Three Lions

"Three Lions" is a song released in 1996, the official anthem of the England football team for that year's European Championships, held in England. The music was written by The Lightning Seeds, with comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner providing the lyrics. The song was a much bigger success than most football songs, and was said to capture the spirit of the occasion perfectly. The title comes from the emblem of the England football team, which is in turn derived from the Coat of Arms of England.


The lyrics, unlike most football songs, spoke not of unbounded optimism for victory - but instead told of how, ever since 1966 and the one unequivocal success of the English football team, every tournament has ended in dashed hopes and the feeling that England will never again reach those heights ("Three Lions on a shirt, Jules Rimet still gleaming / Thirty years of hurt, never stopped me dreaming").

The song's intro included samples of pessimism from football commentators:

Despite the failures of the past, each tournament is greeted with fresh hopes that this might be the year they do it again: "I know that was then, but it could be again", and the song's exuberant chorus proclaimed that "It's coming home, it's coming home, it's coming, football's coming home" (derived from the tournament's slogan, 'Football comes home', which in turn referred to the invention of the modern game in England).

The song makes reference to English heroes of the past, specifically Bobby Moore, Gary Lineker, Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles. According to Frank Skinner's autobiography, the original lyrics submitted to the FA included the line "Butcher ready for war", in reference to Terry Butcher's notorious heroic performance in a qualifying game against Sweden. The FA requested this was changed, so as to avoid hooliganism imagery, and the "Bobby belting the ball" was written as a replacement. The "ready for war" motif was later used in the 1998 version of the song (see below), attributed to Paul Ince.

The commentary of the end of the song contrasts that of the song's opening with positive lines which suggest that England could win a major football championship:

  • "England have done it in the last minute of extra time!" (John Motson)
  • "What a save! Gordon Banks!" (David Coleman)
  • "Good old England, England that couldn't play football"
  • "England have got it in the bag"

The crowd noise in the intro of the track is in fact Brøndby fans which was recorded by Ian Broudie at Anfield during a UEFA Cup tie in October 1995.

On the CD of 'The Beautiful Game - Official Album of Euro 96', there are two tracks which are seemingly recordings of Baddiel, Skinner and Broudie trying to formulate what the song's lyrics should be when in the process of originally writing it. Track one is called 'Three Lions Version One', where there are such lyrics as "Three Lions on a shirt / Just near where it says Umbro / The white one shows the dirt / The grey one not as much though...". And Three Lions Version Two, where they discuss writing the song in parody of Bruce Forsyth after when Baddiel suggests writing about the Beautiful Game, to which Skinner suggests is 'Play Your Cards Right'. Lyrics include (chorus) "Nothing for a pair / Dollies do your dealing..." in reference to Forsyth's usual catchphrases.


The Britpop phenomenon was at its peak in 1996, and the Lightning Seeds were one of its leading lights, so their involvement gave the song very wide appeal. It stormed to number one in the singles chart, and as England progressed to the semi-finals, stadia around the country echoed to the sound of fans singing the song after English victories over Scotland, The Netherlands and Spain. It was so popular, in fact, that even other teams loved it. England faced Germany in the semi-finals, and Jürgen Klinsmann said later that the Germans were singing the song themselves on the way to the stadium, and the German team and the crowd sang the song as they paraded the trophy on the Römer balcony in Frankfurt.

The single as a result even made #16 in the German singles chart.

To this day, the original version of the song still receives regular airplay in England around the time of a major football tournament. It has been adopted as a terrace chant and is commonly sung by fans at England international matches today. When it was sung by England fans at the 2006 World Cup after England took the lead against Paraguay, commentator John Motson remarked, "As football songs go, Three Lions is certainly the best".

Three Lions '98

The hopes of a nation were once again dashed in 1996 when England lost agonisingly in a penalty shootout against Germany - and so the song's lyrics rang true once again. It was subsequently re-recorded with different lyrics (under the title '"Three Lions '98") as an unofficial anthem for England's World Cup campaign in 1998 and landed the number one spot in the singles chart for a second time, beating the official England song "How does it feel ?? (to be on top of the world)" by England United to the top spot by eight places. The official song was also beaten by Fat Les's "Vindaloo" to the top spot at #2, another unofficial anthem. This resulted in the official song being hugely ignored and fading into obscurity very quickly, despite a cameo from the Spice Girls in the music video, and backing vocals on the song itself.

The failure of that single was seen as more damning due to Ian McCulloch from Echo and the Bunnymen (who, even more ironically, had previously worked with Ian Broudie as a producer) on lead vocals, while the band were rediscovering the record sales of their 80's heyday, and members of Ocean Colour Scene on instruments when the band were in their peak of popularity at the time. During a friendly match against Portugal, the crowd were singing "Three Lions" in an attempt to mock the official song, which was given a very negative response by the English public. It only spent 3 weeks on the UK top 40.

Where the 1996 "Three Lions" song mentioned various memorable moments from the previous 30 years, the 1998 version made more specific reference to events from the preceding two years (including Euro '96), and sang about a number of the then-current players, specifically Paul Ince, Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer and Stuart Pearce. Ironically, Shearer was ruled out of the crucial qualification match against Italy due to injury, Ince missed during the Penalty shoot-out against Argentina, and neither Gascoigne or Pearce were selected for England's World Cup squad, which wasn't announced until some time after the song had been recorded, as in the lyric "Gazza as good as before".

As well as a karoake version of the new song, the single featured a fully-fledged b-side: a song called Tout est Possible (French for "Anything is Possible"). The song was largely composed of a recurring chorus, samples from commentators and pundits, and the occasional short verse. It also started with a French speech sample referring to "Le Coupe d'Monde" (The World Cup).


The video to the 1998 version of the song portrays a match between a group of English fans (including Baddiel, Skinner and Lightning Seeds' singer Ian Broudie) and their German equivalents, most of whom have the name "KUNTZ" printed on the back of their football shirts (except for one, who instead has "KLINSMANN"). This was a reference to German player Stefan Kuntz, who had been mocked on Baddiel and Skinner's Fantasy Football television programme and who had previously played an instrumental part in Germany's semi-final victory over England at Wembley in 1996, but caused controversy due to its obvious innuendo, and the segment was often cut by broadcasters. The video also featured cameo appearances from Geoff Hurst, John Regis, Robbie Williams and Chris Evans.

The scene from the video when Frank Skinner dips a ball into custard and pretends it's a world cup trophy, was shown on German TV station Das Erste a few days before the final was to be played.

UK Charts

  • #1 (1996)
  • #1 (1998)
  • #16 (2002)
  • #9 (2006)

Track listings

Original 1996 CD Single

  1. "Three Lions" - 3:44
  2. "Three Lions (Jules Rimet Extend Mix)" - 6:14
  3. "Three Lions (Karaoke Version)" - 3:45

Other versions

  • Three Lions '98 was re-released for the World Cup in 2002, and again on June 5 2006 for the World Cup 2006 in Germany. It charted at #9 in the UK Singles Chart in 2006.
  • The 2006 rerelease was a DualDisc version with both the original version of Three Lions and Three Lions '98 on the CD side and the music videos for the two songs on the DVD side.
  • A Dutch band called "Hermes House Band" made a cover version which is called "Eagles on the shirt" or "Heroes in the shirts"
  • A German group of musicians called themself "Die Original Deutschmacher" made a cover version with the title "Das W auf dem Trikot" (The W on the shirt) which became the most popular song of the supporters of the football club Werder Bremen.
  • A German comedy duo called "Mundstuhl" made a German cover version with the title "Adler auf der Brust" (The Eagle on the Chest) for the football club Eintracht Frankfurt.
  • Rangers Football Club supporters also have this version: "The League Flag's Coming Home."
  • Simon Griffin and Jimmy Willan released a revised version called "Two 'Pies on the Shirt" in July 2008 on behalf of Notts County FC. The song is played as the players run out at the start of each home game and at the end (providing the Magpies - or 'Pies, as they are known - win.)

See also

External links

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