"Three Lions" is the only record ever to top the UK chart on 3 separate occasions...Whether that was true was a matter of definition; it depends on whether you count this as the same record as the 1996 version, and whether you count non-consecutive weeks at the top during the same run as separate. Still, there's no arguing that it's one of the nation's more popular football-related hits of all time, doubtless assisted by the wider popularity of the sport at time. I mean, it was always on the telly and my Dad's always been a fan so I never thought it was unusual to be interested in football but somewhere in the 1990s it became bigger than ever, so much so that even I started to take in interest. Not in the game itself, which I don't think I've ever really had the attention span to sit through, but some of the cultural spin-offs; my Dad's old 70s programmes, fanzines (on the rare occasions I saw) the short-lived TV series Standing Room Only and the much longer-lived Fantasy Football League. That last featured David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, two comedians I'd never been keen on before discussing a subject I wasn't very interested in and yet proved to be a favourite of mine at the time. I suspect I wouldn't enjoy it so much today, but it seemed to capture a certain spirit at the time. This of course led to them being called in by Ian Broudie to co-write England's official song for the 1996 European Championship.
The 1996 version of 'Three Lions' was something of a milestone, not only because they didn't let the footballers sing on it, but because of its popularity: a record football fans didn't only buy but actually sang. It even seemed to inspire a relatively solid performance on the pitch. It wasn't totally surprising that two years on, the song was revived (albeit not as an "official" product this time) with a fresh lyric forming a kind of sequel to the original, and even bearing a sample of the original being chanted on the terraces. It went straight back to Number One and proved such a phenomenon that it even found its way to a Now album, whereas they've tended to steer clear of football songs because of their evidently partisan appeal. I even found myself buying it again, which probably wasn't necessary, although at least I got the fresh B-side 'Tout Est Possible', which I've just listened to for probably the first time in a decade or so. Listened to now, the '98 version of the song is a bit of a curio, unsurprisingly not as good as the original and also rather more dated by its topical lyrical references. The self-parodic video also hasn't worn that well, although Skinner's old gag of impersonating the Jules Rimet trophy using only a melon and a bucket of custard makes for a solid punchline. And somehow, David Baddiel's singing is worse than I remember. Still it's hard to think of a subsequent football song that's bettered this, which is presumably why the two versions were re-released together for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, and inevitably one or both will put in an appearance this summer too.
Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the song is the extent to which it was embraced internationally, especially in Germany. Indeed the "Football's coming home" lyric struck a particular chord there in 2006, which may explain this version by the Hermes House Band. Or possibly not, as they're not German, but you get the general idea.
Available on: The Very Best of the Lightning Seeds