It’s Coming Home: The history of the England fan chant

England fans singing ‘It’s Coming Home’

Why are we asking this now?

Euro 2020 has reached the knockout stages and England have made it out of Group D after seeing off Croatia and the Czech Republic with cautious 1-0 wins at Wembley and rattling out a nervy goalless draw against Scotland.

They now face perennial foes Germany in the second round in a tournament that has already provided plenty of shocks, with the holders Portugal, tournament favourites France and a plucky, free-scoring Netherlands already crashing out.

So where does the chant come from?

“It’s coming home” is, of course, the central refrain from “Three Lions”, the song penned by stand-up comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel to celebrate England hosting Euro 96 a quarter of a century ago.

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The song is laced with nostalgia for our greatest footballing triumph – winning the 1966 World Cup by beating West Germany 4-2 thanks to a hat-trick from Geoff Hurst – and is both a lament for the disappointments and underachievement of the intervening years and a testament to eternal optimism among England fans, unshakeable in their faith that old glories might be revived.

The “it” in question could refer either to a major tournament trophy or, less literally, to the spirit of the sport itself, returning to the land that conceived it like the Prodigal Son after adventuring overseas to nations that have proved more adept exponents of its arts in recent decades like Brazil, Argentina, Italy and the dreaded Germany.

How did two comedians come to write England’s unofficial anthem?

Skinner and Baddiel were known at the time for hosting the BBC’s hugely popular, if laddy, comedy show Fantasy Football League (1994-96), essentially a cross between Football Focus and Men Behaving Badly, complete with a blokey, flat-share set and a pyjamed sidekick obsessed with match data named Statto (Angus Loughran).

The duo teamed up with Ian Broudie of Liverpudlian Britpop outfit The Lightning Seeds to write a song for the upcoming Euros, conjuring recent dejection over the team’s defeat in the semi-finals of Italia 90 and brilliantly articulating the reality of life as a frustrated England fan raging at another summer of unrealised potential.

“Three Lions” was also at least partly a spoof of the whole idea of official team songs, then in vogue, particularly among FA Cup Final participants.

It really caught on and became a national cultural phenomenon when England beat Scotland 2-0 at Wembley on 15 June 1996, a game in which Israeli psychic Uri Geller claimed to have moved the ball with his mind to ensure Gary McAllister’s spot kick was saved by David Seaman and in which Paul Gascoigne secured his immortality by flicking the ball over Colin Hendry’s head to thrash home past Andy Goram. When the final whistle blew, “Three Lions” erupted around the stadium.

Baddiel described the occasion to Kirsty Young on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs as ”one of the most extraordinary moments of my life” and admitted to still feeling goosebumps whenever he thinks about it.

Recalling that heady summer on Josh Widdicombe and Chris Scull’s Quickly Kevin podcast, Skinner remembered joking before the match that he and Baddiel had offered to write an anthem for the Scots called “Three Games” and revealed Gazza’s superstitious attachment to the song, the eccentric playmaker refusing to get off the team bus at one point until “Three Lions” had been blasted out on the stereo.

When Gazza’s goal hit the back of the net, Skinner’s girlfriend at the time was so excited she belted the man sitting in front of her in the head, the victim turning around in annoyance and revealing himself to be heavyweight boxer Frank Bruno.

The song was number one in the charts – dethroning The Fugees, if you can believe it – and became the anthem of that uncharacteristically balmy summer, the legacy of disappointment and hope for the future it evoked capturing England’s latest thwarted dream as the team went out on penalties to Germany, again, with current manager Gareth Southgate missing the fateful spot-kick.

Opposition striker Jurgen Klinsmann later admitted “Three Lions” was so catchy that even the Germans themselves were singing it en route to Wembley.

Why has the song had a resurgence in recent years?

Skinner and Baddiel subsequently revived and re-recorded “Three Lions” with updated lyrics for both France 98 and the South Africa World Cup in 2010, neither of which saw the England team cover itself in glory, and its popularity seemed confined to the past, particularly in the wake of the team’s crushing humiliation at the hands of Iceland as they were dumped out of Euro 2016.

But then, World Cup 2018 in Russia rolled around with expectations lowered and Southgate’s boys mounted a surprising, but highly credible, charge to the semi-finals before being bested by Croatia, the momentum bringing the country together again for the first time since Brexit and reviving the chant in pubs, streets and gardens across the land and on social media, which experienced a mini-explosion of delirious England-related memes.

“It’s just about still coming home!” a jubilant Baddiel chimed in with a tweet from his living room sofa as the hype reached fever pitch after the quarter-final win over Sweden.

What has it replaced?

“It’s coming home” is likely to be the dominant England chant at this year’s Euros should the team progress, but so far their underwhelming, deeply conservative performances have meant it has largely been uttered in a superstitious hush between friends, like a password whispered between fellow members of a secret society.

Other familiar chants rivalling it for supremacy include such classics as “Eng-er-land”, the slightly more impatient and imploring “Come on England” and the tune to Elmer Bernstein’s theme from The Great Escape (1963), which might enjoy a revival today if Raheem Sterling bags another because of the war film’s cheerily anti-German sentiments.

What are the lyrics?

Oh go on then.

Here they are in full, with the track’s opening punditry excerpts in parentheses.

Incidentally, those clips were recently traced by Adam Hurrey of the Football Cliches podcast to Alan Hansen and Jimmy Hill discussing Nottingham Forest’s exit from the UEFA Cup in 1996 after defeat to Bayern Munich. The context for Trevor Brooking’s remarks, however, remain a mystery at the time of writing.

(I think it’s bad news for the English game)

(We’re not creative enough)

(We’re not positive enough)

It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming

Football’s coming home (We’ll go on getting bad results)

It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming

Football’s coming home

It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming

Football’s coming home

It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming

Football’s coming home

Everyone seems to know the score, they’ve seen it all before

They just know, they’re so sure

That England’s gonna, throw it away, gonna blow it away

But I know they can play

‘Cause I remember

Three lions on a shirt

Jules Rimet still gleaming

Thirty years of hurt

Never stopped me dreaming

So many jokes, so many sneers

But all those “oh so near’s”

When your down, through the years

But I still see that tackle by Moore

And when Lineker scored, Bobby belting the ball

And Nobby dancing

Three lions on a shirt

Jules Rimet still gleaming

Thirty years of hurt

Never stopped me dreaming

(England have done it, in the last minute of extra time)

(What a save, what now!)

(Good old England, England that couldn’t play football…)

(England have got it in the bag)

I know that was then, but it could be again

It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming

Football’s coming home

It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming

Football’s coming home

(England have done it)

It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming

Football’s coming home

It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming

Football’s coming home

Three lions on a shirt

Jules Rimet still gleaming

Thirty years of hurt

Never stopped me dreaming

Three lions on a shirt

Jules Rimet still gleaming

Thirty years of hurt

Never stopped me dreaming

Three lions on a shirt

Jules Rimet still gleaming

Thirty years of hurt

Never stopped me dreaming

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