 1-0 up at Arsenal, which was even more unheard-of in those days as it would be now.

“Obviously it couldn’t last, and we lost 4-1 in the end. But Glenn must have liked what he heard - a couple of days later, I got a phone call from the Football Association asking if we would come and play for England.

“I was so shocked I nearly veered off the road, and I had to pull over to make sure it wasn’t a wind-up. We have taken it seriously - we’ve only missed three friendlies in 14 years.

“One of the best games was the 0-0 draw in Rome against Italy in 1997, which sent us through to the World Cup. That was the night we introduced the Great Escape into our repertoire. Some people think that’s the only thing we can play, but over the years we have performed more than 100 tunes, from England Till I Die to the Italian Job.

“Out of respect for our hosts, we try not to play anything controversial when we travel abroad, so you won’t hear us breaking into a few bars of Dambusters in Germany, and we usually learn an opposition fans’ song to bond with the locals.

“One of the best things about being an England band is that we win far more than we lose, so we can look back on some unforgettable nights like winning 5-1 in Munich and beating Argentina at the 2002 World Cup, and the good times easily outweigh the bad.”

We wish the England Band well on their concert tour of South Africa - and trust they do not suffer the same fate as Bill ‘Trumpet’ Cooper, the professional musician and star turn among their cricket cousins, the Barmy Army.

Cooper was held up at knifepoint on a train in Cape Town on his way to a Test match, but the England Band were well-received in at a friendly in Durban five years ago - and not only because they churned out a nice tune.

“Everyone had a laugh at the Englishmen abroad when we were the only people in the sea,” said Hemmingham. “And we soon found out why - frolicking in the surf didn't seem such a good idea when the ocean was teeming with sharks.

“Touch wood, but we have never encountered any trouble on our travels - a lot of it is down to common sense. On dry land, we are experienced enough to know where it’s safe to stray.”

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williamhill.com

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