Three Lions: England song lyrics, meaning & 'Football's Coming Home' anthem profile

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The song that was first popularised in the mid-to-late nineties is now the anthem of choice for a new generation of England fans

'It's Coming Home' has become a slogan and call to arms for England fans this summer as Gareth Southgate's team look to end decades of disappointment by winning the World Cup in Russia.

The line was born over 20 years ago and has somehow managed to endure the ravages of numerous failed campaigns to come forth once more and give hope to a new generation of English football supporters.

The song from which it is derived is called 'Three Lions', which has been resurrected and continues to be sung with gusto by England fans across the world during Russia 2018.

With Southgate's men aiming to secure a second world title for their country, Goal takes a look at the terrace anthem, who wrote it and what it all means.


When was 'Three Lions' released?


The original 'Three Lions' single was released in May 1996 ahead of that summer's European Championship, which was being held in England.

It went straight to number one on the UK Singles Chart and enjoyed two weeks at the summit during the course of the tournament.

The single was the lead track on the official Euro '96 album 'The Beautiful Game', which also featured songs from Jamiroquai, Massive Attack and Blur, as well as a remixed version of New Order's classic 'World In Motion', which was the official England song for the 1990 World Cup.

An updated version of the song - which was called '3 Lions '98' was subsequently released in June 1998 in the run up to the 1998 World Cup.

Like its predecessor, the 1998 version was an instant hit, climbing to the top of the charts, where it remained for three weeks.


Who wrote 'Three Lions'?


Three Lions was the product of a collaboration between comedy duo Frank Skinner and David Baddiel and Ian Broudie's band The Lightning Seeds.

Baddiel and Skinner, who were the presenters of a television show 'Fantasy Football League' at the time, wrote the lyrics, with Broudie coming up with the melody and accompanying music.

Following the song's release, Skinner explained its origins in an interview with the BBC: "Somebody phoned us up and asked us 'how would you like to do the official England single for the European Championships?' And obviously we said yes. We got very excited... and bingo!" 

All three collaborators still retain a sense of pride regarding 'Three Lions' and, during the 2018 World Cup, as it made yet another comeback in tandem with the exploits of Southgate's side, they revelled in the connection between their song, the players and the fans.

Ahead of the knockout stage of the tournament, Skinner revealed that, having previously grown weary of the playing of their song at England games, he was becoming more accepting of it at Russia 2018.

"I went quite a while thinking 'oh God, they're playing Three Lions'," he explained on his radio show. "And this year - maybe it's age and the idea of impending doom - I've started to become quite emotional with it." 


Who are Baddiel & Skinner?


As mentioned, Baddiel and Skinner are the comedy double act who wrote the lyrics which have now become the soundtrack for a nation.

At the time of the song's initial release in 1996, they were the known for their role as hosts of BBC Two's Fantasy Football League, which was a football-themed talk and sketch show that ran for three series from 1994 to 1996 before later being revived in the form of specials by ITV for the 1998 World Cup and 2004 European Championship.

The pair each began their careers as stand-up comedians and were separately prominent on a variety of British television shows before working together on joint projects, such as the aforementioned Fantasy Football League. The ITV show 'Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned' was another popular collaboration, which ran for five seasons on ITV in the early 2000s.

In recent times they have pursued separate paths, but both remain in television and radio spheres. As well as writing a number of novels - including a children's novel - Baddiel continues to perform stand-up and produce TV shows, while Skinner presents his own radio show on Absolute Radio as well as the comedy show Room 101.

Though they are not working as closely on projects as before, they are still good friends, with the 2018 Three Lions phenomenon reminding the British public of their earlier work together.

Who are the Lightning Seeds?

The Lightning Seeds are a British rock band formed by Ian Broudie, which was popular in the United Kingdom throughout the 1990s.

The band has released six studio albums, but their undoubted success has been Three Lions, with the 1996 and 1998 versions being their only number one hits to date.


What does 'It's Coming Home' mean?


Harry Kane England World Cup 2018

'Three Lions' and each of its subsequent versions are imbued with a defiant sense of optimism against the painful litany of England's past failings at major tournaments. 

The song begins with the gradual crescendo of the line, 'It's coming home', which serves as a sort of mantra, as if to ward off and drown out the critical voices of pundits decrying the deficiencies of the English team.

The idea of football "coming home" had gained popularity after England won the right to host the European Championship in 1996, with the tournament's tag line being 'Football Comes Home'. This was a reference to the fact that the game we now know as association football was first codified in England. 

In another sense, the line has since come to reflect a desire for a second World Cup triumph, with fans willing the team on to bring the trophy home for the first time since 1966.

Why Three Lions?

The lyric 'three lions on a shirt', which inspired the name of the single, is a reference to the badge that features on England shirts.

The badge, which features three lions guardant passant (walking with head facing the viewer), is a version of the coat of arms of England. 


It's Coming Home Memes


A curious outworking of the 'It's Coming Home' craze that is gripping England fans is the preponderance of memes and viral videos that have appeared on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

The opening refrain of the Three Lions song has been paired with scenes from a host of famous films and television shows.

The hashtag #ItsComingHome on Twitter is a treasure trove of mash-ups, with everything from The Shawshank Redemption and Shrek to The Simpsons and Only Fools and Horses getting the meme treatment.


How many versions are there?


Paul Ince Ian Wright Paul Gascoigne England 1998

Three definitive versions of 'Three Lions' have been recorded over the years.

As well as the aforementioned 1996 and updated 1998 version, a new song was recorded ahead of the 2010 World Cup, with Baddiel, Skinner and Broudie forming 'The Squad' with Robbie Williams and Russell Brand.

Interestingly, supporters of Germany - England's long-time rivals - have mockingly appropriated the song for themselves after Jurgen Klinsmann led a chorus of the song on Germany's homecoming following their Euro '96 triumph. One of the song's writers, Baddiel, has addressed the fact in the past.

"People ask how it makes me feel, to hear the Germans sing it," he wrote in the Guardian during the 2014 World Cup. "Well, there’s a part of me, to be honest, that’s glad someone is still singing it on the terraces. England fans seem to have stopped." 

He'll be even happier now that England fans appear to have reclaimed the era-defining stadium anthem.

The lyrics of the original and 1998 version of the song can be read in full below.


Three Lions (Football's Coming Home) Lyrics & Video


It's coming home,
It's coming home, it's coming,
Football's coming home. 

It's coming home, 
​It's coming home, it's coming,
Football's coming home. 

It's coming home, 
​It's coming home, it's coming,
Football's coming home.  

It's coming home, 
​It's coming home, it's coming,
Football's coming home. 

Everyone seems to know the score,
They've seen it all before,
They just know, they're so sure
That England's gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away
But I know they can play. 

'Cause I remember three lions on a shirt! 
Jules Rimet still gleaming,
Thirty years of hurt 
Never stopped me dreaming.

So many jokes, so many sneers,
But all those 'oh so nears' 
Wear you down, through the years,
But I still see that tackle by Moore
And when Lineker scored,
Bobby belting the ball
And Nobby dancing. 

Three lions on a shirt! 
Jules Rimet still gleaming,
Thirty years of hurt
Never stopped me dreaming.  

I know that was then, but it could be again..

It's coming home, 
​It's coming home, it's coming,
Football's coming home. 

It's coming home, 
​It's coming home, it's coming,
Football's coming home.  

It's coming home, 
​It's coming home, it's coming,
Football's coming home. 

It's coming home, 
​It's coming home, it's coming,
Football's coming home. 

Three lions on a shirt!
Jules Rimet still gleaming,
Thirty years of hurt
Never stopped me dreaming.

Three lions on a shirt! 
Jules Rimet still gleaming, 
Thirty years of hurt 
Never stopped me dreaming.

Three lions on a shirt! 
Jules Rimet still gleaming, 
Thirty years of hurt 
Never stopped me dreaming.


Three Lions '98 Lyrics & Video


We still believe, we still believe,
We still believe, we still believe
It's coming home, 
It's coming home, it's coming,
Football's coming home. 

It's coming home, 
It's coming home, it's coming,
Football's coming home. 

Tears for heroes dressed in grey,
No plans for final day,
Stay in bed, drift away.
It could have been all songs in the street, 
It was nearly complete,
It was nearly so sweet

And now I'm singing three lions on a shirt!
Jules Rimet still gleaming,
No more years of hurt,
No more need for dreaming.

Talk about football coming home
And then one night in Rome
We were strong, we had grown.
Now I see Ince ready for war,
Gazza good as before,
Shearer certain to score
And Psycho screaming.

Three lions on a shirt!
Jules Rimet still gleaming, 
No more years of hurt, 
No more need for dreaming. 

We can dance Nobby's dance,
We can dance it in France...

It's coming home, 
It's coming home, it's coming,
Football's coming home. 

It's coming home, 
It's coming home, it's coming,
Football's coming home. 

It's coming home, 
It's coming home, it's coming,
Football's coming home. 

(Overlapping)

Three lions on a shirt! 
Jules Rimet still gleaming, 
No more years of hurt, 
No more need for dreaming.  

Three lions on a shirt! 
Jules Rimet still gleaming, 
No more years of hurt, 
No more need for dreaming.
  


What do the lyrics mean?


England 1966 World Cup

Both songs are littered with references to England's past glories and failures, with certain moments highlighted as a reminder of the team's capabilities and rebuttal to those critics who suggest that England are not good enough to win the World Cup.

"We thought, OK, let's write a song not like all the other 'we're going to win' songs that had tracked England's failure to win the World Cup for many years," Baddiel said in an interview with BBC Radio 2. 

"Let's write a song about the real experience of being a fan of the England football team' - which is, we're probably not going to win, or at least lots of people are saying we're not and we're not very good. But somewhere within us there is a kind of irrational, magical hope that we might anyway. 

"And that's the real condition, it felt to us, of being an England fan and that's what we tried to embody in the lyrics. I think that spirit of defiance against against experience of punching through 'we know we can play' - that spoke to England fans. We didn't know it spoke to England fans when we wrote it, but it did."

Below is a selection of the lyrics from both songs, with an explanation.

Three Lions (Football's Coming Home) 

  • Jules Rimet Still Gleaming - A reference to the old World Cup trophy, which was presented to the England team who won the 1966 tournament.
  • But I still see that tackle by Moore - Referring to a decisive intervention made by England captain Bobby Moore on Brazil's Jairzinho at the 1970 World Cup.
  • And when Lineker scored - Gary Lineker's equalising goal against West Germany in the semi-final of the 1990 World Cup.
  • Bobby belting the ball - Bobby Charlton's powerfully struck long-range goal against Mexico en route to 1966 World Cup glory.
  • And Nobby dancing - The memorable victory dance performed by Nobby Stiles while holding the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966.

Stuart Pearce | England

3 Lions '98

  • Tears for heroes dressed in grey - England wore a grey strip in their Euro '96 semi-final against Germany, which they lost on penalties.
  • No plans for final day - The final was contested by Germany and the Czech Republic, with the Germans winning.
  • And then one night in Rome - England had lost at home to Italy in the qualification phase of the 1998 World Cup, but secured a 0-0 draw in the away game, which ensured they qualified as group winners.
  • Now I see Ince ready for war - Paul Ince had forged a reputation as a tough-tackling midfielder, famously finishing a game with a bandage and blood-stained shirt.
  • Gazza good as before - Paul Gascoigne - a veteran of the 1990 disappointment - was 30, but figured prominently in qualifying. However, he was actually cut from Glenn Hoddle's final tournament squad.
  • Shearer certain to score - Alan Shearer scored five goals in qualifying and was the undisputed best striker in the Premier League, securing the Golden Boot for three consecutive seasons.
  • And Psycho screaming - Stuart Pearce was known as 'Psycho' for his exuberant and combative playing style. He was approaching the end of his playing days and, like Gascoigne, did not make the final squad.

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