It's coming home: How Three Lions became the definitive England song

By Imran Rahman-Jones
Newsbeat reporter

Published
Media caption, Three Lions: How 'It's coming home' went viral first time around

It's 25 years since England fans first started chanting that football's coming home, and they've kept singing Three Lions in every major tournament since.

But it takes on extra significance this time around, because of the similarities between Euro 2020 and the tournament the song was written for - Euro 96.

The FA asked comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner to write the official England song that year, which they did with the band The Lightning Seeds.

Baddiel and Skinner weren't random choices - they hosted a popular TV show called Fantasy Football at the time.

The programme summed up 90s lad culture, but the double act wanted a song which had a deeper meaning for England fans... which meant singing about all the times England had been, frankly, rubbish.

Speaking in a BBC Radio 5 Live show about the track, Baddiel said they'd wanted to write an anthem "that actually reflects what it's like to be an England fan".

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

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Ian Broudie, lead singer of The Lightning Seeds, wrote Three Lions with Frank Skinner (middle) and David Baddiel (right)

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 when the team wins, it's the chorus that you hear sung in streets, bars and pubs up and down the country: "It's coming home."

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

The moment the song truly cemented itself into fans' hearts was when it echoed around Wembley at the end of the 1996 clash between England and Scotland.

"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'," Skinner told Desert Island Discs.

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

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Will this be the generation that finally brings it home?

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

So how did England get knocked out of that one?

A home crowd had cheered England into the semi-finals.

A talented team which included Alan Shearer, Paul Gascoigne and Paul Ince, had shaken off some press criticism of their pre-tournament partying to earn a tie against the almost-always-good Germany side.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Gazza graced Euro 96 four years before our most recent bleached-blond hero, Phil Foden, was born

Tabloid headlines before the match included: "Achtung! Surrender," and other references to the Second World War which look pretty dodgy now.

Shearer sent the country into a frenzy three minutes after kick-off, when he nodded the ball in from a Gascoigne corner.

But England were pegged back six minutes later with a goal scored by commentator's nightmare, Stefan Kuntz.

The game stayed at 1-1 for the rest of the game.

So it went to penalties...

...and England lost.

Gareth Southgate - who's now the England manager - was the only man to miss a penalty in that shootout.

It's no wonder then, that in 2018 he spent so much time comforting Mateus Uribe after he missed a penalty in Colombia's World Cup clash with England.

Southgate knew exactly how Uribe felt.

"It will never be off my back, sadly. That's something that will live with me forever," he said, when asked about that moment after the Colombia game.

Image source, REUTERS/Carl Recine
Image caption, The bittersweet feeling of true empathy
Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Southgate in 1996 versus Southgate in 2021: At least he won't be taking any penalties this evening

Southgate will be hoping to set the record straight in tonight's game - where Three Lions will again, no doubt, echo around Wembley.

He'd be a fitting person to bring 55 years of hurt to an end this summer.

It really is coming home this year (ish)

"It's coming home" originally referred to the fact that England was hosting its first major tournament since the 1966 World Cup.

But it's now got a broader meaning - basically that England will win.

If England manage to get to the final this year, they will play at Wembley - their home turf - in every game except one.

So although Euro 2020 has been hosted in 11 cities across Europe, for the English team it's arguably pretty close to a home tournament.

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Three Lions has been the go-to England chant since that moment back in 1996.

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 song has about 20 million more views 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.

Media caption, Three Lions on BBC News in 1996 - BBC Rewind

The only downside to the 1996 song's endurance is that no other artists have been able to cash in on tournament songs since.

"Three Lions killed off the football anthem quite conclusively," Baddiel told the BBC in 2016.

"There were a few attempts after 1996 but no-one managed it," he said.

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

A version of this article originally went out on 5 July 2018.

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