May 14


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#793, 20th June 1998

lions98 The opening of “Three Lions ‘98” is a spot of justified bragging – the hopeful murmurs of the original replaced by a stadium in full cry: “It’s coming home, it’s coming home…”. In musical terms, Baddiel, Skinner and Broudie really had won the cup – a football song that had been taken up by fans as a genuine chant. It made a sequel – or rather, an update – understandably tempting.

It’s an update that has to play slightly generous games with recent history, though. The original “Three Lions” mined glorious memories of three decades to fuel bittersweet, defiant belief. The new version has two years to work with, like a football song version of the ‘difficult second album’, and its brief is to send the lads and fans off to France on a high. So while the original had World Cup victory to draw on, “Three Lions ‘98” is ultimately a song hymning a 0-0 draw at the end of a qualifying campaign. A very important, hard-fought 0-0 draw, to be sure, but a definite narrowing of focus. Where the ’96 song climaxed with a wide-eyed, heartfelt plea, “I know that was then… but it could be again”, here in its spot we get, “We can dance Nobby’s dance / We can dance it in France”. The Muse here has failed to even make the bench.

So while it might have been inevitable, “Three Lions ‘98” also shows why it was the last of its line (there is a 2010 version, but they barely updated the 1996 lyrics). Qualifying tournaments are not always easy for England, and they seem to end up needing a result in most final games, but by and large they get it. Mythologising one last-gasp qualification might work, but doing the same thing every two years? Nobody’s idea of fun. “Three Lions ‘98” stands alone as a trial at making a folk music concept – the perpetually refreshed song that changes to fit current events – work within pop. It didn’t, quite.

That doesn’t make this particular go at it a terrible record. In fact, you could argue that “Three Lions ‘98” rings truer than its parent – getting the results you need the hard way is part of the scrappy beauty of football, and deserves to be at the heart of at least one song. But it might be the wrong song. “Three Lions” was exactly the right style and sentiment for its moment – not just a tournament in England, but the Britpop era too, just as it was becoming overripe. The track had a desperate hopefulness that was almost religious – an England win, in London, at this time of all times, would complete a spell, dispel the anxiety behind the brittle busywork of Cool Britannia, make it into something real. It was nearly complete… but the spell had been broken, and “Three Lions ‘98” is the same tune brought down to earth, stripped of its extra resonance and buoyancy in a world where Britpop had been punctured, and records like this no longer felt like a typical sound for English music. Two years might not have given Baddiel and Skinner much to work with in English football terms, but in pop, Summer ’96 already seemed a very long time ago.



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  1. 1
    Andrew Farrell on 19 May 2014 #

    … then as farce.

  2. 2
    lonepilgrim on 19 May 2014 #

    I’m happy to hear this again; happy if I never hear it again
    the production is a bit beefier than the original – vocals still weedy
    it’s not coming home though is it

    kudos to Andrew for letting the other shoe drop

  3. 3
    punctum on 19 May 2014 #

    There is a touch of Jolson Sings Again about the intro, which features the Euro ’96 crowd in their thousands heartily singing the “it’s coming home” refrain; it is the semi-final, and: “The crosses of St George are flying all around me,” exclaims the commentator, “Gareth Southgate – the whole of England is with you!” Gareth steps up to take the vital kick in the final penalty shootout…and misses. “Oh it’s saved!” the commentator nearly weeps. In come the familiar voices singing a familiar tune but unfamiliar words: “We still believe, we still believe”…and when they get to the entirely familiar chorus the music drives in, somehow harder and more forceful than it sounded two years previously.

    Even with this hard-retained optimism, Skinner sounds utterly desolate in the first verse with its elegy for “heroes dressed in grey…/Stay in bed, drift away/It could have been all songs in the street,” but still they rally round: “No more years of hurt!” they chant with renewed defiance. “No more need for dreaming!” The reason of course was that England had qualified for the 1998 World Cup, had been given another chance, and Baddiel and Skinner hammer this home passionately: “Ince ready for war/Gazza good as before/Shearer certain to score.”

    But the new commentary fragments in the instrumental break give the game away: “Italy nil, England nil, and we’re there in France, 1998!” They didn’t have to score, or do much of anything except defend (ironically, Alan “ready to score” Shearer did not participate in that game because of injury). And despite the fervency of hope expressed in the new “Three Lions,” it proved an apt omen; Gazza played no part in the tournament, and England did not progress beyond the last sixteen, defeated by Argentina, again in a penalty shootout (among those who missed was Paul “ready for war” Ince) – though the young Beckham’s asinine foul and subsequent sending off scarcely helped matters. The host nation, under Platini, won M Rimet’s cup and deservedly so. And despite the near-savage emphasis on that “No more years of hurt!” – and its anthemic rival, “Vin-Da-Loo,” a number two hit for the one-off aggregate Fat Les, comprised of a bizarre menagerie including the unlikely likes of Keith Allen, Alex James and Damien Hirst – there has proved to be a further decade-and-a-half of hurt. Ascribe it to a lack of fundamental courage, over-pampered egos, muddled compromise and/or England’s continued inability to win matches conclusively or score penalties…and yet I still admire the bloody-minded faith and hope which are behind both versions of “Three Lions” and which have not been obscured by fifteen further years of blood and tears.

  4. 4
    anto on 19 May 2014 #

    It was mainly because of ‘ 3 Lions ‘ that we were somewhat over-supplied with World Cup records in 1998 and 2002. These were time I now look back upon fondly as they were the last times England entered with good-natured optimism as opposed to outright hubris or witless defeatism.
    Even so ‘3 Lions 98’ has an air of kids who’ve already graduated turning up at a leavers house party and not bothering to bring their own beer and it’s presence here suggests that we’re firmly at the stage where a potted plant could go to number 1 for a one week with enough hype.
    David Baddeil wasn’t any better as a singer either.

  5. 5
    James BC on 19 May 2014 #

    Several things about this were woefully misjudged. Not least the video with its car park kickabout against Germans in wigs with ‘Kuntz’ on their back and Frank Skinner making a trophy by dipping his arm in sick.

    Still a great song, but I’d rather stick to the 96 version and forget this one.

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    Tom on 19 May 2014 #

    #4 David Baddiel had if anything got even WORSE as a singer, though as I think I said last time, he’s fine for his ultra-low-expectations genre.

  7. 7
    thefatgit on 19 May 2014 #

    Between Tom & Punctum, all the necessary bases are covered. Excellent words from both. Which just leaves the scoring. The hope springs eternal optimism on show here elevates this to a (4).

  8. 8
    Seb Patrick on 19 May 2014 #

    I suspect I like this more than most – I like the fact that the first verse is, essentially, the conclusion to the first song’s cliffhanger, and a puncturing of all the hope that first song had (even though the rest of the song then indulges in the same false hope). It’s also, I think, a slightly better production than the original, and it DOES sound great with the added crowd singing (although the Jonathan Pearce commentary clips grate hugely, dating from before a time he’d settled down and become a passably acceptable commentator – even if he had done by then, though, none of them were iconic in the way the clips in the ’96 version were).

    What stuffs it up, really (from a thematic point of view at least), is the “I still see” section – not only did it immediately date the record (in the way the equivalent bit in the original didn’t) but two of the players namechecked didn’t even go to France. What’s easy to miss, of course, is that in each case they’re referring to moments from Euro ’96 (plus Ince from the qualifiers) rather than predicting how things will go in ’98; but still, with the possible exception of “Psycho screaming”, none of them are – again – iconic and instantly-recallable moments the way the original track’s were.

    Also, yeah, the video was terrible.

  9. 9
    Tom on 19 May 2014 #

    Also #4 ” it’s presence here suggests that we’re firmly at the stage where a potted plant could go to number 1 for a one week with enough hype”

    I don’t know if it supports your argument or weakens it, but this song’s first-week sales beat either of the original’s weeks at #1. (And TL98 was #1 for three on the trot, which does weaken the point I think).

  10. 10
    Steve Williams on 19 May 2014 #

    #5 It wasn’t sick, it was custard!

    Both this and Fat Les totally overshadowed the official England record of this tournament, On Top Of The World by England United, ie Echo and the Bunnymen, Ocean Colour Scene, Space and The Spice Girls, which could only make it to number ten despite extensive publicity (I remember it was the theme tune to Gary Lineker’s Golden Boots, the series the Beeb ran as part of the build-up). Most people seemed to turn their noses up at it and the feeling seemed to be that it was rubbish because you couldn’t sing it on the terraces which, until Three Lions, had never been a requirement anyway (Exhibit A – World in Motion). Maybe you could assign that as another example of the decline of the Spice Girls as a year before their appearance on it would certainly have got it to number one, now it all just seemed a bit old hat.

    Because this was now the unofficial song they could add in the “ready for war” line which they’d included in the original (referring to Stuart Pearce in that instance) and the FA had asked them to remove. In his autobiography Frank Skinner says that apart from getting to go on Top of the Pops, which for whatever reason they hadn’t done the first time round, he didn’t really enjoy this new version half as much as the first time round.

    The appearance of three World Cup-themed records in the top ten, though, in addition to Del Amitri’s Scotland song (which I always found agreeably jaunty) a bit lower down, illustrates the huge interest in this World Cup, certainly I can’t remember more promotion, merchandising and coverage for any other tournament (apart from Euro 96, which is a special case). I bought about a hundred tie-in magazines and I even remember buying England-branded ham from Sainsburys. It was also the first World Cup where every match was shown live on primetime BBC1 and ITV, which hadn’t been the case before, partly because of logistics (some matches, not just the final group matches, had simultaneous kick-offs) and also partly due to the Beeb and ITV simply choosing not to.

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    Tom on 19 May 2014 #

    #8 according to Wiki, they’d wanted to get “Butcher ready for war” in the first time, but the FA were squeamish about possible overtones. Obviously the success of the song meant they got “ready for war” in on the second go.

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    Mark G on 19 May 2014 #

    Re football songs, one year England, Wales and Ireland managed to qualify so one label (Lismor) recorded and released 3 versions of “Funiculi funicular” to fit for each. Stiff records took on/over distribution, and made a promo version that mixed all three together. But, they did not release that one, properly.

    None charted, obv.

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    Mark M on 19 May 2014 #

    Re10: You could look it at as the culmination of the rebranding that started with Italia ’90, and then been derailed for England by some extent by the shambles of ’92, the failure to even qualify in ’94, plus the failure of the younger stars of ’90 to fulfil their potential (Des Walker wasn’t the new Bobby Moore, Gazza turned out to be the new George Best in the worst possible way).

    1996 fixed all of that and then some, so that England went into a tournament in the rare position of having both a good on-field and an better off-field buzz retained from the last one, plus a squad with a fair bit of experience along with a whole bunch of bright kids* (four 23-year-olds – Scholes, Beckham, Neville and Campbell – and two teenagers – Owen and R. Ferdinand). The players who made the headlines in the tournament were a generation on from those that got a mention in the song.

    *Shades of this year, in a way.

  14. 14
    mapman132 on 19 May 2014 #

    Hmm, World Cup 98, that was the one in France, right? ;)

    Actually, the World Cup is just about the only the time I watch “soccer” matches on TV. I enjoy the spectacle of the international winner-takes-all format and as it’s the one major world sport that we Americans historically suck at, I can root for Team USA without guilt. Team USA tends to have a good-bad-good-bad pattern in successive World Cups and 1998 was in the bad part of the cycle – I believe we lost all three matches. Unfortunately, so is 2014, so an embarrassing first round exit seems inevitable. At least we get to experience the joys of Manaus (it’s really not that bad!)

    Anyway, nothing to add about “Three Lions” this time around. Whatever-I-gave-it-last-time out of 10.

  15. 15
    Tom on 19 May 2014 #

    By happy coincidence, the 1970s countdown Tumblr today is http://mouldyolddough.tumblr.com/post/86208974422/england-world-cup-squad-back-home-1970

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    James BC on 19 May 2014 #

    #10 It was sick!

    They may have used custard but it’s meant to be sick – the sick bucket from the coach. Why would you have a bucket of custard on a coach?

  17. 17
    Steve Mannion on 19 May 2014 #

    Surely it is custard as this was a running joke from the Fantasy Football series where Skinner first observed and demonstrated that his arm dipped in custard looked Exactly The Same as the World Cup.

    ‘Custard on a coach’ – Perhaps Gazza’s intended revenge on Hoddle. Or a Bentley Rhythm Ace B-side?

  18. 18
    James BC on 19 May 2014 #

    I didn’t watch Fantasy Football so wasn’t aware of the running gag. Still not wholly convinced – it looks like sick to me. If it’s genuinely supposed to be custard, they should have flashed up “NOT SICK” on the screen to reassure non-fans and spare me 16 years of mild disgust.

  19. 19
    Steve Mannion on 19 May 2014 #

    Maybe it was sick but the sick was comprised entirely of custard.

    Fantasy Football moved to ITV for this World Cup but by that time had run out of steam (if not also custard). The real stars of the tournament were the Croats and Dutch – which together make an anagram of ‘hot custard’ (+ spare c for copyright)! And so it all falls into place.

  20. 20
    Mark G on 19 May 2014 #


    So, any place..

    The Echo/Bunnymen/Spicegirls’ “How does it feel” etc, also got overshadowed by Chumbawamba’s “(how does it feel) Sitting on top of the world”, which is the only one of the two I can recall the tune for, ironically..

  21. 21
    Chelovek na lune on 19 May 2014 #

    I remember getting the tube home, from Westminster to Becontree on the afternoon of the notorious Beckham-foul Argentina game. Much general excitement: the train driver announced every time a goal was scored, and in Becontree afterwards, I recall three boys (maybe aged 10 or so), running out of their house in excitement and shouting “Vindaloo! We’re gonna score one more than you” (as England did not) precisely when England scored their final goal. Becontree is not Islington, so the appropriation of ironic thuggishness unironically suggests that song may have better caught the footballing mood of the nation better than this remake (and it would have been great to see on Popular, bunny curry I guess). Otherwise – more or less whatever I said about the original, albeit the changed lyrics and voice-overs probably highlight the hoping-against-hope and unrealistic expectations thing: and also, in the “we believe” lines, the hope-against-reason aspect of England football fandom.

  22. 22
    Tom on 19 May 2014 #

    Yes, “Vindaloo” would have been an interesting entry. It felt like irony in Fat Les’ case – on “Goblin In The Office” too – was a shell to be retreated into in case critical predators got too close.

    I was also walking home during the England-Argentina game – I opted against watching it in a pub. Roars and groans from living room windows told me what was happening, and I got back just in time for extra time. I was much more disconnected from the tournament than I expected (after 1996), because I’d spent most of the group stage on holiday in Greece. Watching Iran v USA in the “Wave Bar”, cocktail in hand, feet dangling in the Aegean is my main (and happiest) memory of the competition.

  23. 23
    Kat but logged out innit on 19 May 2014 #

    I watched the Beckham-sending-off round schoolchum Kirst’s house and went off football for good pretty much exactly then (with a brief relapse in 2002 for the novelty of a Guinness at 9am for the Brazil match). Though the resurgence of 3 Lions meant I finally realised it was called ‘Jules Rimet’ rather than ‘Jewels Remain’. Jewels be gleaming!

  24. 24
    MikeMCSG on 19 May 2014 #

    Baddiel and Skinner no doubt favour the interpretation of “Gazza good as before” as a memory of Euro 96 ( although, that goal against Scotland aside, he wasn’t ) rather than a prediction for WC98 . Gazza was playing in the Championship for Middlesbrough in the run-up and rightly left out by Glenn Hoddle to howls of protest from the likes of Danny Baker. I remember him making the argument, at the expense of poor old Rob Lee, that you needed him, overweight alcoholic that he was, to come off the bench and turn things round, the usual justification for taking an unfit or injured former hero when that moment of inspiration is more likely to come from a fully-fit workhorse like David Platt .
    In Baker’s case of course he was actively wrecking Gazza’s chances by going out drinking with him and Chris Evans ( as in that famous photo which is supposed to have brought the respectability of lad culture to an end ) who I’m guessing we’ll be mentioning again pretty shortly.

  25. 25
    Mark G on 19 May 2014 #

    .. The tale was that Paul had stayed on the soft drinks.

    Still, papers had to be sold…

  26. 26
    PurpleKylie on 19 May 2014 #

    This was my first exposure to “Three Lions”, I wasn’t aware there was an “original version” till about 4 years later! Also the 98 World Cup was my first proper exposure to this strange phenomenon called “football”, having previously lived in a country where rugby union is king and anyone who had even heard of football considered it a “sport for pansies”(if the average Kiwi is anything like my dad at least).

    The 98 WC and the one after it were the only times I felt any sort of affection for the English national football team before I realised that Wales had a team of their own and I no longer saw the point in supporting our ‘rivals’ despite the Welsh team being consistently rubbish. Oh well, at least we can still make fun of England when they go out on penalties like they always do.

    As for the song, despite CLEARLY not being about my own national team, I can still enjoy the song if I mentally block out that it’s about ‘them lot’. Same for “World In Motion”, I could just enjoy it as another great track from one of my fave bands if I stop it just as John Barnes finishes his rap.

  27. 27
    Kinitawowi on 19 May 2014 #

    The last trump, in so many ways. The last time we had real hope for a tournament. The parting of the ways of football and Popular (I think). And again, the last trump of Britpop. The Lightning Seeds will never grace Popular again; Vin-Da-Loo was the beery swagger, its video giving the Verve’s overblown Bittersweet Symphony the one in the eye it so richly deserved. But the shambolic official effort, that collaboration of Space, Echo and the Bunnymen, Ocean Colour Scene and the Spice Girls (Geri would announce her departure in the aftermath of that song’s recording – more on that story later, though), was maybe the true sign that those days were gone.

    But not forgotten. Three Lions 98; here it is again in the centre of that tempered realism. Italy 0 England 0 remains the greatest 0-0 draw I’ve ever seen (not that there’s much competition for that, but), but as noted it’s still a 0-0 draw. They can be determined, they can be inspiring, they can be wretched, and Three Lions 98 is all of the above at once. As noted, its weak link is that “Nobby’s dance” line; but Skinner’s first verse rings so true. “No plans for Final Day” indeed; my dad had put the Pearce In Our Time cover of that ’96 Daily Mirror in our front window at the start of the semi-final day, and angrily tore it down as soon as Southgate woofed it. I’m not sure England has ever cared so little about a cup final as it did that of Euro ’96.

    And hey, it’s still Three Lions, innit? Who was still singing World In Motion two years later?


    (One more Three Lions story still to tell, but it’s tied up with next time, bizarrely enough.)

  28. 28
    Tom on 19 May 2014 #

    #27 One more football song to go (unless something happens this year) but not for a long while. Also the end of something, frankly.

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    Matt DC on 19 May 2014 #

    It occurs to me that at some point in the last maybe ten years or so England fans actually stopped singing Three Lions. Struggling to work out if this is a direct consequence of the team getting worse or the song just fading in the popular memory, or both.

  30. 30
    anto on 20 May 2014 #

    #29 – It might be because we’re starting to lose count of how many ‘years of hurt’ it is exactly.

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