Why do England fans sing Football’s Coming Home?

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

England fans chant Football’s Coming Home outside Wembley. Alamy
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As England kicks off its World Cup campaign in Qatar against Iran on Monday one song represents fans who have made it to the stadium or who are watching at home — maybe this time, football is coming home.

For England's last tournament it was another case of 'oh, so close' as the perennial nearly-men lost in the final to Italy on penalties at Wembley.

The song, called Three Lions, is a tribute 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.

Co-writer David Baddiel, however, 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 tune

UK's Band of the Coldstream Guards play three lions ahead of England football clash

The Band of the Coldstream Guards play a rendition of Skinner and Baddiel's ‘Three Lions’ in the grounds of Clarence House in support of England and their Euro 2020 campaign.

Major football tournaments regularly involve the release of fan-rallying anthems. Some have been revived in successive contests. For the World Cup in Italy in 1990, the hit tune was World in Motion by New Order, featuring the John Barnes rap, which still has a following.

A quarter of century ago it was Three Lions (Football's Coming Home). The record 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 TV show.

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

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

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

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

What is Three Lions (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 had been 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 unified Germany team on penalties, when current national team manager Gareth Southgate missed his attempt from the spot.

Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home) has now been 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 overarching 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 former 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 Three Lions (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 Three Lions (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 No 1 success was Three Lions, in 1996 and again in 1998.

The band's lead singer Ian 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: November 21, 2022, 2:25 PM