May 14


Popular71 comments • 6,706 views

#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. 31
    iconoclast on 20 May 2014 #

    Thankfully in Scotland we don’t have to worry about any of this.

  2. 32
    Mark M on 20 May 2014 #

    It’s all a very long time ago, but apparently not in tabloidland, where about a month ago The Sun was suggesting the big hurdle to Diego Simeone getting the job of Manchester United manager was his involvement in the Beckham sending-off in 1998. Quite why that was supposed to be still relevant is unclear…

  3. 33
    Seb Patrick on 20 May 2014 #

    #30 – Hooray for the depressing realisation* that at the next major tournament after this one, it’ll be fifty.

    * depressing as much in a passage-of-time, I’m-getting-old, Three-Lions-was-twenty-years-ago way as an “England keep failing” kind of way

  4. 34
    Chelovek na lune on 20 May 2014 #

    Being half-English, half-Scottish, and preferentially supporting Scotland over England, (albeit not endorsing something I saw in Glasgow on the day in ’98 when England were playing Romania, when an abundance of red-yellow-blue tricolours was evident in some streets and pubs not far from Glasgow Green that day, it must be said, despite the absence then of any evident or sizable Romanian population nearby – Nigel Farage’s idea of hell, I guess), frankly I await the time when a song with the message of “Don’t Come Home Too Soon” might again apply….

    Although what is more probable is that England, having adjusted their expectations more in the direction of reality, or through use of understatement, will end up with a song entitled “Don’t Come Home Too Soon”, many years before Scotland ever again qualify.

  5. 35
    will on 20 May 2014 #

    Quite frankly the years of ‘hurt’ are likely to extend beyond all of our lifetimes..

  6. 36
    thefatgit on 20 May 2014 #

    #30,#33 …and so will I :-(

  7. 37
    Your Brother, The Astronaut on 21 May 2014 #

    Both of the Three Lions completley passed me be in my youth; whether thats simply because they failed to cross over the border to Wales or because Vindaloo’s chaos appealed more to a 9 year old I don’t know.

    (On Vindaloo, it’s a shame that there’s no way of tracking music sales for Wales/Scotland/NI as it’s be interesting to see whether the football songs made any impact there whatsoever)

  8. 38
    Andrew Zigmond on 21 May 2014 #

    #37 I remember Mark Goodier noting that Don’t Come Home Too Soon would have been number one in Scotland while the official England song would have only been number 38.

    As an aside if Scotland votes to go its own way it will be interesting to see if a seperate Scottish top forty develops and how it varies from the one across the border.

  9. 39
    Chelovek na lune on 21 May 2014 #

    #38 The Official Charts Co have been publishing a Scottish Top 40 (with archives) on their website for some time. (Such were also compiled, albeit mostly without ‘ official’ status – and the credibility that seeks to imply – by numerous agencies, radio stations, etc, earlier, too). As far as I can recall, the differences between the UK and Scottish charts have tended to be not that substantial, and often reasonably predictable (e.g. local acts and styles doing better). Would be interesting to find some Scottish charts from the second half of the 80s, when Glasgow and surrounding areas were a real hotbed of creativity and musical brilliance -Smiles Better, indeed.

  10. 40
    Lazarus on 21 May 2014 #

    I seem to remember Runrig often being mentioned as a Scottish band who sold significantly better in their homeland than elsewhere in the UK.

  11. 41
    Auntie Beryl on 21 May 2014 #

    #39 Whilst the OCC archives are useful, they don’t deliver regional sales that stretch back that far. I think there may be someone round here that remembers the Scottish charts week by week though.

  12. 42
    Kinitawowi on 22 May 2014 #

    #28: oh, jeez. Just looked it up (there comes a point when I lose track of the number ones) and… oh dear god.

  13. 43
    Erithian on 23 May 2014 #

    Nice bit of alternative history here: what-if England had qualified for the 1994 World Cup? The manner of our inevitable exit in this scenario won’t be a great surprise, but I did enjoy the idea of the World Cup anthem being a song called “Blobby Charlton”… http://www.theguardian.com/football/football-cliches/2014/may/23/what-if-england-qualified-1994-world-cup-graham-taylor?CMP=twt_gu

  14. 44
    ciaran on 23 May 2014 #

    Could this be described as the last hurrah for the lad culture?

    I actually prefer this version to the 96 one. The aftermath of euro 96, namechecking Ince, gazza!, and psycho was a bit more appealing than the exploits of Moore and nobby who I didnt know and the commentary a bit more exciting than the original. The german pisstaking (kuntz, mullet and moustache combos) in the video was probably going a bit far.AFAIK the custard/hand world cup joke first appeared on the world cup 1994 Fantasy show.Not sure why Chris Evans And Ro-bunnied! ended up in the video mind.

    Baddiel was no Sinatra but he made a better go of it this time around although Skinner’s piece perhaps wasn’t quite as good as 96. Still though an 8.

    Having only taking minor notice of the BBC years I also became obsessed with the Fantasy World Cup show on ITV that summer. The infamous Bridget Nielsen and John Lydon episodes as well as the Phoenix from the flames which showed the Zaire 74 clip and the piss takes of the Indoor League. Marvellous. The 98 world cup also marked the beginning of the Apres Match sketch show on RTE which still lasts to this day.

    The World Cup that year would be worth a 9 if we were using a Popular Marking system. Best world cup of my lifetime going back to 1990. The great Spanish collapse (a regular thing in those days!) coming earlier than normal. Scotland’s last major finals tournament with another near miss ,Romania’s team all going blond, Nigeria fully convinced they woud win the whole thing only to be swept aside by the excellence of Denmark,the epic England Argentina match ,the witchhunt of Beckham afterwards, Bergkamp’s majestic goal in the quarter final, the start of imperial phase France and the end of Germany’s along with Ronaldo’s mysterious no show in the final. Final was a letdown but overall a terrific tournament.

    The world cups of 2002, 06 and 10 were nowhere near as entertaining for me although 2002 and 2006 got off to a great start. South Korea’s run to the 2002 semi final and the superb Italy Germany semi final of 2006 were the highlights of both knockout stages. 2010 was a disaster from start to finish and would be my pick for worst world cup having watched 6 of them.

    Probably the last of the major international finals I watched religiously for over a decade. My favourite sports (Gaelic Football and Hurling) took over completely after this and it wasnt until the 2010 world cup that my interest for a tournament would pick up again.It didnt help matters that Football had issues like the obsession over Pay-Per-View Utd missing the 2000 FA Cup and the ludicrous over expansion of the Champions league in the early 00s.

    Good few weeks ahead though. All Madrid Champions league final tomorrow nightand 3 weeks till WC 2014 kicks off.Its coming home indeed!

  15. 45
    Cumbrian on 23 May 2014 #

    I prefer proffered hope to (even optimistic) expectation, so this is not a patch on the original for me. Vindaloo made the best attempt at getting the spirit of the football chant into the charts this time around, I think. Half Man Half Biscuit have them both beaten in this regard though (not that they’re going to be troubling Popular ever).

    Ciaran is right about this World Cup though – like him, earliest I can remember is 90 and 98 is probably the best of the ones in my recollection. Aside from the moments that he’s mentioned* I’d also put in a good word for Chile (with Sierra in midfield and Salas and Zamorano upfront) outgunned but not outclassed by Brazil and the great Croat team that had Boban, Boksic, Jarni, Prosnecki and Suker in it absolutely battering Germany in the quarter finals.

    *Except I really have to repeat his mention of – not that I saw the clip with this commentary on it until Youtube brought Dutch commentary to the UK masses – DENNIS BERGKAMP, DENNIS BERGKAMP, DENNIS BERGKAMP, WOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGHHHH, DENNIS BERGKAMP. What I’d give to have another one of those moments for England – to go alongside Gary Lineker’s incredulously happy face in the pile on after David Platt scored in 1990 and the pub I was in erupting when Beckham slotted that free kick against Greece – they all seem so far away now.

    #43: I read that and was shocked to feel myself actually excited to see how it was going to turn out. The classic quote in the comments though is “even in our wildest dreams, we still get knocked out on penalties by Germany”. It has made me think that it might be worth looking up The Impossible Job on Youtube again though. I still can’t quite believe Carlton Palmer got 20+ caps for England.

  16. 46
    iconoclast on 23 May 2014 #

    #44: “another near miss”? More of a national tragedy, actually: losing 3-0 to Morocco. At least it wasn’t as bad as – ahem – Costa Rica in 1990, after which the adult male population of some areas of Scotland mysteriously fell by as much a third.

  17. 47
    Erithian on 24 May 2014 #

    #45 Great memories but – SPOILER!!

    This version of the song does “wistful” very well, indeed Frank Skinner’s voice is particularly suited to it – it was indeed NEARLY so sweet back in Euro 96. The rest of it didn’t quite convince then and doesn’t now – although yes the production values were a bit beefier which helped. 1998 was a memorable tournament for all the reasons given above (plus the Michael Owen goal v Argentina – there were only two of us in our house going apeshit, but I can imagine what it was like in pubs). I can’t see the brilliant Dennis Bergkamp goal now without thinking “There is bear come!” thanks to a YouTube commenter on the Jack van Gelder commentary – look it up.

    “Vindaloo” provides another link right up to the present day charts, because as Alex James revealed in “Bit of a Blur”, young Lily Allen (then 12) was there in the studio joining in the backing vocals, and indeed can be seen about a minute into the video. I remember a quote from Damien Hirst saying “By the way, all you England hooligans, you can’t like this” – as if the artist has a right to decree the kind of people who can like his song (ha, the Smiths and Cameron spring to mind). The subtle ironies of “Vindaloo” were clearly lost on the England hooligan community, and on me too if I’m honest!

  18. 48
    Cumbrian on 28 May 2014 #

    47: Whilst I’d agree that the opening of the song does do wistful, I think it’s also problematic in comparison with the original version. There, the song is built around hope (“I know they can play”). That first verse seems to go a bit too far (for me) towards football being absolutely central to existence, rather than a hopeful release – “stay in bed, drift away” – not me. I was disappointed with the way that shoot-out turned out in the end but having the game send you into mild depression seems to me to be the thin end of the Sky wedge about the drama of football that make it all seem a lot more important (self important?) than it actually is (close ups of fans in tears when their team loses, etc). It’s a fine line to tread that I think the first song got right – hope you can be lifted up and away and remembering the good times – that this second one doesn’t quite.

    Also, by the time we get to the chorus, it’s triumphalist – “no more years of hurt, no more need for dreaming” – so we just need to turn up then? This is the type of thinking that has resulted in years of mediocrity for English football. The original is realist – we have had good moments, but that’s all they were – we need more work and a bit of luck – that’s why hope is the way forward, not the assumption that we’ve turned the corner; England never have in my lifetime and I don’t expect they will any time soon. Again, it’s a fine line but I think the original works much better – at least for me and my attitude to sport – the more I think about the 98 version, the more I find fault with it and the pointers it has towards problematic attitudes that have surrounded the international game and the Premier League’s place within the hierarchy of sport.

    I realise we’re probably in violent agreement here – you yourself point out that the rest of the song doesn’t quite convince.

  19. 49
    Andrew Farrell on 29 May 2014 #

    I was actually going to let this one go by, because like the original the clock had moved on by the time I’d gotten (a yard of) space to write – but Cumbrian’s actually come closer than I’d expected to my position.

    Relating to my ranting B*Witched in fact: One of the things that you might hear some people claim as the start of the sense of opportunity and purpose in 90s Ireland, was Yorkshireman Jack Charlton’s reign as manager of the football team, which saw us to two world cups, and crucially a clear win over England in Euro ’86. I followed their exploits in the ’88 world cup, where we gained the dubious honour of being the first team in 50 years to get through to the last 8 without, er, winning a match outright.

    So, some of my confusion and annoyance with the England team is that I’ve kept an eye on them since, and I can absolutely understand the adrenaline and joy of playing above your level, where a point is the plan to get you through, and a win a blessing from on high – but I can’t square what I see with the English entitlement to sail through with this level of play just because they invented the game.

    Since then of course I’ve moved to London, and my discomfort has gained the onion layers of being an immigrant in a country when it’s suddenly flags out, being an immigrant in England when it’s suddenly flags out, and being an Irish immigrant in England when it’s suddenly flags out.

    So yeah, I don’t like this song for the reasons that Cumbrian spears very well, but I don’t believe the original either, the ‘umbleness a fig leaf for the terrace chant.

  20. 50
    iconoclast on 29 May 2014 #

    @49: I presume you mean “Euro ’88” and “the ’90 world cup”?

  21. 51
    Andrew Farrell on 29 May 2014 #

    Yes – my happy memories are not what they were

  22. 52
    Cumbrian on 29 May 2014 #

    Jack Charlton is from Northumberland too. Ashington.

  23. 53
    weej on 1 Jun 2014 #

    I’d lost a bit of patience with this song by ’98, especially as the update seemed more than a little slapdash. What’s all of this about Gazza and Pearce? Where are Owen and Beckham? Not good enough.

  24. 54
    Alan not logged in on 15 Jun 2014 #

    number 27 in the UK charts today

  25. 55
    Cumbrian on 20 Jun 2014 #

    “Hope is the way forward, not the assumption that we’ve turned the corner; England never have in my lifetime and I don’t expect they will any time soon.”

  26. 56
    Tom on 20 Jun 2014 #

    There’s always the Pop World Cup.

  27. 57
    Cumbrian on 28 Jun 2016 #

    De rigueur biennial bump re: my comments at 48 and 55.

    I’m not right about much and, obviously, as a result, not right often either. No one is going to go out of business predicting the demise of the English national football team though – so I can’t even take much credit for that.

  28. 58
    ThePensmith on 8 Jul 2018 #

    As I write this on the morning of Sunday, 8th July 2018, the final of this year’s World Cup in Russia is a week away. And as of yesterday, England are in a World Cup semi final this coming Wednesday for the first time in 28 years after winning 2-0 in the quarter final with Sweden yesterday. They’ll play Croatia on Wednesday.

    Because of the “Gareth Southgate, the whole of England is with you” line in this version (which I got on cassette 20 years ago in the madness of France ’98, aged 9) it’s getting arguably as much airplay as the original, which currently sits near the top end of the Spotify and iTunes tables in the UK as I speak.

    It’s safe to say that the quiet confidence surrounding England means this is the most patriotic or enthused about the beautiful game I have felt in two decades.

  29. 59
    Billy Hicks on 8 Jul 2018 #

    Is the Southgate line from the original match commentary or was it recorded specifically for Three Lions 98? It’s a bit confusing sometimes working out who actually commentated on famous matches – lots of official Youtube clips have new “fake” commentary over old footage, and to complicate things further there was a drama a few years back that used the Euro 96 footage but got John Motson to re-record new commentary over it (“And who’s this walking up now? Oh, it’s Gareth Southgate!”), which sounded really bizarre.

  30. 60
    Andrew Farrell on 8 Jul 2018 #

    England fans’ quiet confidence could do with being a damn sight quieter.


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