It’s 1996. My entire family are sprinting across a caravan park trying to make it to the communal TV for the start of England’s quarter-final in Euro ’96. I can hear the thwack of kids kicking balls into the side of cars and the hiss of radios not quite tuned into 5 Live. Then, three hours later, it’s all drunk adults sloshing beer and slurred chants of ‘It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming, football’s coming home’, with England having beaten Spain 4-2 on penalties.
Those lyrics are still synonymous with major tournaments. In fact, I reckon there are going to be kids forming identical memories during June’s European Championships. Despite turning 20 years old this month, ‘Three Lions’ is still the best football song of all time.
Recorded by Frank Skinner, David Baddiel and The Lightning Seeds, ‘Three Lions’ was an ode to both England’s past glories and the abject misery of supporting England today. Sung not by polished pros but by a pair of comedians, the song celebrates the team’s fans as much as players. The video is set in the pub. The lyrics aren’t cocky: ‘It’s coming home’ refers more to the joy of the Euros happening in England that year than the chances of England winning. Plus, by namechecking certified football legends like Bobby Charlton, it’s aged better than if it sung the praises of Gareth Southgate.
‘Three Lions’ has lasted because of its trio of football song qualities: it’s chantable, it’s hopeful and it’s honest. Plus, its ‘fuck the haters’ message is achingly 2016. See: Beyoncé twirling on her haters, Taylor Swift shaking her haters off and every Buzzfeed article about so and so ‘calling someone out’.
To be fair, it helps that it’s not had much competition since. Listening to Ant and Dec’s ‘We’re on the Ball’ from 2002 is more painful than watching every episode of ‘Saturday Night Takeaway’ in a row. Then there’s the recent string of high-production-value tracks that are more suited to a ‘Match of the Day’ highlights reel than a pre-match pub session. Embrace’s ‘World at Your Feet’ was boring and Dizzee Rascal and James Corden’s ‘Shout’ was so corporate that it was uploaded to YouTube by TalkTalk. In fact, the only England football song that can compare is 1990’s ‘World in Motion’, which, while musically brilliant, is kinda tricky to chant from the stands.
So here’s the deal, Olly Murs is rumoured to be recording this year’s official England song. I say, let’s sack that off and bring Baddiel and Skinner back. Because ‘Three Lions’ is to international football tournaments what Mariah Carey is to Christmas: evocative, timely and shouted tunelessly by my dad after a couple of drinks. Fifty years of hurt never stopped him dreaming.