Fifty-five years of suffering. To some extent, English fans have stopped dreaming.
As a nation, we have finally learned not to hope too much.
At least we think we have. And then you hear those three immortal words: it’s coming home.
A surge of patriotism consumes you. Could we really do it?
More of a prophecy than a song, Three Lions perfectly captures the essence of being an England fan.
This tradition of erasing the team, but maintaining a slide of hope deep inside.
Twenty-five years later, David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and Lightning Seeds still give us reason to believe.
As we will do with the track for next month of Euro 2020: let’s go back to the beginning.
Three Lions has become the official anthem for Euro 96, although it is not even the official song of the tournament.
It was supposed to be Simply Red’s “We’re in This Together” – but you probably didn’t even hear that.
Originally conceived as a second song to help the FA out of the serious financial woes it suffered as a result of the unexpected extension of the tournament by UEFA, the unlikely combination of two comedians and a Britpop icon has produces a timeless classic.
But it turned out that the players weren’t that enthusiastic at first. Just ask Stuart Pearce.
In a new talkSPORT documentary titled “It’s Coming Home: The Story Of Three Lions”, the former England defender said: “Baddiel and Skinner came to the Bernham Beaches Hotel a week before the tournament.
“They put it on the table, on a stereo, and we all looked at each other and thought, ‘Oh, another shitty football song!'”
It’s true, the awkwardness of this day marks Baddiel and Skinner, who have received particularly harsh criticism from the English star man Paul Gascoigne.
Baddiel told talkSPORT: “We went to Bernham Beaches with Ian [Broudie] and played the song to the team.
“It was really embarrassing! In my head, Gazza got up and turned it off. He rebuffed him, but he continued to love him. He told us he played there before the matches.
“The only good thing about this meeting was that Terry Venables had car keys and he was banging one on his palm, and he said, ‘He’s a real tapper, isn’t he?'”
It would eventually become Gascoigne’s (and probably half the population’s) alarm bells – in part thanks to a rogue DJ in that famous victory over Scotland in the group stage.
After an indifferent start, Gazza’s iconic goal against the Scots made Wembley ensemble Three Lions sing in unison, but the song wasn’t meant to be played.
“The DJ was told by the FA not to put it on, it was a little too partisan for the game against Scotland, he did it anyway,” Baddiel said.
“It always gives me goosebumps, by the time they put on the song all the English fans knew the lyrics.”
And Skinner added, “It was like we just fast-forwarded until everyone sang it.
“I could cry now talking about it, I can’t tell you how I felt. It was like we were kind of part of the team.
And his popularity extended beyond the borders of England, which infamously celebrated another such close experience.
Germany, who knocked out the hosts on penalties in the semi-finals before winning the tournament, loved the song so much that they sang it to celebrate – and it actually hit the charts there.
German Euro 96 captain Tottenham icon Jurgen Klinsmann told talkSPORT: “We loved it!
“With the Euros being played in England, 30 years after winning the World Cup, it had a very special meaning for everyone in England, but it was also a beautiful song to sing, even if you are not English .
“I just remembered that we listened to him at the hotel and he got bigger and bigger. We loved it so much that we sang it after we had the chance to win the trophy.
“We sang it on the balcony of the Frankfurt Civic Center when we showed the trophy to 20,000 fans!
Since then, as it is replayed at every major tournament, rival fans may have confused its message with English arrogance and the idea that this country thinks it made it all up.
After Croatia excluded England from the 2018 World Cup, when their popularity surpassed Euro 96, Vedran Corluka walked past the British press and said: “It doesn’t come home”, while Luka Modric revealed that the song inspired them to victory.
But it’s the opposite of arrogance: it’s an almost self-deprecating wish for something miraculous, underlining how magical it would be given England’s history of failure since 1966.
The lyrics tell you they literally never win, and it’s this lack of cheerleading that makes it so authentic and subsequently iconic.
As football returns home in a geographic sense at Euro 2020 this summer, starting with Croatia of All Nations on Sunday, Three Lions will become a battle cry.
That’s what happened in 2018, when the song reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart for the fourth time, more than two decades after its first appearance.
Like the footballing version of Christmas, Baddiel and Skinner become Mariah Carey every two years, or three in this case.
Maybe it’s because the FA doesn’t make music anymore, but we always come back to the classics: Vindaloo, World in Motion, Three Lions.
Without getting too competitive, Baddiel believes his song is one of the only true football anthems.
He added, “All the football songs up to the point of the Three Lions were not football songs.
“They could vaguely refer to football. World in Motion is a really good song, but it’s a love song with a John Barnes rap in the middle. Our song mentions Gary Lineker and Bobby Moore and a tackle.
We don’t even know what Vindaloo is talking about: “Can I present you, please, a piece of cheddar cheese?” A knitting, a pearl. Drop one, loop one. Boots it. NA NA NAAA. ‘
Where were we? Ah yes, football.
Another thing that gives Three Lions their edge is that England did pretty well that year – and 2018 probably has something to do with that, too.
Like World in Motion and Italia ’90, memories of the tournament are part of the song and help create those nostalgic vibes we feel today.
Baddiel added, “It’s incredibly linked to the success of a sports team. If England didn’t advance to the semi-finals, it would be pointless.
And on a personal level for Skinner, the song’s resurgence in 2018 was even more special.
“My child was born in 2012, so he was six in 2018,” he said. “I have a video of him singing his head with the whole crowd singing Three Lions. It is quite special.
“Every father, deep down, wants to be his child’s hero, if only for a short time.
“2018 rewound 1996 for me with my kid there to witness it.”
I know it was then, but it could be again this summer.
Listen to It’s Coming Home, the Three Lions story Thursday at 7 p.m. on talkSPORT and hear from other big names like David Seaman, Gazza, Darren Anderton and John Motson