Why do England fans sing 'Football’s Coming Home'?

Anthem has become a firm favourite and rings out at England matches

As England prepares for its Euro 2020 final against Italy, having beaten Denmark and swept aside Germany at Wembley, one song sums up the mood among fans that maybe just this time, Football’s Coming Home.

Never mind that it is actually an anthem to English failure. It recalls the past success (yes, a single World Cup triumph in 1966) while dwelling on the years of hurt that followed. Dreaming that this time it will be different.

For England fans, it sums up the mixed emotions of supporting the national team and offers a rallying cry across the stadium. Those who are not English - neighbouring rivals Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland for example - can find it a self-important ditty with delusions of grandeur. Fans belting out "Football's Coming Home" can often antagonise as much as endear.

It does not help that the England-centric TV universe, where the commentators cheer England or go on tangents to compare foreign teams with Premier League clubs, can wear a bit thin.

On Wednesday, co-writer David Baddiel defended the song from accusations of arrogance.

“What I notice about Three Lions is you get generalised statements about it, how it might be an arrogance about Englishness and England-only football, and what that ignores is a deep reading of the actual song as opposed to the pure words of that chant", he said.

“Because the song itself is, I think, a very vulnerable, melancholy bit of magical thinking, that tries to look through the disappointment of many years to the hope that it knows is irrational that England might do it this time.

“That is not a nationalist entitled piece of work but it sometimes get transformed as that.”

English mania for 'Football’s Coming Home'

Major tournaments see the release of fan-rallying anthems. Some have been revived in successive contests. In Italia90, the hit tune was the John Barnes rap World in Motion, which still has a following.

A quarter of century ago it was Football's Coming Home, or to give it its full title, Three Lions (Football's Coming Home). The tune is the product of a collaboration between the comedians Frank Skinner, a West Bromwich Albion supporter, and Chelsea fan David Baddiel, who worked together on the Fantasy Football League television show.

Baddiel and Skinner teamed up with pop band the Lightning Seeds to put out the single in 1996 when the Euros were played in England.

It has been streamed more than 38.4 million times, had 88,000 downloads, and more than 33 million video views.

This week, the Prince of Wales invited the Band of the Coldstream Guards to perform instrumental versions of the song at his London residence, Clarence House.

The prince then tweeted his support for the team ahead of the semi-final.

What is 'Football's Coming Home' about?

The song rests in some ways on the modern origins of the game. The Football Association, the first official governing body for the sport, was established in England in 1863 and many English fans believe the country is therefore the natural home of football.

Euro 96, when England was hosting the tournament, was the first time a big international tournament was held in the country since 1966, when the home team won in extra time against West Germany. The competition ended for England with semi-final defeat by the united Germany team on penalties, when current national team manager Gareth Southgate missed his penalty attempt.

Football’s Coming Home is now rehashed, if not necessarily re-released, at each tournament since. The original 30 years of hurt is now at the slightly less scan-friendly 55 years, thanks to not winning in World Cups and Euros from South Africa to Brazil to France.

The original perfectly captured the rarely realistic England fan, when the official fan song went from a "we’re gonna win" theme to accepting the "so many defeats" along the way.

For England fans, it remembers the brilliance of moments in time compared with the over-arching defeat and the hope inherent in being a supporter.

Its lyrics allude to memories of the 1966 World Cup ("Jules Rimet still gleaming" is a reference to the World Cup trophy, named after the Fifa president who came up with the idea of the competition) and the familiar feeling since that the team will "throw it away".

Who wrote Football’s Coming Home?

The comedians have since worked together on shows such as Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned, but they are not a double act and have always had separate careers.

Baddiel has written children’s books and Skinner presented Room 101 and had a part in Dr Who, but the pair are still remembered for Football’s Coming Home.

The Lightning Seeds are in a similar position. They toured throughout the 1990s and released six studio albums, but their only No1 success was Three Lions, in 1996 and 1998.

Broudie has said that the FA asked him to write the song and it was his idea to bring in the comedians.

“I thought it was only worth making if it reflected how it feels to be a football fan [so] I didn't want the players singing on the record", he told The Guardian in 2014.

What are the lyrics?

It's coming home,

​It's coming home, it's coming,

Football's coming home.

Everyone seems to know the score

They've seen it all before,

They just know, they're so sure

That England's gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away

But I know they can play.

'Cause I remember three lions on a shirt!

Jules Rimet still gleaming,

Thirty years of hurt

Never stopped me dreaming.

So many jokes, so many sneers,

But all those 'oh so nears'

Wear you down, through the years,

But I still see that tackle by Moore

And when Lineker scored,

Bobby belting the ball and Nobby dancing.

Three lions on a shirt!

Jules Rimet still gleaming,

Thirty years of hurt Never stopped me dreaming.

I know that was then, but it could be again..

It's coming home, ​It's coming home, it's coming, Football's coming home.

Three lions on a shirt! Jules Rimet still gleaming, Thirty years of hurt Never stopped me dreaming.

Updated: July 9th 2021, 5:18 PM
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