For the second year running there will be a song in the Eurovision souvenir programme that will not be performed on the big night. But where Romania's Ovidiu Anton was so cruelly withdrawn last year for his home broadcaster’s failure to pay their bills, Russia’s Yuliya Samoylova was disbarred from the competition for far more complex political reasons. But they weren’t the first songs to be denied their chance of shining on the screens of the continent by either political complications or last minute disqualifications, and they almost certainly won’t be the last. So here we celebrate the seven greatest tales of Eurovision withdrawal woe, and wonder, with a dewy eye, what could have been…
1968 - Spain - Joan Manuel Serrat - La La La
So back in ’68, this dashing looking lad was all set to represent his sunshine nation on the continent’s greatest stage. But at the last minute it was wrenched from his grasp. But why? Well the proud Catalonian insisted on singing it in his mother tongue, and his nation’s regional languages were all barred under General Franco’s authoritarian regime. With just a week to go before the contest he was replaced by a young lass called Massiel, and the contest was never the same again. But we have to admit that we actually prefer this version. It’s cool, beaty, and you’ve never seen anyone look quite so stylish while wandering around aimlessly in a car park. Whether it would have won with Joan singing it we’ll never know, but it would have been an entirely different contest if he’d been there.
1974 - Malta - Enzo Guzman - Peace To The World
You have to feel especially sorry for poor Enzo here. This wonky belter won Maltasong solidly that year, and was all set to board the bus to Brighton when he discovered that his nation had mysteriously withdrawn. What a choker. At least the French singer Dani, who also pull out that year, had the excuse that her nation’s much-loved President Pompidou had died in the days running up the contest. But Malta didn’t have that excuse. The rumours have it that it was an entirely financial decision, but it couldn’t have anything to do with the quality of the song, surely? Either way, we were robbed of a moment that would have gone down in Eurovision cult history. And what was worse is that they did it too him again two years later with the seminal Sing Your Song, Country Boy, a song so terrible that the Maltese went another 15 years without entering for fear the boy would have another go.
1976 - Germany - Tony Marshall - Der Star
There are always those who will claim that any given song that was denied the chance of a Eurovision performance would have been a sure fire winner, and as we know this is impossible to prove. But we reckon this one would have made a pretty good go of it. Popular schlagerist Marshall won his national final by an absolute street with this rousing, somewhat martial singalong, and was surely on course for at least a top five finish in The Hague. But then somebody pointed out that it had already been released some time before the legal cut off point, and the opportunity evaporated into the mist to become a mere footnote in history. It was a crying shame on many counts - especially as it would have saved us from the abject horrors of Sing Sang Song.
1999 - Bosnia & Herzegovina - Hari Mata Hari - Starac I More
You’d think by now that after a number of disqualifications for prior performance over the years the artists and songwriters would have been a little more careful about what they entered. Especially in the then-new internet age where fans and detractors suddenly had an easy means to get shot of a song that they didn’t approve of. But when this local legend won the chance to represent his young nation at the big show, he’d surely have been smart enough not to try and pull a fast one. But no. Turns out that he’d flogged it on to the Finnish rocker Janne Hurme a couple of years earlier, and some observant sort had decided to sabotage his efforts. So late was this change that the first many of us got to hear its replacement from Dino & Beatrice was at the new song’s first rehearsal in Jerusalem. Hari would be back in 2006, but by then he’d missed the crest of the Balkan ballad wave that he would have pioneered had he got this song on the tellies of Europe. Many would argue that this is the greatest withdrawn song of all time. Not us, mind.
2005 - Lebanon - Aline Lahoud - Quand Tout S’enfuit
There was much excitement among the ranks when it was announced that this Levant nation would be making its unexpected debut on the Eurovision stage. Those emotions swelled further when the song was released and it turned out to be a classy French-language ballad, with glorious Eastern undertones and a killer key change. But there was a problem. It turns out that it’s forbidden to broadcast any content made by their neighbours to the South, and they assumed that it would be OK to just run an advert over the Israeli song (well, it’s not as if that hadn’t been done in the past… CoughGreeceCoughTurkey). But the EBU got wind of their plan, and demanded that they either showed Shiri Maimon’s song or withdraw. So they swiftly packed up their things and left, and we’ve never seen their like again. Which is a damn shame in our book.
2006 - Serbia & Montenegro - No Name - Moja Ljubavi
There aren’t many songs that can claim to have been the catalyst to ripping a country in two, but this one certainly contributed to it. There had already been cries of discontent the previous year when the same act won Evropesma with the spine-tinging Zauvijek Moja following a perceived fit up by the Montenegrin half of the jury. But this year their voting shenanigans were even less subtle, especially as they managed to beat the hugely popular Serbian act Flamingosi (Imagine Leto Svet mixed with Shir Habatlanim. Yep, it was that special). The voting sequence is a thing of beauty, as each Montenegrin judge is jeered onto the stage, while each Serb is cheered on like a national hero. You genuinely thought something bad was about to kick off – and given their recent history it very well could have done. By the time it was clear that No Name had won, the Belgradian crowd very visibly began to put on their coats, and a riot was only averted by letting Flamingosi perform the winner’s reprise. Watch the whole thing here in all it’s scary glory. It was beautiful, terrifying chaos, and nobody knew the answer until the broadcaster finally pulled out just weeks before the contest. This pair of niggly neighbours would never compete under the same name again. Makes this year's Spanish hoo-haa look like amateur hour.
2009 - Georgia - Stefane & 3G - We Don’t Wanna Put In
Sometimes you suspect a country are doing their best to get disqualified, and this has never been more strongly evidenced than by this confrontational little beauty. To understand quite why this all happened, you have to look back at the Russo-Georgian Conflict of a year earlier where Russia invaded the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as part of what they liked to call a “peace enforcement operation”. The young Caucasian state had their nose publicly blooded by their giant neighbour, and they weren’t terribly happy about it. Now the Georgians claim that the perceived play on words in their subsequent next Eurovision entry was completely coincidental, but there was clearly no way that the EBU were ever going to allow a song that sounded just a little bit too much like “We don’t wanna Putin” to tread the boards on that big Moscow stage - most probably for insurance purposes - and encouraged Georgia to either change the words or withdraw, evoking the infamous Section 4 Rule 9 of the Eurovision handbook. They chose to withdraw, their point most definitely made. Now if only the EBU had been a little bolder with that same rule last year we may not have ended up with the mass of complications that we’ve seen again this year. But where’s the fun in that?
So, did we pick your favourite? Or did we miss out something so glaringly obvious that we are nothing but errant fools? Whichever it is, please do tell us about your favourite Eurovision non-runners below.