The Three Lions phenomenon takes hold as Euro 96 kicks off in England.
In 1992, nothing happened. Well, not for England at the European Championships in Sweden anyway. Scoring one goal in three games and losing to hosts Sweden in their final group game meant that they’d go out early and Gary Lineker would retire without being able to crack the English goalscoring record thanks to an early substitution by manager Graham Taylor.
In winning the bid to stage Euro 96 later on that year – which would be thirty years since their only World Cup win, and also on home soil – England could afford to relax…which maybe they did too much seeing as they didn’t get into USA ’94.
I remember being so, so psyched for Euro 96 – I’d collected the ring pulls from enough Coca Cola cans to send off for the official Euro 96 t-shirt, if that’s not a statement of intent then I don’t know what is. There was a real buzz about everything that year; it wasn’t that we’d actually win it or anything – even at the age of 11 I wasn’t that naïve – but everything just seemed different. In a good way.
I remember watching a BBC documentary about this tournament and the time period it fell into, a real time of optimism for the country which was heading to the election booths just a few months later to vote in New Labour (apparently Tony Blair paraphrased the song at a conference a few months after its release). As it was during the Cool Britannia era of the mid-90s (as further explored in my Britpop post) there was that positivity of the period which was otherwise sorely lacking in 1992, and keeping that spirited feeling of community and cool is what two comedians and their musician friend were focused on when they released this gem:
This song is what really clinched it for me that year; shit was looking up. And for an eleven-year old cynic like me that really took some doing. It’s also the most featured role that Steve Stone would ever take up in the England setup but that’s a different story. Most notably, it was probably the first England football song that’s actually got a singalong part for the fans in the stands to adopt – and so they did, chanting it throughout the tournament and even more vocally during wins over Scotland, the Netherlands and Spain. Even eventual winners of the tournament Germany loved the song; Jurgen Klinnsman has mentioned in the past that their team coach was often the source of some serious Three Lions appreciation.
The Lightning Seeds, an Ian Broudie-led project which had recently expanded into an actual touring group, were cruising the waves initially thrown up by the resurgence of British guitar music; they’d had some mainstream success with songs like Lucky You and Sense, and Broudie was approached by the Football Association to provide the music for their official Euro 96 anthem. Broudie agreed on condition that David Baddiel and Frank Skinner provide the lyrics.
Bit of a strange one, this; at the time Baddiel and Skinner were the hosts of a weekly late-night comedy show on BBC2 called Fantasy Football League. While Baddiel had achieved cult fame as part of The Mary Whitehouse Experience on BBC TV and radio, Skinner was an up and coming comic who had previously acted and written for Channel 4 sitcoms. Though recognisable to comedy fans beforehand, it was still a bit of a gap between that Friday night football comedy programme and a co-writing credit on the number one single in the UK, but the show’s appeal rose and saw them become figureheads in the footballing community. Two bits stand out for me from that programme: football presenter Ray Stubbs getting in on the joke of a bad piece of player pronunciation and Peter Beardsley’s impressive celebrations after a four-goal haul in their Phoenix from the Flames segment. I highly recommend watching them both.
So on the back of an all-time national high both in football and the mood in general, how did our players fare in their own back yard? Well, they opened with a draw against Switzerland – in what was the Swiss’ first ever Euro match, so a bit of a disappointment – before big wins in Group A against Scotland (take it away, Gazza) and a massive 4-1 defeat of the Netherlands to send England through as group winners.
Penalties followed against Spain in the quarter-finals, but a combination of Stuart Pearce’s scary celebration and David Seaman’s scary shirt was enough to put England into the semis…where once again they fell on penalties to Germany. Penalties are always a crap shoot anyway but I see myself as something of a jinx in this regard – it’s probably just that the losses are more memorable but ever since this day in the summer of 1996, don’t bet on the team that I like to win it on penalties.
So it turns out that the only thing which came home in 1996 were the royalties for Broudie, Baddiel and Skinner – as they would again from every tournament ever since, where either the original ’96 version or one of several re-recordings with updated lyrics gets back into the charts. Three Lions ’98 was a number one two years later with a new video and new lyrics but none of them have the same charm or sense of self-belief that this one did. It’s almost definitely my all-time favourite football song because it’s a great pop song that holds some great nostalgia of the times for me.
Next up, 1998: the year that the rest of the music industry caught on that there’s money to be made at this football lark.