The story of Three Lions by Baddiel & Skinner & The Lightning Seeds

11 July 2021, 20:00

How did a comedy duo and a Liverpool indie band come up with this enduring football song?

Radio X

By Radio X

On 20 May 1996, a single was released that would be the first track to hit the Number 1 spot in the UK on four separate occasions. Since its release 25 years ago, Three Lions by Baddiel, Skinner and The Lightning Seeds has been streamed over 38.4m times, had 88k downloads, and over 33m video views.

Pretty impressive for a track was Initially thought of as just a cash-in single on the Euro 96 football tournament, coming off the back of the comedy duo's TV show Fantasy Football League. The song caught the imagination of the country and there's a special place in the hearts of England fans for the tune to this day.

But how did the collaboration come about in the first place?

The new Three Lions 25th anniversary vinyl reissue
The new Three Lions 25th anniversary vinyl reissue. Picture: Press

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 Paul Gascoigne 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 of 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’.”

Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel launch Three Lions
Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel launch Three Lions. 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.

Bobby Moore holds aloft the Jules Rimet trophy as England win the World Cup in 1966
Bobby Moore holds aloft the Jules Rimet trophy as England win the World Cup in 1966. Picture: S&G/S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport?PA

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! In July 2018, as England reached the semi-finals of the World Cup, the original version of Three Lions once again made Number 1 in the UK!

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.

The band head back out on tour in September 2021, to mark 25 years since their Jollification album.

There's more info at lightningseeds.co.uk

Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds performs with David Baddiel and Frank Skinner during the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2018 ceremony.
Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds performs with David Baddiel and Frank Skinner during the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2018 ceremony. Picture: David Davies/PA Archive/PA Images