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"Football’s Coming Home" isn’t an arrogant anthem, it’s a love letter to heartbreak

If you’re not an England fan, or even a supporter of the national team when it comes to a major tournament, you may be forgiven for thinking that 'Three Lions', aka Football’s Coming Home, is the most arrogant Brexit Britain chant that could ever be sung.

That’s more than likely because you’ve only ever heard that part of the song through the lager-laden lips of lads out on the lash. Culturally, it is entwined with the very fabric of football history over the past three decades: it taps into the utter heartbreak that England fans have gone through and has almost come full circle.

The song was originally written for Euro ‘96 which was held in England, but our story doesn’t start there. It starts six years earlier, at Italia ‘90, where England’s proclivity for losing penalty shoot-outs began.

Bobby Robson’s side went into the tournament under the cosh from the media, with the FA not renewing Robson’s contract and him already agreeing a deal to go to PSV Eindhoven once the World Cup was over. England reached the semi-finals (their best result since winning it in 1966), and came so agonisingly close, losing 4-3 to Germany on penalties. The images and videos from that tournament have been the backbone of the cultural idea that England get so near yet so far, and are therefore wheeled out at every opportunity.

The Euros in Sweden ‘92 were a write-off and not qualifying for the World Cup in the USA in ‘94 meant that Euro ‘96 in England was met with fervent expectation. It was the first tournament held in the home of football for thirty years, hence the line in the song, Football’s Coming Home. England make it out the group stage after a nervy opening game with Switzerland, and swatting aside both Scotland and the Netherlands. In the quarter-finals, a penalty shoot-out win against Spain set up a semi-final reunion with our old friends, the Germans.

England — in the now-infamous grey away kit — walk out to a packed, flag-waving Wembley stadium to a chorus of 'It's Coming Home'. They take the lead inside three minutes but the Germans hit back to make it 1-1. 90 minutes pass as well as extra-time, with a cross-the-face ball from Shearer almost finding Paul Gascoigne who only has to poke it into an empty net, but alas, came up an inch too short. Once again, it's a penalty shoot-out. The first five spot kicks are dispatched without error and so it goes to sudden death. Gareth Southgate steps up and fires it to the goalkeeper's left, only for it to rebound off the 'keepers gloves and away from danger. Stuart Pearce, who missed the penalty at the World Cup in 1990, immediately goes to console the young Southgate, while Möller steps up and cooly slams the ball down the middle, ending England's run and putting Germany in the final once again.

The song was re-released for France '98 with updated lyrics as well as commentary from that fateful moment, with the iconic line, "Gareth Southgate, the whole of England is with you." Who knew that twenty years later, he would be the manager leading England into a World Cup semi-final in 2018, and then a Euros final in 2021. The Southgate redemption story is one that England fans have immensely enjoyed the journey of, and after a penalty shoot-out win against Colombia in 2018, I think we all believed that any demons were vanquished and this diverse new England team, packed with young talent and leaders with actual morals not just in sport but away from the pitch, could once and for all bring football home.

In the years leading up to Southgate's appointment, England were knocked out of every tournament: WC France '98 : Round of 16, 4-3 on penalties vs Argentina

Euro Belgium and Netherlands '00 : Group stages

WC Japan and South Korea '02 : Quarter-finals, 2-1 vs Brazil

Euro Portugal '04 : Quarter-finals, 6-5 on penalties vs Portugal

WC Germany '06 : Quarter-finals, 3-1 on penalties vs Portugal

Euro Austria and Switzerland '08 : Did not qualify

WC South Africa '10 : Round of 16, 4-1 vs Germany

Euro Poland and Ukraine '12 : Quarter-finals, 4-2 on penalties vs Italy

WC Brazil '14 : Group stages

Euro France '16 : Round of 16, 2-1 vs Iceland

Out of eleven penalty shoot-outs, England have only ever won three: two of these coming within the past four years and both under Gareth Southgate. This is why Three Lions (It's Coming Home) was the official mating call of the England football fan last summer, and this summer with the Women's Euros and the World Cup to take place, it's only getting more and more airtime. With Euro 2020 being played across the continent and the Finals being held in London, you can forgive England fans for losing their minds for never having reached this stage of the competition, only for more heartbreak to await us in the Final with a 3-2 penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy once again. It makes the images of Southgate cradling teenager Bukayo Saka after his miss even more pertinent.

Can you blame us for singing the song that has accompanied our heartbreak for over 25 years? I appreciate politics has skewed the vision of not just England, but Britain as a whole, but I've included the lyrics to both the original and the France '98 version of Three Lions below for you to get acquainted with, and to hopefully shed some light on why this taps into the England fan's culture so well and why we always wheel it out.

56 years of hurt, never stopped us dreaming.

Three Lions:

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-nears Wear you 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

Three Lions '98:

It could have been all songs in the street

It was nearly complete, it was nearly so sweet

And now I'm singing

Talk about football coming home

And now I see Ince ready for war


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