Dec 13


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#740, 1st June 1996

3LIONS On Public Enemy’s Fear Of A Black Planet, there’s a track called “Incident At 66.6 FM” – a 90-second cut-up of derisive, racist radio commentary on the band that brings you-the-listener right up to speed on why they felt besieged, and puts you on their side for the fightback. The first thirty seconds of “Three Lions” pull off a very similar trick for a rather less radical cause: England fans. It’s a compact, adroit bit of pop scene-setting. In the background, the low swell of a stadium rousing itself for battle. In the foreground, critics officiate at a funeral. “I think it’s BAD NEWS for the English game…not CREATIVE enough, not POSITIVE enough… we’ll GO ON getting bad results…”

Wait, though – even as these suited vultures gather, we hear another voice – lone and thin, but firm and honest, singing a song that is halfway to a prayer. “It’s coming home, it’s coming home… “ Against the ranks of pessimism, cynicism, analysis and fact, against their own better judgement, the fan can’t help but believe. Football is coming home.

It’s a magnificent bit of manipulation: the marketer in me swoons in admiration. The rest of “Three Lions” develops the theme but all you need to know is in that intro. Who, on hearing it, wouldn’t be on the side of the fan’s simple faith against the doomsayers? In half a minute “Three Lions” defined the English game’s sense of itself for the rest of the 90s, and the 00s too – sentimental belief against obstinate fact, with the former winning the moral victory every time.

Like all football number ones, “Three Lions” is an artefact from a changing game. Plenty of middle-class Brits had always liked football, but Italia 90 had cemented that audience as the game’s great new revenue stream, World Cup-weaned fans who liked heartbreak and tears and big stories with regular helpings of ‘glory’ and ‘passion’. At the club level this breakthrough demographic were well-served by Man United’s ascendancy and the Premier League’s early boom – but at an international level the development had been held back by the woeful performances of England ever since 1990.

Here was where “Three Lions” was truly clever. It didn’t just strike a chord with the new football market, it provided them with an invaluable primer on how to feel about England and history. The song – and I write as a part of that market – is a bluffer’s guide to fandom, an off the shelf attitude to the England team, a way of buying into history and resolving the anxiety of newbiedom – all thanks to the four toxic little words at the song’s heart.

Like all great marketing insights, “thirty years of hurt” is immediately evocative and immensely flexible and extensible. Like many, it’s also meanly prescriptive, telescoping the many possible conflicting feelings about crap performances – like anger, amusement, resignation, or sheer apathy – into one selfish, petulant word. Baddiel, Skinner and Ian Broudie sing “hurt” like they mean it – their performances are so sincere it’s almost mawkish: football fans as sad, big-eyed pups. But however they meant “hurt”, it was also a summary of the entitlement the English media began to show about international football – the shimmering history of the game since 1966 reduced to a barren stretch in which “we” didn’t win anything.

The cavalier treatment of history is characteristic of Sky-era sport – but it resonated more widely. “Three Lions” fit its pop moment as well as its football one, landing at a time when a chunk of Britain’s music talent seemed fixed on play-acting the 60s. “Three Lions” is a superior Britpop song, whatever else it is – too earnest and not as sharp or funny as the genre’s best, but Skinner and Baddiel’s rough voices have a folksy conviction and charm which a lot of minor Britpop bands lacked, and the Lightning Seeds could always sell a sappy tune.

Back in 1966, pop and football had little enough to do with one another. But in nostalgia’s lens the heights of pop creativity and England’s footballing powers had become linked, part of the same golden dream. So in the magical working that was Britpop, the Euro 96 tournament could be a sympathetic ritual replay of 1966 – and the climax of “Three Lions” comes when the singers unite on a line that seems to move beyond even prayer and into spell. “I know that was then – but it could be again.” At that moment the song stops, and it’s as if Baddiel and Skinner (and us, if we want to join in) have their eyes squeezed tight shut, willing time to unravel and the world to rewrite itself around our glorious past.

The song starts up again. The moment passes. Our brave lions (etc) go out on penalties against “the Germans”. The cycle continues.

POSTSCRIPT (A bit of Meta-Business).

In 2008 (42 years of hurt! And counting!) I wrote this: “I occasionally think of Popular as a three-act story: this [The Sex Pistols’ “God Save The Queen”] is the end of Act I, the false start of the second great age of singles, which was also the world that shaped me as a listener.” And this, for what it’s worth, is the end of Act II.

The relationship between the Pistols and this song probably seems rather obscure. It is rather obscure, if only because “Three Lions” is the product of a pop culture where the legends of punk had become part of the mainstream context of everything. “Three Lions” is in no sense a punk record. But the three men who made “Three Lions” were shaped by punk’s consequences, and so was the world it was released into. Broudie was a player on the Liverpool post-punk scene. Baddiel and Skinner were second-generation inheritors of “alternative comedy” and its sometimes conscious application of punky ideas and salesmanship to stand-up. The positioning of “Three Lions” – a more alternative, more authentic football single than previous official FA product – is classic indie ju-jitsu marketing, and as such also inherited from punk. Assume the underdog role and never let it go – even when you’re Number One.

“Three Lions” frames the problem of English football in a way that would become increasingly familiar. Football had lost its way, lost its hunger and passion and cheek, but with those it could go back to the golden age. It was an alluring story – and it was also the way Oasis had framed the problem of English pop. “I know that was then but it could be again”. This was one of the fatal promises of punk, or at least punk as the culture came to remember it – punk as a giant reset button on a stagnant scene. But once you had shown there might be a reset button, the lure of pressing it again became far stronger. Once you admit the possibility of going back to basics, moving forward, and working with what you have, becomes a lot harder. And the alternative – Jules Rimet still gleaming, England still dreaming – grows more and more seductive.



  1. 1
    Tom Ewing (@tomewing) on 4 Dec 2013 #

    England’s dreaming: a particularly rambling Popular entry, on “Three Lions” http://t.co/gSbROMY4Gl

  2. 2
    lonepilgrim on 4 Dec 2013 #

    the chorus is a total ear worm – utterly suitable for singing on the terraces – but I was surprised at how fussy and insipid the verses seem to me now. Whereas New Order’s ‘World in Motion’ seemed very much of the present, even looking forward to the future – this seems stuck in the past.
    Some of the conversation on the previous thread about why the UK has failed so frequently at Eurovision seemed to parallel the discourse around the decline of English footballing fortune.

  3. 3
    Lazarus on 4 Dec 2013 #

    Here’s the thing … I have no interest whatsoever in football, but I bought this single, enjoyed ‘Fantasy Football League’ (from whence this came, surely) and even watched a couple of games of Euro ’96 – in short, I bought into the Zeitgeist. A fond 7.

    A couple of years later, there would be another significant – and enduring – connection between football and pop, of course.

  4. 4
    MBI on 4 Dec 2013 #

    As a neophyte American soccer fan, I’ve heard “Three Lions” referenced many times before, but this is the first time I’ve ever actually listened to it.

    Holy crap, this song is far more depressing than I imagined it would be.

    Maybe I’m spoiled by “World In Motion.” But for a football anthem, this is pathetic. I visited Ireland last year and was greeted by the joyous sound of “You’ll NEEEEEEEVER BEAT THE IRISH!!!” every time I turned on the radio, and Ireland lost every game at that tournament, but at least they had a proper pump-you-up anthem. This song is all about failure. And the eighteen years of hindsight I bring to it makes it only more so in my eyes. (This is very much not true of “World in Motion,” even though in both tournaments England landed respectably in the final four.)

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    Alan Connor on 4 Dec 2013 #

    As a stranger to the b. game, Three Lions is filed in my head just alongside “If you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit, join our Club”.

  6. 6
    Alan Connor on 4 Dec 2013 #

    This song is all about failure.

    #4: For a different take (& again I am out of my element here), there’s this Scottish song.

  7. 7
    MBI on 4 Dec 2013 #

    Ha ha, yes, that’s EXACTLY the song it reminded me of.

  8. 8
    Another Pete on 4 Dec 2013 #

    The sample at the start is of fans of the Danish club Brondby. I know this as I worked with a Dane who unfailingly brought this up when it came on the radio in the office during the 2006 world cup. (The Danes also had an odd take on the next number 1, but more on that later).

    I think as a Liverpudlian Ian Broudie clearly wanted this to be England’s ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’

    #4 consider the likes of Rod Hull and Emu’s – ‘Singing Bristol Rovers all the way’ songs like this to this day are still played prior to home games in the lower leagues. Now that’s a pathetic football anthem.

  9. 9
    thefatgit on 4 Dec 2013 #

    Only 6 years from Gazza’s tears to Gazza’s excesses in the infamous Dentist’s Chair. I guess my fascination with The Mars Bar Kid in relation to 90’s footy, was emblematic of, and ran alongside the outlandish excesses of the newly-minted stars of the Premiership. Nobody out-did Gazza for excess. And yes, he was emblematic of all that was wrong with the xy chromosome, not just football. But that sublime move vs Colin Hendry in the Scotland game and that stunning volley reminded us that here was a genius on the ball who could still amaze even the most jaded England fan.

    “Three Lions” was a nation’s collective hope in a song (but it really wasn’t was it? I certainly recall a phalanx of naysayers before the tournament began). I’m not sure how many of us were sucked in by the hype and the hope, but it felt like fortune was on our side, with memorable games vs Scotland and Holland. We were the hosts of Euro 96 after all, playing at Wembley and making the most of home advantage. “30 years of hurt” and I was 30 years of age. I felt a bit bludgeoned by that line in particular, but I can’t really hold that against them. Even the pain of penners (Gareth Southgate, lest we forget) vs Germany didn’t take the shine off that summer. And I feel quite charitable towards Skinner, Baddiel and Broudie. Shearer won the Golden Boot so we came away with something at least.

  10. 10
    Seb Patrick on 4 Dec 2013 #

    Can I be annoyingly pedantic? That cover up there isn’t the actual single cover. I think it’s something that’s been knocked up in order for the track to be sold, along with various subsequent versions, online in the years since (presumably because they’re not allowed to use the England badge any more).

    But if you want to use it at the top (you may not care in the slightest, of course, in which case ignore me) the actual original single cover is this: http://i.imgur.com/gDcdW3I.jpg

    (Also: bloody hell, for some reason I don’t think I even realised we were in 1996 until you got to this. That one crept up on me, alright. Fascinated to see what your approach to the sequel will be. I have OPINIONS on how it’s less of a cheap cash-in than people often dismiss it as, but I’ll save them until then.)

  11. 11
    Mark G on 4 Dec 2013 #

    More alternative than the previous? Hmmmm.

    More authentic as a football song? Yeah, OK.

    And yet, there was room for Vibrator …

    VinDaLoo. Blummin spell corrector!

  12. 12
    Mark G on 4 Dec 2013 #

    #8 . Man I own that very football anthem !

  13. 13
    Chelovek na lune on 4 Dec 2013 #

    Hmm. I am only very vaguely interested in football (watch a few games in the World Cup every 4 years, keep an eye on the team in the town in which I grew up, now they are just about big boys in League 2, after decades in the conference and suchlike, etc). But I did buy this, none the less.

    But still: part of me think it’s all cringeworthy – this is the “Achtung Surrender!” Daily Mirror headline tournament, isn’t it? (I was not resident in the UK at the time, so missed it all. Not sure I am unhappy about that.) And also the moment on which England flags started to really appear as a symbol of – England, taking the place of the Union flag which had stood in for it in many regards, however inaccurately, up until that point.

    And far worse than all that, the moment when a really rather fine, and generally understated, subtle, gentle, act (the Lightning Seeds, of course) kind of….jumped the shark is not quite the right phrase, but coarsened themselves – and well, it got them a number 1. More than once too (footballing bunny. ssssh).

    As for Baddiel. Hmm. Why did so many girls in my 6th form in the early 1990s fancy him? I think his laddishness (porn and footy) had got to an immensely irritating level by now, tying in with the rise of lad mags, Loaded, blah blah blah, middle-class misogyny being fashionable among a certain type (again: I’m inclined to think even these references, like those of this particular song, are specifically English, rather than British: they certainly made little impact on rural north-east Fife where I spent most of the mid-part of the decade…)

    I suppose we could talk about masculinity and gender role models, sensitivity and laddishness combining – which is really what this song is about. An introspective and sensitive pop band combining with a Cambridge-educated Jewish literary intellectual (who has sold his soul to popular culture and TV), more or less; and then Skinner – also in his way quite an unusual character, with a distinct, sensitive, thoughtful – and also religious, practicing Catholic, side, alongside the surface laddishness.

    A football anthem for outsiders then? Not just middle-class outsiders – but those whose cultural and intellectual backdrop and deep influences are rather outside the English mainstream, but who by this time were none the less comfortable and happy and willing now to wrap themselves in the St George’s flag. Perhaps in fact that is the best description….

    (Also, #11 re. Vindaloo – – – all this allowed a simulacrum of old-fashioned laddish thuggery to reappear, but with a comforting layer of irony and middle-class north london liberal endorsement around it)

    And the thought hits…..Did all this pave the way for Russell Brand? Oh God. That could be the very worse part of its legacy.

    In a lot of ways this is genius. Loveable genius? Not quite. I think I’d prefer to discuss almost any other Lightning Seeds single here.

    5 or a 6 I think. It’s memorable and enduring enough to warrant the latter.

  14. 14
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Dec 2013 #

    First as tragedy…

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    Kinitawowi on 5 Dec 2013 #

    As much as anything else, this is about the people performing it. Baddiel and Skinner, whose Fantasy Football show was doing great guns at this point, and The Lightning Seeds, who had been declaring “JUSTICE FOR THE 96” in their album inlays for ages and were indelibly associated with The Beautiful Game ™ ever since The Life Of Riley became utterly synonymous with the Goal Of The Month competition on Match Of The Day? Never mind New Order being roped into it by the FA, this was a song by football fans for football fans.

    Yep, I bought it all right.

    For once, it’s not a song about inevitable triumph; compare the utterly execrable effort from England United in a couple of years time (which surely we’ll do in two years time, natch). It’s hopeful, but realistic. And for all World In Motion’s apparent superiority, it can’t be described as having endured; Three Lions was a song that crossed borders (even the Germans loved it), with a iconic (if deliberately so) chant that still rocks around the grounds decades later.

    Fifteen year old me, glued to football, following Manchester United through their 1996 Double, with a Mirror-reading Dad (“PEARCE IN OUR TIME” and all that) said this was a 10. Thirty-three year old me hasn’t seen much to change his mind on that since. Well, the Mirror thing was a bit silly.

  16. 16
    mapman132 on 5 Dec 2013 #

    #4 Out of curiosity, which American sports teams (if any) are you a fan of? See below for why I ask…

    In the US, national sports teams fit in one of two categories: 1) Those that are supposed to dominate (basketball, baseball), in which case winning feels boring because that’s what’s supposed to happen, and losing, which certainly DOES happen, is just a complete disgrace for all concerned. Either way, not much fun for me as a potential fan.

    In contrast, type 2 are those that aren’t nearly as good (soccer, hockey), where winning, while a pleasant surprise, makes me feel almost guilty against a country that wants it so much more badly. Case in point: 2010 Hockey Gold Medal Game. The US losing was treated as a disappointment, but hey, life goes on. If Canada had lost, it would have been a national tragedy that would ruined the whole Olympics for them.

    So as an American, I feel that I’ll never quite have the emotional connection that other countries have for their national soccer/football teams. That being said however, I still get the sentiment behind “Three Lions”. This is because of being a Philadelphia sports fan. For those that are unfamiliar, Philly’s “Big 4” teams (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) are really bad at winning championships. So bad, that from 1983, when I coincidentally was 10 years old and just getting into sports fandom, there would be no Philly championships at all for 25 years. That’s 4 teams x 25 years = 100 seasons. If you had told me at 10 that I’d make it to my mid 30’s without experiencing the thrill of victory, I’m pretty sure I would have lost interest immediately. But this is why those extremely rare tastes of victory, such as the Phillies winning the 2008 World Series, are so sweet. It’s why I’m pointing out the 2008 victory to a mostly-UK readership who probably couldn’t care less – us Philly sports fans may be used to failure, but we did have that one shining moment. And that’s why we keep coming back. It’s a sentiment that only fans of historically underperforming teams truly get, and it’s a sentiment captured perfectly by “Three Lions”.

    And with that, I’ll give it 8/10.

  17. 17
    Billy Hicks on 5 Dec 2013 #

    Euro 96 was an incredible experience.

    I was seven years old and had recently moved to a house minutes down the road from Wembley Stadium. For the opening ceremony, me and my Dad went out into the garden to first see the Red Arrows fly past, and then the sky become filled with balloons, all the time watching the same things on the television in the front room. And then that certain England v Germany game is my first full memory of a football match, with its long penalty shootout and my Dad shouting “Yes!” and “No!” with every alternate England/Germany goal until Southgate finished things off.

    The next morning, in Year 2, my classmates were in tearful grief. For the last few weeks this very song had owned the school playground, that chorus repeating over and over again at every break. “Do you know any other lines of the song?” I sarcastically asked one of my friends after his millionth Football’s Coming Home repetition. He stopped, thought, and then sang “THREE LIONS ON THE SHIRT!” and stopped again.

    This version is the original and best, the fragility of just a couple of people singing the Football’s Coming Home hook a nice contrast with the hundreds of football fans belting it out – similarly I’m a fan of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ when it’s just Gerry’s voice, as I’m otherwise used to the huge terrace singalongs. It’s something a later version of this gets wrong, but more on that when it comes.

    8 right now, 9 next summer no matter how badly England do. The first ever #1 I remember being a playground hit, but wow do we not have long to wait until the next one…

  18. 18
    Cumbrian on 5 Dec 2013 #

    Sorry, long comment coming.

    There’s more going on with football fans than is generally let on. A big heaving mass of humanity, 95% male, and redolent of accepted masculinity including the subjugation of weakness bearing traits might be the stereotypical view – and certainly before Italia 90 and the new dawn of the Premier League, football fans were tarred with particularly broad brushes (the hooligan element obviously didn’t help the majority in this).

    Scratch the surface though and you get, as with many things, so much more. When I used to be a regular at Brunton Park, cheery fatalism tended to be the stock in trade and many of the conversations around the ground, yes, would be centred on football but also touched on a variety of topics, blokes struggling with unemployment or problems at home, illnesses, bereavements, you’d overhear conversations touching on them all on your way to get your half time pie or what have you. The very things that British males have supposedly avoided talking about, discussed in the context of a real community, built up around the fact that you can always break the conversation off to shout at the opposition left back for nicking a few yards on his throw in, so as you don’t have to dig too deep if you don’t want and all buried deep in something that looks, from the outside, like a particularly boorish pursuit.

    It’s why the songs that have grown up around particular football clubs are so incredibly interesting for lifting the veil on this sometimes. So many of the ones that I consider to be the best associated with football are built on triumph over (or simply delay of) adversity. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (as mentioned by Another Pete at 8) and “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” in particular can be viewed as very sad, quite openly emotional songs that work on a number of levels*. That they have been attached to the game or specific clubs shows the layers of what catches on with large groups of men sometimes – indeed, and not to turn this back to Oasis all the time, but it is there in some of Noel Gallagher’s output too. The sentimental can really work. The daddy of them all for me is probably “Sunshine on Leith”. I have no real affinity with either Hibernian or The Proclaimers particularly – and I am certainly not a Christian – but hearing that crowd belting it out at a game is, I find, a moment that grabs my heart and squeezes.

    This, I think, is what Baddiel, Skinner and Ian Broudie are trying to tap into with Three Lions, so in this, I agree with Another Pete. It’s more jaunty than the stately examples above – and I guess this is where I sort of agree with Chelovek at 13 in that it sort of is a combining a more confident, laddish feel with the Britpop trappings and the amateur, real man, vocals – and certainly doesn’t try to do anything more deep than show how crap it can be following a football team that just isn’t “creative enough” or “positive enough”, that will “go on getting bad results” and nevertheless hoping that something better is round the corner. As thefatgit says at 9, hope more than belief. Hope that, just for once, these bunch of chancers that I spend my money and time watching can lift me up and away from the drudgery of my everyday life and make me feel like I belong to something bigger than my own problems. As someone once said “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things”.

    That’s why Three Lions, for me, is so good, so true to the experience of being a football fan and being a member of that crowd – the hope for something better, no matter how crap things are now**. Its weird kind of genius is that, if it’s a primer for how to feel about football for the neophyte, there’s also enough in there to resonate with people like me, who at that point was going to every home game of their local side. It’s also catchy as hell with the two hooks (the chorus and “Football’s Coming Home”) burying themselves so deeply that it basically became the English national anthem for 3 weeks. It won’t surprise me if people have a right good go at Three Lions (it’s sung by utter amateurs, it’s not classy, it’s probably exclusionary for people that don’t like football, or are not middle class white/Jewish guys, or hated Britpop or are not English***) but I don’t give a damn – it is about something more, it’s about a closely held personal experience. This is a 9 – and during the glorious summer of ‘96, when it felt like better times were actually arriving, when it felt (in retrospect incorrectly) like Britpop was still cresting, and when it felt that more could be achieved, it was a 10 times 10. Instead, as Tom points out in his postscript, this was actually the end of something.

    *The most staggering rendition of YNWA being, for me, one given in Italy shortly after Hillsborough, in which there was to be a planned minute’s silence at the relevant point during the first half at which the FA Cup semi-final had been called to a halt: the fans of both teams broke it by singing YNWA in perfect English. Unbelievably tear-jerking, at least for me.

    **With respect to the England team at least, the “Golden Generation” and the rise and rise of the Premier League kind of knocked this “hope for the best” mentality out of the national game. It’s coming back though – I doubt anyone really thinks England will travel to Brazil for the 2014 WC in expectation rather than hope.

    *** Unless you’re German, in which case you knock us out, strutting around the turf at Wembley after scoring the winning penalty, win the tournament and appropriate it; as Football is indeed coming home – to Berlin.

  19. 19
    James BC on 5 Dec 2013 #

    This was a nice reward for the Lightning Seeds, who had some great songs but were never really accepted as a proper Britpop band. I’m not sure why that was, but it was probably a combination of looking uncool, not being a proper band, predating Britpop, and/or having vaguely uplifting lyrics instead of wryly observed ones. Though I can think of solid Britpop acts that all of those qualities apply to.

    (This one song is clearly Britpop, even if other Lightning Seeds songs don’t fit that well.)

    Anyway I was a Lightning Seeds fan before Three Lions came out – in fact they were the first band I ever saw live. Jollification is still a brilliant album and not just for the great Lucky You – Change – Perfect – Marvellous singles run. Punch and Judy, track 9, is a surprisingly moving hidden gem.

  20. 20
    MBI on 5 Dec 2013 #

    #16 – I only watch international soccer nowadays. But part of why I enjoy watching the USMNT is exactly because we’re not supposed to be good at it; it’s one of the few times where you can root for America and be the underdog. I got hooked on the sport when I idly tuned into the World Cup in 2010 and saw lowly Slovakia bounce out the defending champs Italy in the first round.

  21. 21
    MikeMCSG on 5 Dec 2013 #

    This brings to a conclusion another pop thread – the incredible hit rate of former members of the Liverpudlian post-punk band Big In Japan who released very little in their short lifetime. Ian Broudie here joined Holly Johnson, Bill Drummond and Clive Langer (producer of House of Fun and Come On Eileen) in scoring a number one hit while Budgie and Dave Balfe also notched up Top 10 hits.

    Given Tom’s linkage it’s also worth pointing out that this came out just as the Pistols reunited for their Filthy Lucre tour.

    This knocked Simply Red’s dreary official anthem for six. I remember Broudie recounting that Mick Hucknall came up to him afterwards and said “You really kicked our arse at the footy didn’t you ? ” which shows him in a better light.

    I remember at the time there was some anxiety in progressive circles that if England won Euro 96 Major might be able to capitalise on it and pull off another unlikely victory. We know what happened there.

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    punctum on 5 Dec 2013 #

    Of course it is equally possible that “Three Lions” is the last true 1967 record, or in strict terms the last true late 1966 record; behind the opening montage of cynical, negative soundbites (“We’re not creative enough, and we’re not positive enough,” “We’ll go on getting bad results,” the “getting bad results” echoing into the gulf between thought and expression, though note the slight salivating in Scotsman Alan Hansen’s mouth as he opines “I think it’s bad news for the English game”) are the staccato harpischord and floating French horn from “God Only Knows,” still a plangent memory from the last year when English football, or for that matter England, was assumed to matter; that 4-2 ball and chain of a result against a wartime enemy, Churchill’s last rites. Out of the abyss comes Ian Broudie’s voice: “It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming/Football’s coming home” and a militant drum roll opens up the song into a post-Britpop swagger of a singalong, persuading 1966 to come into 1996, fervently rekindling the hope that football, and the sixties, can live again and anew.

    For the 1996 European Championship tournament the FA selected as its official theme song “We’re In This Together,” the portentous, would-be anthemic closing track of Simply Red’s Life with its tasteful, slow-motion World Muzak percussion and chants and Hucknall’s soulful, passionate and honest wailing about nothing much beyond non-specific calls for unity. But “Three Lions” overtook it with such natural rapidity to become the people’s anthem for that tournament; sung on terraces, and on one occasion by the artists themselves. To the FA it might have lacked the mythical appeal to a non-existent international audience of Simply Red’s one-soul-fits-all approach, but it was unmistakeably English, even though it held out a cherished hand towards the Anglo-American pop-turning-into-psych of ’66-7.

    Although neither Baddiel nor Skinner were averse to deploying extended sarcasm in their stand-up acts or in their role as presenters of the TV programme Fantasy Football League, their lyrics to “Three Lions” plead against sarcasm (“So many jokes, so many sneers,” Baddiel bemoans in what sounds suspiciously like a sneer) and cynicism (“Everyone seems to know the score/They’ve seen it all before”) in favour of that most unfashionable of mid-nineties characteristics, non-ironic hope (“Jules Rimet still gleaming/Thirty years of hurt/Never stopped me dreaming”).

    By virtue of the Lightning Seeds’ involvement the music extends the football-coming-home metaphor into wishing and willing for that entire 1966 spirit to return into existence; Baddiel and Skinner’s vocals are, shall we say, serviceable, but “Three Lions” was never intended to be an aria. And there is a true moment of shiver, following a balancing montage of positives (“Good old England! England who couldn’t play football!”), when Broudie sings with a tremble: “I know that was then/But it could be again” – and then the music momentarily stops before the opening Brian Wilson figures start up again, flowing naturally into the final goodhearted choruses.

    It worked up to a point; England progressed to the semi-finals when, largely on account of their endemic inability to score penalties, they went out against the eventual champions…Germany. But they did not disgrace themselves, and, as a hymn against cynicism and the death of hope, “Three Lions” has endured as well as “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” There was none of the cocksure bring-the-boys-home pseudo-confidence of previous attempted anthems; simply a realistic view from which its composers refused to banish the existence of goodness and achievement.

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    swanstep on 5 Dec 2013 #

    This one’s new to me, and I’d say ‘Three Lions’ offers nothing for non-partisans. Basic problems: it never gets out of first gear musically (it’s no ‘Fearless’ that’s for sure), and the simultaneously self-pitying and entitled lyrics make Bernard Sumner’s seem attractively positive and forward-looking, perhaps even the work of a great poet by comparison. Evidently I’m not the intended audience for ‘Three Lions’, but for me it’s a pretty horrible (almost a 2):

  24. 24
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 5 Dec 2013 #

    As a matter of interest, asking as someone with no sustained interest in any sport (though no animus either), did Fantasy Football have any effect whatever on the norms of sports broadcasting? Or did all the ideas vanish when it vanished? I watched it for a while and enjoyed it; pretty sure I stopped watching before it stopped though. I was interested in the way it combined obsessive detail and the minutiae of difference with shared emotional simplicity… ans = via sense of humour, of course

    (It occurs to me, but this is a notion for a different, longer essay — possibly by someone who knows what they’re talking about — that irony is the natural mode of the sports fan, having almost always to offset the world of possibility and the world of likelihood, and therefore having to speak in a language that can combine both…)

  25. 25
    James BC on 5 Dec 2013 #

    About the Simply Red song, it wasn’t a case of their official anthem vs Three Lions’s unofficial one. Both songs were official, but Three Lions was the official song of the England team whereas Simply Red did the non-partisan theme song for the tournament as a whole.

  26. 26
    Cumbrian on 5 Dec 2013 #

    Re:24. I watched Fantasy Football League religiously and I reckon it has been mined for influence in a lot of sports programming, though most obviously in football. It should be said at the outset though, that though I thought FFL was at times really funny, it was incredibly uneven, particularly towards the end, when I could go whole episodes without laughing.

    On the appropriations, unfortunately, they’ve not taken the things that were (imo) good about FFL – principally a willingness to laugh at themselves and the nature of obsessive football fandom – like the shared knowledge of football incidents and recreating them, weird off the wall stuff like Geoff Astle turning up every week to sing something – and strip mined it for the stuff that didn’t work or was just plain ugly (laddish chumminess, “othering” people not in the Lad sphere – getting Statto to dress up in thick specs and a dressing gown and having people shout Statto at him, the many unfunny sketches that were only occasionally balanced out by some wry observation).

    If you ever watch Soccer AM on Sky, you’ll see where some of the FFL influences ended up. Likewise, if you’re ever had Tim Lovejoy inflicted on you. And you definitely get the impression that at Sky, the football pundits and the Soccer Saturday crew are all lads together, with their in-jokes and, as evidenced by the Keys/Gray affair, misogyny. And outside, Soccer AM (and their jokes are generally not good) and Geoff Stelling, you always get the impression that football is very serious business, rather than something that can be laughed at some times.

  27. 27
    Steve Mannion on 5 Dec 2013 #

    #24 I think you can make a link between the ‘2 Good 2 Bad’ segment on Match Of The Day 2 (which came in with Adrian Chiles iirc) and Fantasy Football’s ‘A few things we noticed from watching football this week’ (but also via Sky’s Soccer AM which had the more eagley of eyes + time and resources for this sort of thing). More recently the kids-orientated MOTD Kickabout does a few similar observational jokey things (and far more entertaining than MOTD2 with it).

  28. 28
    Will on 5 Dec 2013 #

    As an old school fan I quickly became irritated by Three Lions, even though it was impossible not to be swept up in it all at the time, especially after England’s 4-1 demolition of Holland in their final group match. That still stands as probably the best England performance I’ve ever seen. I still remember turning round to people in the Bristol pub I was watching it in, all of us open-mouthed, not-quite believing that all this was happening on the TV screen.

    The source of that irritation at TL wasn’t Baddiel or Skinner – both genuine fans by all accounts – or the countless newbies who bought into it, but the concept of the years of ‘hurt’. Only one team can win a major tournament every two years. I’m not hurt when England eventually lose to a better team at these events, more mildly disappointed. What right do we have to win these things, just because we were once the best in the world a long time ago?

    I wonder if they have this same sense of wounded grandeur in somewhere like Uruguay, who are now into their sixty fourth year of ‘hurt’? Or have they got over it by now?

  29. 29
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 5 Dec 2013 #

    One of the things I did like about FF’s (yes) generally pretty rubbishy sketches (and I’m not not sure I’ve ever seen this discussed) is that they reminded me of reading comics like Beano and Dandy in the late 60s and early 70s, when characters in those strips engaged with pop cultural moments: which wasn’t very often, but when it happened it was a kind of acting out scenes on the strip’s own quite specific terms, which simultaneously mirrored the moment in question, and how small boys and girls* might act them out on the playground or in a street or park or garden. Which is to say, simultaneously quite a primitive means, and quite a sophisticated mediation.

    *Comics like Beano and Dandy were of course fairly daringly groundbreaking in terms of sex-pol here: Pansy Potter the Strong Man’s Daughter, Minnie the Minx, Beryl the Peril, be still my heart :)

  30. 30
    Tom on 5 Dec 2013 #

    Not that anyone is asking – but I didn’t mention my reaction to the tournament itself in the piece because it was all bundled up in a load of memories, good and bad, of that summer. I remember gawping at our tiny TV with my flatmates at the Holland game, listening to the Spain one on a car radio in the Kew Gardens car park, and London being full of fans (but particularly England fans). Nothing terribly unusual! (I have no firm memories of the semi-final, tho.) But “Three Lions” itself wasn’t a huge part of any of those.

  31. 31
    Cumbrian on 5 Dec 2013 #

    My main memories of the tournament were;

    – That England – Holland game, where for the first time in my life, I got the sense that, on that particular day at least, you could have put any team in the world up against us and England would have won. Truly astonishing.
    – The emergence of teams from behind the old Iron Curtain. I really wanted the Czech Republic to do well and being very pleased they got to the final, whilst playing good football. Croatia similarly were chock full of talent – my goal of the tournament being Davor Suker’s cushioning of a 60 yard ball with one foot and then delicately and deliciously lifting it over Peter Schmeichel.
    – England’s defence being so good during the tournament that, and I swear this is true, that as Southgate walked up, I said to my Dad, he’ll miss. The irony that one of the members of the best unit in our team would be the one to fail just seemed too obvious.

  32. 32
    @colonel_sponsz on 5 Dec 2013 #


  33. 33
    Mark G on 5 Dec 2013 #

    I guess it was ‘hurt’ because ‘disappointment’ didn’t fit.

  34. 34
    Conrad on 5 Dec 2013 #

    24, FF was witty and sparky but sadly had quite a significant impact on football, if not sports, broadcasting. The accepted norm now from BBC1 to Sky to 5Live is groups of blokes trying to be witty and engaging in ‘banter’. Not saying FF was the sole starting point for that, but it’s format – in front of, and with the participation of a live audience of mainly blokes replete in replica kits, has been widely copied.

    This was the tournament of El Tel’s Christmas Tree formation by the way. And apart from a brief spell under Hoddle shortly after, England’s football team has been nowhere near as fluid or easy on the eye since.

  35. 35
    ciaran on 5 Dec 2013 #

    Not the most obvious pairing for a football song but a perfect one for the time.

    Fantasy Football was one of the better tv comedies of the 90s. I didnt watch the BBC version all that much in its time but had a look at episodes on youtube and it still holds up well now. The BBC years do look a bit dated but it was very funny (saint and greavsie, jason lee, matt le tissier, Tom Webster,peter un-lurve!). It also introduced a lot of clips from the European leagues which was very rare at the time – only Italy’s serie a was known over here in Ireland back then. The only thing I didnt like about it was the actual fantasy element of the show with the guests which was later dropped.

    I’m probably in a minority here but I would have a slight preference for the first of their ITV series in (cant say). The 2004 series was pushing it a bit though. Looking back it was the last chance to do it before the advent of Youtube. But still a great show in the 90s and a convincing pair to make a football record to hit number 1.

    The Lightning seeds less so. Ian Broudie came across as more I.T Crowd than indie musician and/or die-hard football fan. The Lightning seeds were inescapable by 1996. Not like the big 2 and Pulp to a lesser degree but from late 94 to mid 97 they always seemed there.Sometimes annoyingly so.

    Their output more than any Britpop band was very hit and miss.For every agreeable tune like ‘Change’ or ‘Marvellous’ there was dull records like ‘Sugar Coated Iceberg’ or even worse ‘What if’ from late 1996. That one sticks out because of a bus trip on a sports day in school when one of the team started raising his hands over his head like you would at a disco sarcastically when ‘What if’ came on the bus radio.At the time it was as naff as you could get. I’m fond of the last hit record (as just the Lightning Seeds) ‘You Showed Me’ – as played on Austin Powers!.

    On Three Lions it’s a hit more than miss (sorry!). First time I watched the video I didnt think it would do much but the more the message got through it had No.1 written all over it.The failure to make USA could have made it easier to make a more realistic record about England’s chances. The phoenix from the flames bit towards the end of the video added to its appeal.

    It’s not as good as it sounded in 1996 but a more than respectable effort. Would Prefer it to England’s Irie. 7.

  36. 36
    thefatgit on 5 Dec 2013 #

    I suppose the formats of FFL and Soccer AM can be traced back to SNL’s original Wayne’s World slot. Mike Myers’ cheerful amateurism transfers well to a footy-related chat/comedy/multi-feature show. Stripped-down informal and fresh for the 90’s. It was almost nothing like Tiswas meets Saint & Greavsie (Sally James’s son works on Soccer AM these days).

  37. 37
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 5 Dec 2013 #

    36: Good call!

    (haha Wayne’s World began life as something called Wayne’s Power Minute)

  38. 38
    Tom on 5 Dec 2013 #

    It feels like the WW format has also inspired 50%+ of podcasts too.

  39. 39
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 5 Dec 2013 #

    Excellent! Party Time! I’ll Stop Now!

  40. 40
    @SmWltn on 5 Dec 2013 #

    If you often think about the failures of Britpop and the England football team, and the relationship between them: http://t.co/Nkhal07VK5

  41. 41
    anto on 5 Dec 2013 #

    Certainly one of the most instantly memorable number ones. Also a kind of vindication for Ian Broudie who had been involved with one thing or another for 20 tears at this stage. Are Big in Japan the only band who never actually made it that featured three members who’ve had number ones?
    I don’t think football and music in this country ever seemed as inextricable as they did at this point in 1996. Only 5 years earlier musical football fans meant Rod, Elton and a few music weekly faves like The Farm but by Euro ’96 it was almost obligatory for UK pop stars to claim some allegiance to the game to the point where some of them appeared to pasting it on somewhat. I dimly recall an interview with Gaz Coombes in one of the footy magazines around this time where he claimed to be a Man. Utd fan, which ground to a halt when it became obvious that he didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.
    I dunno what to say about the England team which hasn’t been said umpteen times before. Personally I wish they would admit that the ‘rivalry’ with Germany doesn’t really exist and is only really fretted over on one side complete with queasy references to wartime. Also the obsession with penalty shoot-outs – the least satisfactory and most random way of deciding a match – ought to be questioned as well because it’s a rather childish thing to get hung up on.

  42. 42
    Kinitawowi on 5 Dec 2013 #

    #35: couldn’t let this bit go past without comment: “PHOENIX FROM THE flames phoenix, FROM THE FLAMES PHOE nix from the, FLAMES PHOENIX FROM the flames phoe, NIX FROM THE FLAMES” etcetera.

    Best variant: “Gary Neville’s The Nonsense And Silliness That Has Affected Some England Managers”.

  43. 43
    Steve Mannion on 5 Dec 2013 #

    No love for this song here, just slight nostalgic pangs for the time when England had lost only two out of three shootouts (now six out of seven and seemingly an inescapable doom spiral).

  44. 44
    Cumbrian on 5 Dec 2013 #

    40/42: Penalty shootouts are awesome, especially in massive competitions. They’re a brilliant made for TV moment, full of drama. It can surely be no coincidence that eliminations in reality TV shows of all stripes borrow elements of the penalty shootout – the long drawn out process, despite the act (elimination/safety versus goal/miss) itself happening fairly quickly being the most obvious one.

    The fact England rarely win in them is neither here nor there as far as I am concerned. Besides which, without them, we’d never have had some of the greatest penalties ever like:

    Kevin Pressman casually goal-kicking it at top speed into the top corner (in this ridiculously blocky video).


    Or Panenka becoming a verb by his having the brass balls to lift it slowly down the middle of the goal.


    Or the Psycho scream. Or Michael Owen blasting one in off post and bar against Argentina. Or Grobbelaar doing the rubbery legged dance to put off his opponent.

    I could go on for a while. Penalty shootouts are awesome. Sometimes it’s a shame that they have a game of football before them.

  45. 45
    weej on 5 Dec 2013 #

    I could never get into The Lightning Seeds as they just seemed like the most uncool* of the Britpop-era bands, and everything they did seemed to follow a pre-ordaned indie-pop formula. Sometimes (like with Lucky You) they’d strike gold, but it was somehow never enough to make me remotely interested in the group themselves – there didn’t seem to be anything else beneath the surface to immerse myself in.

    I didn’t mind Three Lions at the time, and find it’s aged much better than expected. The excitement of Euro ’96 being in the UK (and the feeling that we were in with a decent shot at it after the depressing ’94 World Cup campaign) added a narrative to it, something I could join in with, and it just seemed like the right song at the right time. It felt like a unifying thing too, although of course it wasn’t – people who didn’t like football weren’t really in, and of course the Welsh and Scottish were out too. (for another vantage point on the tournament Arab Strap’s first single ‘The First Big Weekend’ includes the line “We had intended to watch the football in the afternoon but we’d passed out by then and slept right through it, awaking to find that England had won two-nil.”)

    New Lad was on the rise now, and the mis-shapes were being ejected from Britpop’s big tent. I wish Three Lions and Baddiel and Skinner had no part in this (I watched FFL and enjoyed it too) but I fear they probably did, albeit unintentionally.

    *Looking for a better word than uncool, but I can’t think of one. I hope you know what I mean.

    Edit: Can anyone find the original ’96 video on the internet? Can’t believe I can’t find it.

  46. 46
    James BC on 5 Dec 2013 #

    I like penalty shootouts too. I think the Olympic football should be replaced with a penalty shootout tournament.

  47. 47
    Cumbrian on 5 Dec 2013 #

    45: Weird. The original 96 video is the first one that comes up when I search for Three Lions on Youtube. It’s off the Lightning Seeds Vevo feed.


    Also, I don’t think anyone else has mentioned that The Lightning Seeds name is from a misheard Prince lyric. So I have. Raspberry Beret is tremendous – and I guess something of a template for Ian Broudie’s work – shame The Lightning Seeds did nothing to hold a candle to it, at least in my view anyway.

  48. 48
    weej on 5 Dec 2013 #

    #47 – Ah that’s why – “The uploader has not made this video available in your country.”

  49. 49
    Nixon on 5 Dec 2013 #

    #35 I always rather liked the Lightning Seeds, they wrote pretty, catchy pop tunes and always sounded slightly fey, despite the football connection which bought them all manner of credibility with the New Lad crowd (brrr, I’d forgotten that term). Like Tom said, they could sell a sappy tune – but Broudie had the tunes in him in the first place, which immediately distanced them from a lot of their just-below-stardom Britpop peers. I remember a Melody Maker live review saluting them for getting beery, shirtless, tattooed blokes to bounce about singing “Oh, you make me feel alright / It’s like the tippermost toppermost high!”, which amuses me.

    edit: #45 too (and another New lad reference!) – that wasn’t there when I started typing :)

  50. 50
    Mark G on 5 Dec 2013 #

    #35, I’d point out that “Sugar Coated Iceberg” is a song (lyrics by Stephen “baby bird” Jones) that incriminates itself, the sound of the music that’s “so sweet, until you tumble the sugar coated lies”..

    and, of course, “You Showed Me”, as revived, sort of, by DeLaSoul, was one of those songs from back then that hadn’t been a hit over here but had all the ingredients. There’s not many of them left…

  51. 51
    fivelongdays on 5 Dec 2013 #

    Some random thoughts on Three Lions and the surrounding Euro 96.

    1) Every few years, England play in a way that makes you go ‘Bloody Hell! That’s England?!’. The Holland game was one of those. (See also – the 5-1 match)

    2) The week this got to number one, Metallica got to number five with ‘Until It Sleeps’, despite it getting absolutely no radio play whatsoever. That’s got to be worth something.

    3) It was around the time this got to number one that my heart was pierced by truth, thanks to a Bunnied Welsh Band, and 14-year-old me no longer really wanted to Shine On Down The Line Like You’re Feeling Fine with Oasis.

    4) Good call on the ‘Soccer AM (SHIT) is FFL’s crap bits, only made worse’. Tim Lovejoy and people who wanted to be Tim Lovejoy are part of the reason why, so often, football best exists nostalgically for me right now. Plus, I never really got why ‘Statto’ – who had an intellectual understanding of the game, rather than a ‘we’re lads! We drink lager! We have no idea what we’re talking about!’ idiocy – was so condemned. Of course, in real life Angus Loughran is a rather well-off man thanks to his success at betting – an art which requires a grasp of statistics.

    5) Nice to the The Lightning Seeds get to number one, although I can’t be the only one who thinks, in a perfect world (which has to be the name of a TLS song, surely) Pure should have hit the top.

    6) Three Lions was a well-crafted fan-friendly track which made sense on the radio and on the terraces. Sure, World In Motion is better record, but it doesn’t have that singalong factor. It’s a record which has become part of the cultural landscape. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it. And, crucially, it works. Eight.

  52. 52
    Nixon on 5 Dec 2013 #

    #51 (5) So close! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oXku7W2HRU

  53. 53
    glue_factory on 5 Dec 2013 #

    Re: 51 point 4, although not as well off as Frank Skinner, who I once read in an interview saying how the success of this era meant he didn’t really have to work again. I’m assuming that’s because of his TV and stand-up stadium gigs, rather than the royalties from this record, even if does seem to come out again, every time another football tournament looms.

  54. 54
    Cumbrian on 5 Dec 2013 #

    I thought Frank Skinner was actually not all that well off anymore (at least by celebrity standards) due to his investment portfolio being wiped during the credit crunch. Or was this just another tabloid confection?

  55. 55
    glue_factory on 5 Dec 2013 #

    I certainly read that too (I think he was supposed to have invested a lot in/with bailed-out-by-the-US-goverment insurers and Man United sponsors, AIG)

  56. 56
    iconoclast on 5 Dec 2013 #

    There’s not much else I can say that hasn’t already been said above, but this is thankfully free of the hubris which characterises too many other football records (something concisely distilled elsewhere by the beered-up bombast of “We’re going to score one more than you!”) and treats England’s chances with a realism that the press, for example, seemed completely incapable of. It’s an oddly wistful and likeable dirge-like ditty which a Scot like me, by now well accustomed to the national team’s lamentable failures at international football tournaments, can relate to at enough levels to award it a SEVEN.

    (As with 1990, Scottish memories of the tournament differ markedly from English ones: oh no, McAllister’s missed; here we go, out on goal difference yet again; and surely Spain’s goal against England was onside?)

    (I’d disagree slightly with Tom here and argue that the second act doesn’t so much as finish here as the third one starts in a few weeks, but that’s splitting hairs.)

  57. 57
    Kinitawowi on 5 Dec 2013 #

    #51: (6) It’s almost tempting to suggest that anybody who scores this less than about a six or seven simply doesn’t Get football.

  58. 58
    23 Daves on 5 Dec 2013 #

    Right then, I’m happy to set myself up as an example. I don’t get football at all. I’ve tried – well, I’ve been made to try. My brothers and Dad are all obsessed with it, and a small child I was encouraged to take an interest.

    So it may not surprise you to learn that the very first time I heard this record, I laughed at David Baddiel’s vocals and thought to myself: “They’ve no hope of having a hit with this. What are they playing at?” The sentiments in the song didn’t really touch me, either – I thought the “thirty years of hurt” line was a bit pathetic and indicative of the entitled nature of a lot of England fans.

    Anyway, apart from talking about how wrong I was (and am) I did eventually notice that the main riff in the chorus feels vaguely similar to the descending intro to Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody”, and in fact the bounce of the rhythm throughout isn’t dissimilar either. If Broudie was channelling that source and hoped to write himself an evergreen football song in the same manner Slade had written a Christmas constant, he was completely on-the-money. This might be reading a bit too much into things, but it’s something I’ve often wondered about.

  59. 59
    Weej on 6 Dec 2013 #

    #56 I always thought “we’re gonna score one more than you” was a joke about how narrow England victories tend to be, even against supposedly inferior competition. Anyhow, a better opportunity to discuss F** L** next time this comes around (if it has a seperate entry, that is.)

  60. 60
    James BC on 6 Dec 2013 #

    Other Euro 96 songs:

    – Black Grape and Keith Allen did England’s Irie
    – Rod Stewart apparently did Purple Heather with the Scottish team.

    Any more?

  61. 61
    D.C. Harrison on 6 Dec 2013 #

    On the surface, this single was made for me. I loved football as a kid to the point of obsession. I could recite every FA Cup final result since 1945 (most of the scorers too), and my weekly fix of Eric Cantona on Match of the Day usually got me through the horrors of the school week.

    I’d caught Fantasy Football League very early on – perhaps the second episode, I remember they created the guy who ran on the pitch when Everton equalised in the 1966 cup final and was rugby tackled by the copper. I recognised David Baddiel from “Newman and Baddiel in Pieces”, which I also loved. From the early days, I seem to recall a lot being made of Frank Skinner looking like QPR/Sheff Weds flyer Andy Sinton.

    On top of that, the Lightning Seeds made both the first single (‘What If…’) and album (that ‘Pure’ compilation of their first two albums) that I bought with my own cash. I didn’t really enjoy Britpop at all, but Ian Broudie seemed a bit set apart from all that for reasons that only became clear as I learned more of his background. He’d done the rounds alright – and his work with Paul Simpson as Care deserves far, far more attention (as does most of what Simpson has ever done).

    So, despite this combining both my favourite comedians and band, I wasn’t initially taken in. The early nineties had put me off England: Taylor picking total cloggers ahead of brilliant talents like Waddle and Beardsley. When I first heard the song, my sulky 15-year-old self dismissed it, and when England struggled past the Swiss – a game notable only for Shearer breaking a barren spell for the national side, I think – I figured it would be Euro ’92 again.

    The Dutch game changed that. Sheringham and Shearer looked the ultimate strike force, Gascoigne playing like it was 1990 again. By the time of the semi-final, I was converted and was singing it along with everyone else, just like with ‘World In Motion’ six years earlier.

    I suppose the crunch moment was in (I think) extra time against the Germans, when Gascoigne just (just!) failed to get his foot to a cross across their area. If he’d not lost his cool in the 1991 FA cup final and snapped his leg, would he have still been quick enough to get it? But he didn’t reach it, and that was that, much as when Waddle smashed the post around the same point in 1990. I’m not sure if I’ve cared for the national team to any degree since, nor do I think anyone involved in this song has done much to hit their own peaks again. The video was quite fun, though.

  62. 62
    thefatgit on 6 Dec 2013 #

    #60 Collapsed Lung’s AA side. Everybody remembers the Partridge-inspired song from the Coca Cola advert. Nobody (including me) remembers “London Tonight”.

  63. 63
    Mark G on 6 Dec 2013 #

    #59 you are quite right, I had my timing out by 2 years. Sorry bun.

  64. 64
    Chelovek na lune on 6 Dec 2013 #

    #61. Ah, Care, now they were very fine.

    One of their more melancholy numbers from their splendid (in fact, in places, stunning), and much overlooked album “Diamonds and Emeralds” – “Sad Day For England” – could lend itself to football usage, too, in the post-lad era than hadn’t yet arrived when Care recorded it.

  65. 65
    Erithian on 6 Dec 2013 #

    “I’m sick and tired of explaining the offside rule to girls called Fiona with red crosses painted on their faces singing about thirty years of hurt” – a Scouse England supporter in summer ’96. My own feelings were that Fiona and her like were perfectly entitled to learn about the offside rule, and the new audience was very welcome just as long as the people who’d been there all along weren’t forgotten – those who’d stood by the game in the dark days. I’ll leave you to judge whether that has happened in the past 21 years or so.

    For those of us born in the early 60s, for whom 1966 and all that was tantalisingly around the corner of our memory, Euro 96 was something to relish. And as an activist in the Football Supporters Association I was happy to play my part. A week or so before it kicked off I helped to organise a five-a-side tournament between supporters’ teams representing as many of the competing nations as we could get together. It was a great success, and hearing players walking off pitches chatting in Bulgarian or Russian just heightened the anticipation of what was to come. And the opening of “Three Lions”, that simple, gentle crescendo of “It’s coming home…” conveyed that anticipation so perfectly.

    The FSA ran a set of Fans’ Embassies in the host cities, information centres for visiting fans from all over Europe. The London Embassy was a small disused office space off Piccadilly Circus, which we decorated with football memorabilia and advice leaflets until, in the words of one journalist, it looked like a cosmopolitan teenager’s bedroom. While setting it up in advance of the press launch, I was sticking posters on the wall, listening to Test Match Special on headphones, when one of our first visitors – a young Chinese woman – walked over for a chat. I stuck my headphones round my neck and talked for a while, then her friend, carrying a TV camera on his shoulder, came over to join her. There wasn’t a point at which they stopped and said “let’s do an interview” – I just gradually realised I was being interviewed, with the headphones still around my neck. They thanked me, signed the visitors’ book saying they were a crew from Chinese TV and told me the interview would be seen by about 50 million people.

    Our duties ranged from advising a trio of tipsy Czechs in plastic bobbies’ helmets where they could catch a bus tour, to providing updates on the Arndale Centre bombing in Manchester which took place the day before Germany played Russia at Old Trafford. One of my colleagues in the London Embassy was an old buddy I’ll call simply Dave, who supplied the office with a telephone answering machine which still contained a message to his daughter from a friend – we’ll meet the daughter five times on Popular and her friend three times, all bunnied!

    Working the Embassies was a brilliant way to experience the tournament – seeing England through visitors’ eyes and seeing the new audience sharing the excitement. Never more so than when I met Matthew. He was a visiting American who, God knows how, had picked up a ticket for England v Spain (his first ever football match) and had a few questions – so he came into the Embassy and said “That flag the England fans were waving, with the red cross on the white background – what is it?” Being an American, he was unafraid to ask what might seem daft questions: “… so is there, like, a league of football in England?” – “That song about Jules Rimet – was he the guy who scored the winning goal in the World Cup Final?” In the end I just got him a beer and sat down for a chat about football culture and he went away highly satisfied with his journey up the learning curve.

    And we did plenty of media. A couple of times I went over to the Sky studios near work to make salient points about the supporter experience (did one interview with Robert Elms!) and sound suitably euphoric about that England-Holland game. On the day of the semi-final Sky asked me if I could get to Wembley for an interview the following morning and they’d pay for the cab. After our defeat, feeling totally drained walking through the crowds heading for Trafalgar Square, I got home knackered wondering how I’d get up in time for the cab, only to find that Sky were on the phone again, saying that now England had lost they didn’t want to bother with getting me to Wembley, but did I happen to know anyone who had Gareth Southgate’s phone number? That’s showbiz!

    As a postscript – we put together a compilation of people’s experiences of Euro 96, and our prize contributor was Marco Bode, a member of the German squad. He related how he had found himself singing along with “Three Lions” while warming up on the pitch, and how the German squad had sung the song on the coach en route to Wembley for the semi, so they’d totally adopted the anthem well before winning the tournament – “was there ever an anthem better suited to a tournament?” he said. He also mentioned – and whether this was just for the benefit of an English audience I’m not sure – that he was next up to take a penalty for the Germans in the shootout after Southgate, and his mind at the time was all over the place. “I’ll put it to Seaman’s left – no, top right corner – maybe I’ll just dink it…” There’s a fair chance he’d have missed.

  66. 66
    D.C. Harrison on 6 Dec 2013 #


    Could be an apt song given the group England just got!

    And yes, “Diamonds and Emeralds” is a brilliant album. The reissue from the mid 90s had Broudie, enjoying his prominent on the cover with poor Paul Simpson banished to the distance. He never did seem to get the breaks that a lot of his fellow Liverpool scene alumni did.

  67. 67
    Kat but logged out innit on 6 Dec 2013 #

    Inspired by the general mood of cheerfulness in the air (at school and at swimming club) after England’s win against Spain, I finally plucked up the courage to pick up the phone and ask out Adam P after a 6-month long crush. He said no, I was MORTIFIED, we carried on talking about the football awkwardly for another 15 mins. I lost interest in both Adam and the game of football shortly afterwards – I couldn’t quite find it in myself to get excited about France ’98 after that.

  68. 68
    MBI on 6 Dec 2013 #

    Ouch. Get ready for another couple years of hurt.

  69. 69
    nixon on 7 Dec 2013 #

    #60: bafflingly, the BBC used Beethoven’s Ode to Joy as their theme for Euro 96 (maybe someone either conflated the EU with UEFA or just didn’t think through the right wing tabloids’ reaction to using a piece by a German composer – the Mail mocked up a picture of LvB in a Germany shirt) and I *think* a tie-in single edit charted?

  70. 70
    Mark G on 7 Dec 2013 #

    Well, they used Beethoven’s 5th as an intro for the BBC News during the 2nd World War, so he had previous.

  71. 71
    bob stanley (@rocking_bob) on 8 Dec 2013 #

    “So sincere it’s almost mawkish: football fans as sad, big-eyed pups” Tom Ewing on Three Lions: http://t.co/w443RTPnv9

  72. 72
    Kat but logged out innit on 8 Dec 2013 #

    #62 I bought the single of Eat My Goal and confirm that I never listened to London Tonight. Sorry, Ant…

  73. 73
    Jimmy the Swede on 9 Dec 2013 #

    # 65 – That’s a wonderful account of a grand event, Erithian. I’ll look forward to learning more about this in another place or when we next meet. Very belated congrats for a brilliant effort, buddy!

    As for the WC draw for next year, Oh, Mumma!!

    And as for The Ashes…

  74. 74
    hardtogethits on 10 Dec 2013 #

    Firstly, congratulations on an excellent review Tom – did enough to demonstrate that there is a wizard behind the curtain, without actually peeling back the curtain. I found it really stirring, I was on my feet ready to applaud the announcement of a “Ten from Tom”, when I saw 6. Oops. Didn’t see that coming. Better sit back down.

    I was more seriously puzzled by the notion that “plenty of middle-class Brits had always liked football”. Maybe because I choose to dwell on the words “plenty” and “always” – but here they haunt me, honestly. I have mulled those over for a few days, wondering whether to make a contribution (and obv indeed prob inwardly hoping someone else would make my point for me).

    See, I think football was generally disliked or ignored by the middle-classes until 1990. Some blurring of the lines occurs because mobility BETWEEN the classes (if we accept that such a thing can happen) became more common, more possible, more talked about. But football WAS a game for the working class. A book’s worth of writing, easily.

    However, dwelling on the prevailing attitude is beside My Point, and to some extent it may undermine it, because I accept others may disagree with it. My Point is that if ENOUGH (ie “plenty”) of the middle-classes had had a more tolerant, understanding or even positive view of football, I think the events of 15 April 1989 at Hillsborough wouldn’t’ve happened. I know I’m not alone in that view.

    In many ways of course the post-Hillsborough middle-class interest has served a greater good. But of course, the bunnied number one from the end of 2012 is a horrible reminder that football never really was liked by enough middle-class people.

  75. 75
    nixon on 10 Dec 2013 #

    #73 I have only hazy memories of going to football in the 80s, but… We were a working class immigrant family living in Cheshire, but my uncle was a commercial traveller and spent lots of time in London – he latched on to Spurs as his team and used to bring me back programmes and scarves and similar tat. When I was old enough he started to take me to games, but my parents insisted I get a seat rather than stand on a terrace. The White Hart Lane crowd was always split along class lines – very broadly, I remember the people in the West Upper seats were exactly the same people who are there now, solidly middle-class stalwarts of London Jewish community, polite and restrained. The people in the Park Lane and Shelf terraces were the noisy ones, and it was made clear to little me they were the “wrong” kind of fans, oiks spoiling for a fight – but we needed them for atmosphere, even though they weren’t like “us” (the the irony escaped me at the time). It’s not that middle class people didn’t like football, it’s not that it was some working class paradise later parasitised by wealthy Johnny-come-latelies, it’s just that the attitude seemed much like the contemporary concert attitude towards moshpits and crowd surfers. What did change after Hillsborough and Italia 90 and Sky was the co-opting of all prior football history, the claiming of a legacy, and the notion that 40 years of going to matches “in the old days” meant 40 years on the terraces standing in a fug of smoke and piss, when that wasn’t the whole story.

  76. 76
    Steve Williams on 10 Dec 2013 #

    In his autobiography Frank Skinner talks about going to an England training camp and playing this to Terry Venables, who tapped along to it with his car keys and then proclaimed it as “a real key tapper”. Then they played it to the players who were having lunch and couldn’t care less, apart from Gazza who grabbed hold of the CD player to play it again. Skinner says that the players listened to it on the way to the matches but before one of them they forgot it and Gazza refused to get off the bus until someone found a copy and played it. As Skinner says, “I know he’s got OCD, but I was chuffed”.

    Skinner also said that in many ways he couldn’t believe the song had got to number one as David Baddiel was the worst singer he’d ever heard.

    I remember Radio 1 playing this for the first time, Dangerous Dave Pearce played it whole standing in for Chris Evans and I thought it sounded bizarre. Euro 96 was probably the end of Chris Evans’ imperial phase on Radio 1, after this it all went downhill with the notorious Scotland trip a few weeks away, but it was very exciting at the time, it really felt like the zeitgeist, and I remember on the day of the semi-final that Simon Mayo’s Golden Hour was 1966.

    I would go along with the “end of an era” idea because Staurt Maconie once suggested that Britpop as a cultural force, alongside Cool Britannia, began at 6pm on Monday 14th August 1995 when Blur vs Oasis got on the news and ended at 10pm on Wednesday 26th June 1996 with that penalty miss. He’s probably right.

  77. 77
    Lazarus on 10 Dec 2013 #

    #73/74 has anyone mentioned prawn sandwiches yet?


    Nice explanation of offside at 3.30.

  78. 78
    Tom on 10 Dec 2013 #

    #73 an excellent comment, and yes, I edited and re-edited that phrase. Because, obviously, to the extent that I’m a fan at all, I am a middle class post-90s football entryist. So I have no first-hand idea about the audience composition before the “Premiership Era”. I think in previous football-related entries I parroted the line that football had very little middle-class fandom pre-1990 and commenters objected so in this one I was careful here to try to suggest that while they weren’t a majority they weren’t unrepresented either. But I may have phrased it too hard in the other direction.

    #75 There’s a kind of proto Art Brut thing going on with the singing. I rather like it.

  79. 79
    Andrew Farrell on 10 Dec 2013 #

    I think Cool Britannia probably has to last as least until Champagne Supersocialism at #10 with Noel and Tony.

  80. 80
    Tom on 10 Dec 2013 #

    Wasn’t the whole point of that that it was late doors bandwagon-jumping – the point everyone knew the thing was dead rather than the point it actually died?

    (We’ll cover the rebirth of British politics under Call-Me-Tony in due course I guess but one of the weird things about l’affaire Cool Britannia is that for a few weeks the Labour Party were cooler than any of the people they wanted to chum up with – the thing about the champagne do is that it exposed NuLab, not the singers, as naff.)

  81. 81
    Erithian on 10 Dec 2013 #

    For middle-class (or higher) football fans, take a look at “The Soccer Syndrome” by John Moynihan, a set of essays on the game and its fans first published in 1965. A well-heeled crowd gathers in a King’s Road pub after a Chelsea match, and among the celebs the jazz singer Annie Ross pops in saying “it was a groovy game”; two chaps go to a West End restaurant after the 1963 Cup Winners’ Cup Final and deploy oysters in the formation of Spurs’ forward line to recreate moves; a young man has the break-up conversation with a girl on a Paris café terrace, the heartbreak eased considerably by the fact that she’s sitting with her back to the café TV showing Pele bossing the 1958 World Cup Final (very Hornbyesque, that one); and the story of the Chelsea Casuals, the Sunday morning team formed by old Carthusian Brian Glanville featuring actors, artists, journalists and graduates.

    Of course Charterhouse and sundry other public schools were in at the birth of the game (the word “soccer” itself being a public school invention), and in the 50s the dominant teams in the Amateur Cup were the toff Pegasus side of Oxbridge Blues and the decidedly non-toff Bishop Auckland.

  82. 82
    Erithian on 10 Dec 2013 #

    – indeed Nixon’s words at #74 about the relationship between the West Upper and the Shelf are strikingly similar to Moynihan’s: “Those supporters who “let their voices roll” are the ulcerated hard core with whom an ordinary, shy spectator feels no real bond or brotherhood, only a condescending admiration from afar.”

    Ha, I like how Nixon is associated with 74 btw…

  83. 83
    thefatgit on 10 Dec 2013 #

    I’m guessing that football fanzines like “When Saturday Comes” and “The Onion Bag” emerged around the time actual social mobility became a thing, ie. working class students with some passion and creative flair, unengaged in music fandoms; punk/indie/rock (anyone ever produce soul fanzines? I’m not sure they were a thing…) begin to write about what they know and importantly, live and breathe which is football, but rub alongside music writers and ideas cross-pollenate. David Stubbs was a WSC contributor, I believe. What I’m driving at is a kind of pop-cultural feedback loop where old…(old? Let’s say established) fanzine writers like Danny Baker and Danny Kelly pick up on their footy-obseessed kindred spirits and help bring smart footy writing into a kind of mainstream, middle-class friendly FourFourTwo style coffee-table format. Where the “Beautiful Game” is celebrated alongside the gritty reality of grass roots football (FFT’s Marine Life column as far removed from the glamour of the Premier League as you could get).

    #74 There were similar divisions at the old Stamford Bridge. Most of our more wealthy, middle-class season ticket holders occupied East and West Stands. Ordinary members, West Stand benches by the corner flag entered from “Bovril” gate or from the Shed if you had a member’s pass. Benches/”Bovril Boys” almost interchangeable with the Shed’s “oiks”. Shed End terracing was almost entirely full of the kind of people Ken Bates wanted to hem in with that notorious electric fence, except they weren’t all nazi-saluting knuckle-draggers, just ordinary working class supporters. And yes, most of the chanting would emerge from the Shed first. North Stand terraces were delapidated and barely used by home fans, usually where the away support were congregated.

  84. 84
    glue_factory on 10 Dec 2013 #

    Re: soul fanzines, I only ever remember it as a proper, available in Smiths, magazine but according to Wikipedia Soul Underground started as a fanzine.

    And I guess the early, pre-Balearic issues of Boy’s Own could count as a soul-fanzine (as well as mentioning football a bit)

  85. 85
    Mark M on 10 Dec 2013 #

    Re 73: Previous Popular discussions about the middle class and football:




  86. 86

    […] And Popular on Three Lions […]

  87. 87
    Jimmy the Swede on 10 Dec 2013 #

    # 82 – It’s curious to hear the Git’s views on Stamford Bridge back in our day and the fans who occupied each part of the ground, because my own path (as a lifelong Blue) has been most odd. When I first went there as a teenager in the mid-seventies, I tended to go alone and stood on the North Stand terraces. Despite the close proximity to the away supporters, this was strangely a relatively safe area, as nearly all the knuckle-draggers were either in the Shed or trying to break in to the away section from the Eastern side of the ground. I then had a spell of treating myself to a seat on the West Stand benches, which as Git says, you accessed via the Bovril entrance at the Shed end. Initially, you paid a 50p transfer fee, probably about a fiver today but then later you simply waved your member’s pass and in you went.

    In 1978, I started work and I splashed out on a season ticket in the Upper tier of the East Stand and remained in that seat (and travelling also to most away games) until about 1984 when a new guy turned up at work with whom I immediately clicked. He was four years older and as well as sharing musical tastes, he was a Shed Ender. And this is what is really strange. From the East Stand seated gentry, I suddenly became one of the great unwashed. Even I realised at the time that the idea was to do this the other way round. My colleague John and I became major buddies and by the end of the nineties, he and I, along with a handful of other Shed mates plus the actor Clive Mantle, were sat in the Matthew Harding Stand, which was ironically in exactly the same spot where the old North Stand Terraces stood. I had come full circle but as is usually the case with me, in a rather bonkers way.

    I’m very much an armchair fan now. But at least I can truthfully reply to the jeering question “Where were you when we were crap?” with “On the footy special up to Wrexham on a Tuesday night in November, since you ask!”

    Happy Days.

  88. 88
    Cumbrian on 10 Dec 2013 #

    86: “On the footy special up to Wrexham on a Tuesday night in November, since you ask!”

    YES! Those suicidal away trips on weekday nights that knacker you for work/school the following day were always the best. I once went to Shrewsbury on a Tuesday night in December – a damn long way from Carlisle. Only about 60 people made the trip, basically the hardest of hardcore fans. Weirdly, the atmosphere was better than if we’d taken a couple of hundred away and diluted the feeling a touch.

  89. 89
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 10 Dec 2013 #

    [Insert Gay Meadow joke here]

    yr pal Lord Sukrat whose gran lived within shouting distance of same

  90. 90
    Jimmy the Swede on 10 Dec 2013 #

    #88 – Ah, Gay Meadow! It was situated right alongside the Severn, of course. And Shrewsbury FC had some salty old boy in a boat, who set sail on match days to fish the ball out whenever it was hoofed out of the ground. Alas Gay Meadow is no longer but it’s another ground I myself went to about thirty years ago. Can’t remember the score but we were probably stuffed.

  91. 91
    Jimmy the Swede on 10 Dec 2013 #

    Oh btw, Sukrat, they showed that film again the other night. I swear to God I’ll go to the grave obsessed with Christine Noonan. I think Malcolm Mc D will too. It’s a great pity that The Girl has already made the leap.

  92. 92
    thefatgit on 10 Dec 2013 #

    Of course, the East Stand was at one time the newest fixture at Stamford Bridge and I considered myself privileged to be in the East Upper for a 3rd round cup game in 1980 (we lost 1-0 to Wigan Athletic). I wonder if The Swede was there for that one? Now it’s the oldest. I spent a lot of the late 70’s and early 80’s in the Shed and only ever went to away matches in London. So long-distance away support was something I just didn’t do, for various reasons. Like The Swede, I’ve watched matches from each stand. My last season as a season-ticket holder was Matthew Harding Lower near the corner flag, west side, when Clownio was in charge. We celebrated the arrival of our Russian benefactor and then I cursed the 15% price-hike the following season that banished me to the armchair and Sky Sports. Mourinho came in and Chelsea won almost everything without me there. I fear if I ever manage to afford a season-ticket again, it will coincide with spectacular dip in form (I know this is bollocks but footy superstition runs deep!).

  93. 94
    JP on 10 Dec 2013 #

    I think there’s an interesting intersection between middle-classness and football and Jewishness which isn’t being discussed here, although perhaps that’s because it’s self-evident or just not very interesting. But I don’t think it’s controversial to claim that the traditional Jewish London teams (Spurs, Arsenal and Millwall) had heavily middle-class fanbases long before Italia 1990 – given that most East End Jews born in the 30s/40s had risen into the middle (or lower middle) class by the early 60s [fill dull Iain Sinclair-ish musing here]. And it was a running joke at my synagogue that the Rabbi’s sermon was always shorter on the days that Spurs played home.

  94. 95
    Jimmy the Swede on 10 Dec 2013 #

    # 91 – Yes, Fats, I was indeed at that Wigan game. And you won’t need telling that the visiting chairman was one Ken Bates. I think Wigan had only just entered the Football League so that result was a total humiliation. Then again, we really were shite back then. Isn’t it amazing that Wigan are the Cup holders now?

    My absence from the Bridge these days is down to a mixture of things. Logistics has a lot to do with it but cost is right up there too. My main objection, though, is that Premiership Footy World is just a vile place, “an island peopled by Calibans”, a noddy land where everyone is either greedy or mad. I’m more than happy to take myself off to see Eastbourne Borough when I have a free weekend. I’m one of the old lags now, who sit and grumble to themselves and scare the children. If it wasn’t for the smoking ban, I’d be puffing away at a pipe crammed with St Bruno.

  95. 96
    Jimmy the Swede on 10 Dec 2013 #

    # 92 – THAT’S HIM!! THAT’S HIM!! I bet he carried a flask of rum around with him whilst afloat too. What an absolute superstar. And they’re saying Mandela was a great man!..

  96. 97
    thefatgit on 10 Dec 2013 #

    #94 Heh, I’m puffing away on an e-cigarette now. It’s not a pipe full of St. Bruno, but close enough. Almost 2 months off the fags now. Next step: get off the nicotine! Most of my grumbling is directed towards the Bullingdon cabal we call a Government these days.

  97. 98
    Ed on 11 Dec 2013 #

    #60 ‘England’s Irie’ is the best football song evah! In part it’s because of that edge of aggression that makes it much truer to the experience of football than ‘Three Lions’ wistful optimism. (Skinner says the FA made them take out a line in the original version about “Butcher ready for war”. Given Piers Morgan’s moronic headlines in the Mirror about “Achtung! Surrender!” and “football war”, and the idiots in Marseilles two years later, that was probably the right call, but it did de-fang the song rather. And then, two years later…. But here’s the bunny.)

    The main reason ‘England’s Irie’ is my favourite football song, though, edging out ‘E for England’ / ‘World in Motion’ and ‘Shouting for the Gunners’, is that it reflects the fact that the game in England is a truly multicultural and multiracial phenomenon; a fact that WIM glances at through Barnes’ charmingly inept rap, and TL ignores altogether. ‘England’s Irie’ says England has changed enormously since 1966, as a team and as a country, and some of the change has been for the better.

    That’s how I interpret Keith Allen’s crack about “England? Well it’s the best-kept village in Europe, isn’t it?” (A quote?) I am not sure if he’d heard TL when he recorded that, but he might as well have done.

    (There was a lot of talk in the 90s about the flag of St George, about how it had – perhaps oddly – come to represent a more inclusive version of English identity than the imperialist Union Jack. When Dizzee Rascal wore a customised “Dizzee 10” version of an England shirt at Glastonbury in 2010 – just before the Germany game, I think – he made that point very clearly. I guess that since the rise of the EDL it may have all got a lot more complicated again. But I would like to think that approach is still the spirit shared by all but a tiny minority of England fans.)

    Having griped about TL, though, I was at the Spain game, when everything seemed to be going England’s way, and when the whole Wembley crowd sang it before kick-off, it was a spine-tingling moment. Adding to the canon of anthems for great national events is never easy, but Baddiel et al managed it here.

  98. 99
    Ed on 11 Dec 2013 #

    #6 ‘Don’t Come Home Too Soon’ is the best football song title* ever.

    Talk about the soft tyranny of low expectations!… Not so much “We’re going to win the cup”, more “Please at least try to make it to the first knockout round”.

    I once met a very successful Scottish businessman who was complaining about his fellow countrymen’s lack of ambition, saying they too rarely aspired to greatness, were too readily prepared to settle for mediocrity. I was delighted to be able to introduce him to DCHTS, which both infuriated and delighted him because it had confirmed all of his prejudices.

    *(The title is great. The song itself is the usual mature-period Del Amitri wet blanket, I am afraid, although I suppose that does fit pretty well with the mood of the lyrics.)

  99. 100
    Kinitawowi on 12 Dec 2013 #

    #76: I (definitely not middle class) was at a predecessor to the prawn sandwich matches, a 1-0 win for Manchester United vs Middlesbrough in January 2000. (It was also the first United match I’d managed to get to – the curse of being raised in north-west Norfolk. I was in Manchester for uni.) Keano was a loud idiot who got booked in that match for hurling massive amounts of abuse at the ref for awarding ‘Boro a penalty (which Juninho duly missed), but… god damn that place was quiet. No it wasn’t a great match – decided by a 80th minute bundle from Beckham – but if Boro are able to follow up the classic “you only sing when you’re winning” with “you don’t even sing when you’re winning”, something is clearly wrong with the whole affair.

    I’d have loved to have been noisier, but I was sat with the Boro fans (my Boro supporting uni mate had got the four of us tickets).

    (Keane’s slew of invective was the moment that briefly sparked a nationwide discussion about the heckling of referees. My memory had conflated it with the specific prawn-sandwich game, although I now gather that may have been a European match that November. But the seeds were there – this was during the development of the East Stand, making it the first Premier League game with a 60,000 gate, and the Liverpool supporter among us noted that the place was like a library.)

  100. 101
    Mark G on 12 Dec 2013 #

    “You only sing when you’re winning” is to the tune of Guantanamera. What tune did they use for “you don’t even..” ?

  101. 102
    James BC on 12 Dec 2013 #

    It would fit the tune of “Save Your Love” by Renee and Renato.

  102. 103
    Ed on 12 Dec 2013 #

    That’s ‘Guantanamera’ too. “Sing when you’re winning / Don’t even sing when you’re winning,” etc.

    Random thought, prompted by Spellcheck: is a Guantanamera a woman from Guantanamo?

  103. 104
    Tom on 12 Dec 2013 #

    Yes! (according to google)

  104. 105
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 12 Dec 2013 #

    Yes, it entered the Anglo-pop bloodstream via the folk movement in the 60s (specifically Pete Seeger): as a Cuban song it could imply support for Castro against the Yanqui oppressor without being explicit etc.

    (Seeger’s version is more political than the original, but still pretty vague I believe.)

  105. 106
    Cumbrian on 12 Dec 2013 #

    Weird songs catch on in football. This was kind of what I was talking about in my original post. Stuff like: Guantanamera; Volare; Go West; The Red Flag; Sloop John B; John Brown’s Body/The Battle Hymn of the Republic; La Donna e mobile; He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands*; Winter Wonderland; and many more besides.

    *Link to Three Lions being Jason Lee – who had a pineapple on his head.

  106. 107
    Izzy on 12 Dec 2013 #

    My view has long been that these songs are best viewed as modern hymns. Certainly anyone hearing a crowd deliver You’ll Never Walk Alone should be in no doubt as to what they are hearing.

    If I could analyse them musically, I’d be guessing that the two genres have in common a clutch of relatively long notes to act as glue for the outsize choir (surely no actual football crowd has ever tried World In Motion, delicious as it is, let alone any of the other modern attempts except Three Lions), plus a fairly limited tonal range.

  107. 108
    Mark G on 12 Dec 2013 #

    And let us not forget the old carpet cleaner song “It beats as it sweeps as it cleans”…

  108. 109
    Cumbrian on 12 Dec 2013 #

    106: Yep, I think I’d agree with that. Look up on Youtube clips of Hibs fans singing Sunshine on Leith for further confirmation (although it helps that SoL could be an actual hymn there).

  109. 110
    iconoclast on 12 Dec 2013 #

    @106, @108: I’d agree, although I might tentatively suggest “secular hymns”, if that’s not an oxymoron.

  110. 111
    Ed on 13 Dec 2013 #

    #105 Yes, I am always fascinated by what songs catch on as fan chants. The magnificent – and superbly drilled, if you’ll forgive the ethnic stereotyping – Borussia Dortmund fans have a great variety of unusual choices, including ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.

    I love watching the Darwinian process by which fan songs are born and either flourish or die off. When Emmanuel Eboue was a cult hero, a few guys near me tried to establish “I like Eboue-boue”, to the tune of ‘I Like to Move It’, but it didn’t catch on. Eventually, like “stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen”, they gave up. The winner of that contest was the riff to ‘Tequila’, with “Eboue!” shouted at the end of the verse. Greatly inferior, in my view.

    (Another digression: those cult heroes are like indie bands, aren’t they? Players a bit out of the mainstream, who are loved for their attitude and style as much as their ability. And knowing about them is the mark of the connoisseur, the true fan. That made Emmanuel Eboue a bit like the Wedding Present, I guess. Whereas your Le Tissiers and Berbatovs are like Eno or Nick Cave: they are capable of brilliance, but won’t go to any trouble to make themselves more popular.)

  111. 112
    Erithian on 13 Dec 2013 #

    Surely the real Eboue song was “Don’t blame it on Henry, Don’t blame it on the injuries, Don’t blame it on the referees, Blame it on Eboue! (He just can’t, he just can’t, he just can’t control his feet)”

  112. 113
    Cumbrian on 13 Dec 2013 #

    “Blame it on Eboue” is a classic. Like Ed, I am fascinated as to how this stuff comes about, principally who is deciding which tunes to dust off (I know, in previous threads, we’ve talked about the bloke at Manchester United who seems to spend his time coming up with and seeding new chants). For instance, there is video of a group of teenage Manchester City fans from a couple of years ago doing the chant to No Limit (alternating between Yaya and Kolo Toure). I look at this and two things sprang to mind: a) awesome, full marks for simple but effective work and b) you’d all have been 2 or under when 2 Unlimited got to #1 with this song – so who dusted it off?

  113. 114
    Tim on 13 Dec 2013 #

    Think that one’s been rumbling around for a bit and put to various uses – certainly we (Exeter) used the “No Limit” tune for Richard Logan (“lo lo, lo lo lo lo, lo lo lo lo, lo lo RICHARD LOGAN!”) fairly soon after he joined us seven or so years ago. I don’t think there was any sense that we had been the first to use it.

    But yeah, how “Son Of My Father”, of all things, gets picked up and – even more – continues to be used regularly four decades later, is a mystery.

  114. 115
    Izzy on 13 Dec 2013 #

    Seven Nation Army has almost none of what I’d imagine a good chant to be, and yet there it is in every other repertoire.

  115. 116
    Kinitawowi on 13 Dec 2013 #

    Always loved “When you’re sat in Row Z / And the ball hits your head / That’s Zamora”.

    #44: The greatest penalty shootout ever was unquestionably that at Soccer Aid 2000. Three saves by Jamie Theakston before Woody Harrelson finally settled it.

  116. 117
    Kinitawowi on 14 Dec 2013 #


  117. 118
    ciaran on 14 Dec 2013 #

    Was it true that Blackburn Rovers fans adopted the ‘christmassy’ hit ‘Keeping the Dream Alive’ by Freiheit as a song in their ground for the 94/95 Premier League winning season.

  118. 119
    Rory on 26 Dec 2013 #

    Feliz Navidad, Populistas. Hope you had a good one.

    I’m going to add a belated comment on this entry, even though I wasn’t in the UK when it hit number one, and its cultural references are all a long way from (my) home. I knew who David Baddiel was at the time, thanks to watching The Mary Whitehouse Experience during my early-nineties year in England (and even picking up their Encyclopedia, with its immortal entry on “felching”), but I didn’t know Frank Skinner or The Lightning Seeds. Watching the video now, I can hardly believe that Skinner was ever so young, knowing him as I do only from his current BBC appearances.

    But I did learn about The Lightning Seeds eventually. A friend exposed me to Jollification in 2004, and in my yearning for anything vaguely Britpop in those early post-Britpop years I snapped it up, along with everything else I could find. And their albums weren’t hard to find, for a pound or two apiece in any charity shop.

    I even picked up the 1997 Best Of for a quid to hear its one or two extra songs, including “Three Lions”, but that was a couple of years after my interest had peaked, so this was probably one of their tracks I’d listened to least until I gave it a few spins earlier this month.

    It has enough of the features of the Lightning Seeds tracks I loved to appeal to me now, but its football-song elements are wasted on me. It does sound like a good example of one, compared to some of the guff we’ve encountered here, but I’ll have to leave it to others to give it nines or tens on that basis… for me, on an occasional-Lightning-Seeds-fan basis, it’s a six.

  119. 120
    Erithian on 3 Jan 2014 #

    Mention of the Macarena in the “Wannabe” thread reminds me of a song created by Middlesbrough fans in honour of Fabrizio Ravanelli and his trademark shirt-over-the-head goal celebration: “I know a man and his name is Ravanelli / Scores lots of goals and I’ve seen him on the telly / Every time he scores he shows off his belly / Heeeey Ravanelli”.

  120. 121
    Cumbrian on 3 Jan 2014 #

    That is brilliant. Far better than the most recent Macarena based chant I have head – Man City just go for “One Zabba, two Zabba, three Zabaleta, Four Zabba five Zabba six Zabaleta, Seven Zaba eight Zaba nine Zabaleta, Hey Zabaleta”.

    Middlesborough also came up with the simple but effective ode to Joseph Desire-Job “There’s only one Job in Teeside”. Good sense of humour that lot.

  121. 122
    Kinitawowi on 3 Jan 2014 #

    I believe Boro were also responsible for “We’ve got Fabrizio / You’ve got fuck all-io”.

    When I saw them play though, there wasn’t anything more imaginative than “Boro, Boro, Boro / Boro, Boro, Boro” and the main sax riff from Pigbag. Bah.

  122. 123
    Mark G on 4 Jan 2014 #

    it’s more “bah bah bah BAH!.. BAH BAH baah baah..”

  123. 124
    Your Brother, The Astronaut on 30 Jun 2014 #

    A great write-up but one thing got me thinking:

    “Like all football number ones, “Three Lions” is an artefact from a changing game.”

    Along these lines, does anyone know of any good books/articles about the changing nature of football fandom in the 1990s (or just a more general social history of British/English football)? Mostly because I’ve always thought of football as an unchanging monolith (partly because of records like Three Lions!) when, of course, it isn’t.

  124. 125
    Cumbrian on 30 Jun 2014 #

    Re: football chants. I am pleased Argentina are lighting up this current World Cup with their chants. I don’t know any Spanish but anything that manages to get Bad Moon Rising by CCR onto the terraces has to be applauded (if only for dusting off something quite unlikely).

  125. 126
    Cumbrian on 30 Jun 2014 #

    Re:124. Fever Pitch is the most obvious one. I am sure someone more widely read on this subject will pass by and give you less obvious and probably better ideas.

  126. 127
    Your Brother, The Astronaut on 4 Jul 2014 #

    Not obvious to me! Cheers

  127. 128
    hardtogethits on 5 Jul 2014 #

    One Night In Turin by Pete Davies. Titled “All Played Out” on its original release.

  128. 129

    idd even heel iets anders dan we van je gewend zijn, maar ik vind hem erg leuk geworden, zo gezellig met zo'n mooie vlieger!xxDebbie

  129. 130
    Mark G on 27 Jun 2018 #

    So, if they were going to remake this for 2018, they should basically use the b-side of “I want more” as a basic template and just repeat the “It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming, football’s coming home” for 3mins 30.

  130. 131
    Duro on 29 Aug 2018 #

    In lieu of a new entry c.2037, I feel this one needs a second postscript

  131. 132
    Gareth Parker on 31 May 2021 #

    Probably better than the ’98 version, but still….4/10.

  132. 133
    songtitleasusername on 30 Jun 2021 #

    24-32 in its current run. I can see it moving upwards again before tomorrow….

    The Official Charts website (I know..) lists the 2002 re-issue(?) under this original, but I distinctly remember The Top 40 Show playing the ’98 version during its three-week return. I can’t recall whether or not they included Jonathan Pearce’s commentary that time though.

  133. 134
    Stephen Emmett + he/him on 11 Jul 2021 #

    #133 From what I know, the Radio One chart show played the 1996 version. Hope this clears up your confusion – I think the 1998 version may or may not have been played on the commercial radio stations.

    I prefer to take my cues from the Friday afternoon Radio 1 chart show, to be honest.

  134. 135
    Mr Tinkertrain on 9 Feb 2022 #

    Euro 96 was a massive deal for me – having only got into football in late 1994, this was the first major international tournament I followed. Which as a Scotland fan meant a whole heap of traumas (McAllister’s penalty miss, Gascoigne’s goal, McCoist’s screamer v the Swiss giving us hope, England seemingly doing us a favour, then Kluivert’s late toe-poke taking the Dutch through on goal difference), but at least with this and France ’98 I assumed we’d be at tournaments regularly. if I’d only known it would be more than 20 years before we’d grace one again…

    But this is a music blog and this was also a key point in my life as I was just starting to get into music – indeed, Three Lions was #1 the first time I ever watched TOTP. At the time (having only seen the video) I dismissed it as being an England thing, as duty-bound to do, but it didn’t take long before it grew on me and soon I loved it. Not sure I can put my finger on why – the tune, the chorus, the amusing lyrics, perhaps, but it fit in well with my discovery of Britpop music around this time. And given that it’s still a fixture even now, it feels like this caught the public imagination in a way World Of Motion hasn’t. Maybe it’s the simple, catchy, meme-able chants, but that’s no bad thing.

    There are other Lightning Seeds songs I soon grew to prefer (Marvellous, Lucky You and in particular Sugar Coated Iceberg), but even as a Scotland fan this gets a 9. 10 if in a communal pub/stadium environment (provided England don’t actually win anything).

    Other chart highlights: Metallica in the top 5 this week with Until It Sleeps. A lot of their fans don’t like the Load/Reload era but I do; this gets an 8.

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