The Story Of Three Lions By Baddiel & Skinner & The Lightning Seeds

7 July 2018, 12:00

How did a comedy show and a Liverpool indie band come up with this enduring football song? And why are people buying it again?

With England currently riding high in the World Cup 2018, football fever has swept the nation. And there’s been a flurry of interest in the song Three Lions, with its chant of “Football’s coming home”… so much that bookies have slashed the odds on the song hitting Number 1 for a third time, after making the top spot on its initial release back in 1996 and again in 1998 to mark that year’s World Cup.

Now, 20 years later, could Three Lions do it again? England got through to the semis in Euro 96 and the song matched the mood of the time. They lost in a penalty shoot-out with Germany, but with them out of the way in 2018, will football be coming home?

Why Did David Baddiel And Frank Skinner Make A Record Together?

It all came out of the BBC2 TV show Fantasy Football League, itself based on the pastime of coming up with imaginary teams. At the time, Skinner was a well-known stand-up comedian and had won the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1991, while Baddiel was coming off the back of huge success with The Mary Whitehouse Experience. The pair had genuinely shared a flat together and the TV show replicated that format, with guests ringing the doorbell to come and chat about their fantasy football teams.

David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and Statto
David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and Statto. Picture: Matthew Ashton/EMPICS Sport

How Did The Lightning Seeds Get Involved?

Ian Broudie was a major name in the 1980s Liverpool music scene, having produced Echo And The Bunnymen and The Icicle Works. He founded The Lightning Seeds in 1989 and had a Top 20 hit with Pure. When Three Lions came along, he’d just enjoyed success with the band’s third album Jollification, while their track The Life Of Riley had seen service as the soundtrack to Match Of The Day’s Goal Of The Month feature.

Broudie told The Guardian in 2014 that the FA had asked him to write the song as the tournament was held in the UK in 1996, and it was his idea to bring in Baddiel and Skinner. He recalled: “I thought it was only worth making if it reflected how it feels to be a football fan [so] I didn't want the players singing on the record."

What Did The England Team Think Of Three Lions?

Broudie recalled that apparently Gazza was the first player to get behind the song: “The FA hated Three Lions when they first heard it. ‘What's all this about, We're gonna throw it away?' The players were the same at first.”

It's a lot better than Gazza's effort, we think..

When Was Three Lions Released?

The single appeared in shops on 20 May 1996, and Euro 96 started just over two weeks later. England got through to the semi-final on 26 June where they lost on penalties to Germany.

Three Lions single cover
Three Lions single cover. Picture: Press

Why Did Three Lions Become So Popular?

As Broudie says, the song is about “always believing” in your team, which captured the optimistic mood of the tournament. It was the big summer of Britpop, with Oasis playing Knebworth that August and a general feeling og national pride. Broudie claims that the song says “We're all in this together, we're all willing to dream – even though by the time you get to the chorus it's ‘Fuck all that’.”

Baddiel And Skinner and The Lightning Seeds
Baddiel And Skinner and The Lightning Seeds. Picture: PA/PA Archive/PA Images

How Successful Was Three Lions?

The single went to Number 1 after selling 100,000 copies in its first week, then dipped down again for a couple of weeks, while The Fugees enjoyed a stay at the top with Killing Me Softly. As the England squad’s campaign peaked, the single returned to Number 1 for a further week, before being replaced by The Fugees again.

Who Is Jules Rimet And Why Is He “Still Gleaming”?

They’re talking about the Jules Rimet trophy, which was handed out to the winner of the World Cup until 1970 - the England squad took it home in the glorious summer of '66. Rimet was the President of FIFA between 1921 and 1954 and came up with the idea of the World Cup in the first place. The FIFA trophy that we know and love came into play in the 1974 tournament.

1966 World Cup
1966 World Cup. Picture: PA/PA Wire/PA Images

Why Are There Three Lions On The England Shirt Anyway?

The lions are the emblem of the Football Association in England, and have been since it was formed in 1863. The lion as an emblem of England goes back to the days of King Henry I, who had the animal on his standard. When he married Adeliza of Louvain in 1121, he added the lion that HER family used as an emblem. When Henry II also married into a family that had a lion in their crest, the third was added.

Ian Broudie remembers that the song reminded people of this English heritage: “People thought it said ‘three lines’. If I put them right, they'd ask: ‘So why is it three lions?’ And I'd say: ‘They're on the shirt!’ “

England Badge
England Badge. Picture: Press

What Were The Follow-Ups To Three Lions?

For the 1998 World Cup, the same team re-recorded the song as 3 Lions ’98, and again the single climbed to Number 1… but England were knocked out by Argentina. For the 2010 World Cup, Baddiel, Skinner and Broudie formed “The Squad”, which also featured Russell Brand and Port Vale fan and singer Robbie Williams. It only made Number 21. The original version has been re-released in 2002 and 2006 too!

What Are The Lightning Seeds’ Other Songs?

The band’s first single Pure was an instant classic, making the Top 20 in the summer of 1989. Also check out The Life Of Riley (1992), Marvellous and Lucky You (both 1994). The there’s a cover of The Turtles’ You Showed Me and Sugar Coated Iceberg, both from 1997’s Dizzy Heights album.

Where Are The Lightning Seeds Now?

Ian Broudie has spent the past few years producing some great artists, including The Coral, The Zutons and Miles Kane’s 2013 album, Don’t Forget Who You Are. He’s currently working on the first Lightning Seeds album in nearly a decade, and is spending the summer of 2018 playing a number of shows.

Lightning Seeds UK Tour Dates 2018

6 July Englefield House, Reading

7 July Sunniside Live, Sunderland

13 July Ragley Hall, Warwickshire

14 July Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

28 July 3 Arena, Dublin

3 August Millennium Square, Leeds

18 August Cotton Clouds Festivak, Greenfield

24 August Victorious Festival, Portsmouth

26 August Solihull Summer Fest, Solihull

31 August Bingley Music Live, Bradford

1 September Cool Britannia Festival, Knebworth

9 September On Blackheath, London

There's more info at lightningseeds.co.uk

The Lightning Seeds, 2015
The Lightning Seeds, 2015. Picture: David Jensen/PA Archive/PA Images