This song was written for the 1996 European soccer championship which was being held in England. The England supporters took the song to their hearts, singing it at all the England games - it climbed to #1 in the UK and a new national anthem was created. The song brackets verses of frustration and regret about England soccer not winning any major tournament since 1966 with a lusty music hall chorus.
Asked to make a record for Euro 1996, Ian Broudie, the songwriter and lead vocalist of The Lightning Seeds was undecided whether to go ahead. He says in 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, "I would never have brought a football single myself and I certainly didn't want to do one of those cheerleading records. Being a fan is about losing and, if we did it, I wanted to write it from a fan's point of view. The song has passed into folklore. Every time there's a big match, you can guarantee that some newspaper will be quoting from the song in their headlines."
Broudie asked the comedians and well known football fans David Baddiel and Frank Skinner to sing on the record and help with the words. The end result was the first football single which suggested that the team might not win and was therefore more realistic.
In 1998 a rewritten version was released to coincide with 1998 World Cup in France and again it rose to the top of the UK charts making "Three Lions" the first song to top the UK charts twice with different lyrics.
Ian Broudie recalled to The Guardian May 1, 2009 playing this song to the England squad for the first time as they prepared to have their dinner. Said Broudie: "It was a funny moment because the first lines are 'Everybody knows the score/ They've seen it all before. They're gonna blow it.' And as soon as that came on I was looking at the ghetto blaster, and looking at them. I could see them thinking: 'What is this guy saying? We're going to get stuffed?'" Fortunately Frank Skinner made an "impromptu speech" explaining the song's hopeful sentiments, then Paul Gascoigne pronounced his approval, and all was well.
A new version of the song was recorded by The Squad to tie in with the 2010 World Cup. This new recording includes Robbie Williams and Russell Brand plus legendary commentator John Motson. Brand told The Sun about recording the tune: "I was embarrassed by how emotional I felt singing this song. I nearly cried. It took me back to Euro '96 - Spice Boys, dentist's chairs and Gazza's last hurrah. It's the only good England song and I look forward to singing it as we crash out on penalties. Then I will be crying."
A Lion has been a symbol of England since the late 11th century, and was featured on early versions of the English Coat of Arms. This song's title comes from the emblem of the England football team, which shows three lions walking and showing full face.
The song's refrain, "Football's coming home," has become a popular rallying cry for England football supporters in the years following its release. Initially it was a reference to the 1996 European soccer championship being held in England, which is recognized as the birthplace of modern football as it is known today. However, the phrase has subsequently been adopted by the country's fans as a defiant cry in the face of England's failures in successive European championships and World Cups. Despite not having won any senior international football competition since 1966 and continuously getting eliminated in heartbreaking ways (often on penalty kicks), England supporters continue to believe that history will turn around and "football's coming home."
In 2018 England enjoyed their best World Cup performance for the best part of three decades, reaching the semifinals while Gareth Southgates's young squad connected with the fans in a far greater way than previous teams had. As the belief among the English public was generated that football was indeed coming home, "Three Lions" was downloaded and streamed to ever increasing numbers with the result that the song climbed to the #1 spot for the fourth time. (It reached the summit twice in 1996 and once in 1998).
The song sold 80,000 copies as fans' hopes soared during the 2018 World Cup, but streams and downloads virtually ceased after England lost 2-1 to Croatia in the semifinals. As a consequence, "Three Lions" plummeted from 1 to 97 in the week following its fourth appearance at the summit - the fastest ever drop from the top in the history of the UK singles chart.