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World Cup and the song “Three Lions”

A few years ago, I got a hold of a bunch of CDs featuring the #1 songs in England for the past couple decades. What interested me most were the songs that had made #1, but that I, living in the U.S., had never heard. Sure, there was a lot of overlap. Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5” (Sept 1999) had made it to #1 in England, and only #3 in the U.S., but I knew it. “The Sign” by Ace of Base (April 1994) had been #1 in both countries. But what on earth was “Three Lions” (May 1996)? This song never played on U.S. radio stations. When it charted, #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 was "The Crossroads" by the hip-hop group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. I was familiar with The Lightning Seeds, the band that recorded "Three Lions," because I spent the 1990s in the San Francisco Bay Area, and that’s the sort of music that radio station LIVE 105 used to play (“Modern rock” is the name of the genre; the same sort of music I grew up listening to in Los Angeles as played on KROQ – that’s right, I was down with The Pet Shop Boys a full year before the rest of you posers.).

I hit play.

What filled my ears was a song both melancholy and uplifting. The song mentioned things I’d never heard of, but I was instantly captivated. It’s a hypnotically catchy tune.

“Three Lions” (music by The Lightning Seeds and lyrics by two British comedians I’d never heard of David Baddiel and Frank Skinner) is a sports song. Specifically, it’s a song in support of the 1996 British football (soccer) team during that year’s European Football Championship. Its lyrics concentrate on the fact that at the time England hadn’t won any sort of championship since its World Cup victory in 1966 (“Thirty years of hurt . . . "). But the singer, a fan, has never stopped believing in the possibility of another win (“. . . never stopped me dreaming”). He proudly remembers the three lions that make up the emblem of English national football team. I knew about sports songs. Here in the U.S. we’d had sports songs hit it fairly big every now and then (Remember The “Super Bowl Shuffle” by the 1985 Chicago Bears?).

The song's refrain, "It's coming home, it's coming home” is a nod to the fact that the game was invented in England and that the Championship that year was being held in England. What is the Jules Rimet and why is it “still gleaming”? Thank you, internet. There is a Wikipedia page explaining the references.

Further research indicated that “Three Lions” is a full-fledged cultural phenomenon with people making their own videos to the music.

Here is the original video for the song:

I like this one for its homemade feel. The kids just intercut themselves with a couple comments for the 2006 World Cup (40 years now, not 30).

The official sequel: "Three Lions ’98" was produced for the 1998 World Cup. Listen to the slight changes in the lyrics, specifically the fact that the matches were held in France ("We can do Nobby’s dance / we can do it in France.")

Here's the version for 2010, which is a sort of remix. Eh, not as cool as the first two.

England didn’t win in 1996. Nor did they win the World Cup in 1998. Nor 2002. Nor 2006. But there’s always 2010.

And, even if the lose again, they’ve got one really catchy song.



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