BBC News

World Cup 2018: How Three Lions is still the definitive England song after 22 years

By Imran Rahman-Jones
Newsbeat reporter

media captionThree Lions: How 'It's coming home' went viral first time around

"Football's coming home!"

It's the chant that makes a resurgence every time England are in a major tournament.

You would have heard it sung it in the streets, seen the memes, even Alan Shearer was chanting it on the BBC on Match of the Day after England's penalty delight on Tuesday.

For the past few years, the song Three Lions has been sung across the country despite the team being nowhere near bringing the trophy home.

But this time it feels different.

Fans seem to be singing it with even more passion than normal because England actually have a chance of doing well thanks to early exits from favourites such as Spain, Germany and Argentina.

The song was written for Euro 96 by comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner with the band the Lightning Seeds.

Although "it's coming home" originally referred to the fact that England was hosting its first major tournament since the 1966 World Cup, it's now got a broader meaning - basically that England will win it.

Baddiel and Skinner weren't random choices by the FA to write the official England song for the Euro 96 tournament - the double act hosted a popular football show called Fantasy Football at the time.

The programme summed up 90s lad culture, but the song was meant to have a deeper meaning.

In a 5 Live show about the song, David Baddiel said that they wanted to write something "that actually reflects what it's like to be an England fan".

He said Frank Skinner described it as a "bittersweet love song to the England team".

It's true - the opening verse of Three Lions, with the lyrics "England's gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away" encapsulates a lifetime of disappointments as an England fan.

But it's the chorus that you hear sung in streets, bars and pubs up and down the country when the team wins.

"This is a song about how we've lost so often - and yet it's a song we want to sing," says Baddiel.

media captionThree Lions VT - BBC Rewind

Frank Skinner described the first time he heard it played out at Euro 96 when he appeared on Desert Island Discs.

"It was at the end of the England-Scotland game. We'd just won 2-0. As they were exchanging shirts at the end, they played it over the loud speaker, and I thought 'great'.

"And then the crowd really really sang it. That was when I knew we'd got something special."

Baddiel has said that he heard the FA thought the song was too downbeat and had doubts about it.

"Apparently the FA didn't want the DJ to put it on at Wembley, but he did it anyway," he said.

"And then it was sung at every game until England went out."

That tournament exit has been getting a lot of coverage this year - it's the one where Gareth Southgate missed the decisive penalty in the semi-finals against Germany.

But by then, Three Lions had already cemented itself into the national football consciousness.

Two years later, it was re-recorded for the World Cup, with a few updated lyrics.

Some fans even prefer the 1998 version (although the original has about three times more plays on YouTube than Three Lions '98 does).

The less said about the 2010 version, featuring Robbie Williams, Russell Brand and an opera singer, the better.

But the song's endurance has had one negative, according to Baddiel.

"Three Lions killed off the football anthem quite conclusively.

"There were a few attempts after 1996 but no-one managed it," he told the BBC in 2016.

"And that's because it is the best football anthem of all time."

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionIan Broudie, lead singer of The Lightning Seeds, wrote the song with Frank Skinner (middle) and David Baddiel (right)

Now, 22 years on, some people singing it might not even know its origins - and it's probably better known as the "football's coming home" chant rather than its title Three Lions.

But the song's effect is still the same.

There's still the same spine-tingle of English pride every time you hear it - even if it's just a 10-second clip in the latest meme.

Even if England don't make it all the way this year, Three Lions will have taken on a new significance as it's chanted around the country.

It was written for a tournament which ended with Gareth Southgate's penalty miss for England.

Imagine if that same man ended 52 years of hurt by bringing football home this summer.

image copyrightAllSport/Getty
image captionSouthgate in 1996 versus Southgate in 2018: Is this our year?

Newsbeat's at the World Cup in Russia this summer.

You can follow our coverage on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Or listen live at 12:45 and 17:45 every weekday on BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra - if you miss us you can listen back here.

Related Topics

  • Viral posts
  • Music

More on this story

  • World Cup 2018: England and penalties - Shearer and Lineker's top tips

  • World Cup 2018: England's barber on cutting the squad's hair