Three Lions

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"Three Lions"
Single by Baddiel & Skinner & Lightning Seeds
from the album The Beautiful Game – The Official Album of Euro '96
Released 20 May 1996
8 June 1998 ("3 Lions '98")
(see separate infobox below)

3 June 2002
5 June 2006
Format CD, 7", cassette (1996)
CD (2002)
DualDisc (2006)
Genre Britpop
Label Epic (1996 / 2002)
BMG (2006)
Writer(s) Music: Ian Broudie
Lyrics: David Baddiel & Frank Skinner
Producer(s) Ian Broudie
Simon Rogers
Dave Bascombe
Music sample
Sample of "Three Lions" by Baddiel & Skinner & The Lightning Seeds

"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 Ian Broudie, with comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner - presenters of football-themed comedy show Fantasy Football League at the time - providing the lyrics.[1]

The title comes from the emblem of the England football team, which is in turn derived from the Coat of Arms of England. This song is one of only three songs to top the British charts twice with different lyrics, the others being "Mambo No. 5" (in versions by Lou Bega and Bob the Builder) and "Do They Know It's Christmas?" (by Band Aid and Band Aid 30). It also regularly reappears in the UK singles chart around major football tournaments involving the England team.

In June 2014, this song came to attention again, as Morrisons was forced not to play this song anymore in its Scotland supermarkets, after receiving complaints from the Scottish football fans.[2][3]

1996 original song


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.[4] However, the repeated failures have not dampened the feeling that England could again reach those heights ("Three Lions on a shirt, Jules Rimet still gleaming. Thirty years of hurt, never stopped me dreaming").[5]

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

  • "I think it's bad news for the English game." (Alan Hansen)
  • "We're not creative enough; we're not positive enough." (Trevor Brooking)
  • "We'll go on getting bad results." (Jimmy Hill)

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 chorus proclaimed that "It's coming home, it's coming home, it's coming, football's coming home" which refers, like the tournament's slogan, "Football comes home", to the invention of the modern game in England.[6]

The song makes reference to English footballing heroes and famous moments of the past, specifically:

According to Frank Skinner's autobiography, the original lyrics submitted to the FA included the line "Butcher ready for war" instead of "Bobby belting the ball". The former was a reference to a notorious World Cup qualifier against Sweden in 1989, where defender Terry Butcher gave a typically committed performance, despite his head bleeding profusely for much of the match. The FA requested this line was changed, so as to avoid suggestions of hooliganism imagery. 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 recorded by Ian Broudie at Anfield during a UEFA Cup tie in October 1995.[citation needed]

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 so...". 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 reached number one in the singles chart, and as England progressed to the semi-finals, stadiums 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 liked 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.[7] The song is still heard frequently on German radio stations.

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 occasionally 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".[citation needed] The song has sold 1.53 million copies in the UK as of November 2012.[8]

Three Lions re-entered the charts at number 10 (as of 13 June) during the World Cup in 2010. A total of five different versions were present in the top 100 at the time.

Original single track listing

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

3 Lions '98

"3 Lions '98"
Single by Baddiel, Skinner & The Lightning Seeds
Released 8 June 1998
Format CD, cassette
Recorded 1998
Genre Alternative rock
Label Epic
Writer(s) Music: Ian Broudie
Lyrics: David Baddiel & Frank Skinner
Producer(s) Ian Broudie
Simon Rogers
Dave Bascombe

England lost in a penalty shootout against Germany in 1996, and so the song's lyrics rang true once again. It was subsequently re-recorded with different lyrics (under the title "3 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.

This version of the song begins with the sound of crowds from the 1996 tournament singing the chorus of the original song in the stadiums. Where the 1996 "Three Lions" song drew on various memorable moments from the previous 30 years, the 1998 version reflected on the Euro 96 tournament and its entry alongside previous disappointments, as well as the team's performance in qualifying for the 1998 World Cup. The verse mentioning specific players focused this time on the then-current England squad:

  • Paul Ince – "Ince ready for war" – his Butcher-esque performance against Italy in a crucial qualifier for that year's World Cup
  • Paul Gascoigne – "Gazza good as before" – the long-awaited return of his 1990 World Cup form in Euro 96, particularly his famous trick goal against Scotland
  • Alan Shearer – "Shearer certain to score" – with five goals, he had been the top scorer of Euro 96, despite a poor run of form in internationals before the tournament
  • Stuart Pearce – "And Psycho screaming" – his primal celebration after scoring a penalty in the Euro 96 quarter-final shoot-out against Spain, which lifted the burden he had felt after failing to score in the semi-final shootout at the 1990 World Cup

However, and amid much controversy, neither Gascoigne nor Pearce were selected for England's 1998 World Cup squad, which was not announced until some time after the song had been recorded.

As well as a karaoke version of the new song, the single featured a song called "Tout est Possible" (French for "Anything is Possible") as a B-side. 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 "La Coupe du Monde" (The World Cup).

1998 video

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 played an instrumental part in Germany's semi-final victory over England at Wembley in 1996. Baddiel and Skinner mocked him on their Fantasy Football television programme, making use of the name as a sexual innuendo; 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 his arm into custard while grasping a melon, so it bears a comical resemblance to the World Cup trophy, was shown on German TV station ARD a few days before the final was to be played.

Three Lions 2010 by The Squad

"Three Lions 2010"
Single by THE SQUAD
from the album England The Album 2010
Released 17 May 2010
Recorded 2010
Genre Britpop with opera and choir music
Label EMI
Writer(s) Music: Ian Broudie
Lyrics: David Baddiel & Frank Skinner

Although Frank Skinner had dismissed the possibility in early 2010,[9] Skinner, Baddiel and Broudie were joined by Robbie Williams and comedian/actor Russell Brand under the name "The Squad" for a new version of the song for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, produced by Trevor Horn.[10] The song features added vocals from the ACM Gospel Choir, a soprano (Olivia Safe) and commentator John Motson.[11] It entered the UK singles chart at #21. The song can be found on England The Album 2010 as its lead single.


CD Single
  1. "Three Lions" (2010 Version) – 4:17
  2. "Three Lions" (Original Version) – 3:36
Digital Download
  1. "Three Lions" (2010 Version) – 4:17
  2. "Three Lions" (2010 Edit) – 3:37
Asda CD Single
  1. "Three Lions" (2010 Version) – 4:17
  2. "Three Lions" (2010 Asda Choir Version) – 4:16

Chart performance

Chart (1996) Peak
UK Singles Chart 1 "Three Lions"
(#1 for 2 weeks on charts of 26 May and 30 June 1996)
Chart (1998) Peak
UK Singles Chart 1 "3 Lions '98"
(#1 for 3 weeks on charts of 14, 21 and 28 June 1998)
Chart (2002) Peak
UK Singles Chart 16
Chart (2006) Peak
UK Singles Chart 9
Chart (2010) Peak
UK Singles Chart 21 "Three Lions 2010" (by The Squad)
UK Singles Chart 10 "Three Lions" (1996 single)
Chart (2014) Peak
UK Singles Chart 27
Preceded by
"Ooh Aah... Just a Little Bit" by Gina G
UK Singles Chart Number 1 single
26 May 1996 for 2 weeks
Succeeded by
"Killing Me Softly" by The Fugees
Preceded by
"Killing Me Softly" by The Fugees
UK Singles Chart Number 1 single
30 June 1996
Succeeded by
"Killing Me Softly" by The Fugees
Preceded by
"C'est La Vie" by B*Witched
UK Singles Chart Number 1 single (Three Lions '98)
14 June 1998 for 3 weeks
Succeeded by
"Because We Want To" by Billie

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 5 June 2006 for the World Cup 2006 in Germany. It charted at #9 in the UK Singles Chart in 2006. The 2006 re-release 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.

Other uses

In autumn of 1996, Labour opposition leader Tony Blair addressed his party's conference with the quote "Seventeen years of hurt, never stopped us dreaming, Labour's coming home", a play on words from the song's chorus and in reference to his confidence that Labour would return to power at the forthcoming general election having been in the opposition since the Conservatives ousted them from government in 1979. When the election was held on 1 May 1997, Labour won by a landslide.[12]

The indie band Los Campesinos! adapted the song for a track on their fourth album Hello Sadness, called Every Defeat A Divorce (Three Lions). The song is based on the lead singer comparing watching England defeated in the 1998 World Cup with a recent break-up of his.[13]

See also


  1. Frank Skinner, "Don't blame a slogan for football's failures", in The Times, 22 May 2009
  2. Morrisons prompts complaints for playing English football songs in its Scottish stores, The Independent, 18 June 2014.
  3. Scottish Morrisons stores ban English football songs during the World Cup, BBC radio 5, 9 June 2014.
  4. Mathure, Varun (1996-05-17). "Song for Euro 96 ready for airplay - Sport". The Independent. Retrieved 2012-11-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Mark Edwards Duckworth Lewis Method's songs about sport" in The Sunday Times, 5 July 2009
  6. Dave Simpson. "The Lightning Seeds' Ian Broudie: 'People didn't know what was on the England badge before Three Lions' | Music". Retrieved 2015-03-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. David Baddiel. "David Baddiel: Why I'm glad the Germans are singing my Three Lions | Comment is free". Retrieved 2015-03-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Ami Sedghi (4 November 2012). "UK's million-selling singles: the full list". Guardian. Retrieved 4 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Good_Knight". The Daily Telegraph. London. 28 January 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "3 Lions 2010" by The Squad, ZTT/Parlophone, CDR 6804
  11. "Robbie Williams and Russell Brand Sing On New Version Of Three Lions For Football World Cup | Showbiz News | Sky News". Retrieved 14 May 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Brian Wheeler (21 July 2009). "Election countdown – 1990s style". BBC News.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Campesinos!, Gareth. "Gareth Campesinos! – Every Defeat A Divorce (In Depth)". Drowned In Sound. Retrieved 2012-08-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links