Everyone seems to know the score...

Explaining every real-life football reference in ‘Three Lions’ by Baddiel, Skinner & The Lightning Seeds

Come Sunday, England fans up and down the country will be united in song, and not that one about the king.

Three Lions by Baddiel, Skinner & The Lightning Seeds is inescapable during a major international tournament that involved England.

Everyone can sing it’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming… Football’s coming home. 

But much of the song refers to specific events in England’s past. Almost as much time has passes since the release of Three Lions as passed between the World Cup triumph of 1966 and the song’s 1996 release, so we’re here to explore those specific lyrical references to the past for a modern audience.

The commentary played at the start of the song references England’s failure to qualify for World Cup ’94 in the USA: I think it’s bad news for the English game  that’s Alan Hansen; We’re not creative enough, we’re not positive enough  Trevor Brooking; We’re not creative enough, we’re not positive enough.

The actual chorus of the song isn’t as straight forward as it first seems. Football’s coming home is actually a TRIPLE-layered line.

Firstly, the slogan affixed to the 1966 World Cup was Football Comes Home. Secondly, the Euro 1996 was held in England, so football was once again coming home. Thirdly, the more obvious connotation of hope that England would do well in the tournament.

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The first verse of the song is fairly self-explanatory — we’re not going to insult your intelligence. It’s about England being predictably underwhelming in major tournaments. But then we get to the second verse:

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…

There’s some stuff to unpack here. ‘That tackle by Moore’ is a reference to Bobby Moore cleaning out Brazil’s legendary winger Jairzinho at the World Cup in 1970. He did the same to Pele in that game, actually, and the semi-mythical forward can be seen smiling and embracing Moore at the end of the game.

‘When Lineker scored’ refers to Gary Lineker’s Italia ’90 semifinal goal against West Germany, in a game which famously ended in penalty shootout heartbreak for England, and Paul Gascoigne shedding tears on the pitch following a booking that would have ruled him out of the Final.

The ‘Bobby’ in the line, ‘Bobby belting the ball’ is Bobby Charlton, who scored what could only be described as a total thunderbastard against Mexico in the group stage of World Cup 1966.

Finally, ‘Nobby dancing’ is about Nobby Stiles, who famously danced with the Jules Rimet World Cup trophy in one hand, and his false teeth in the other after England won the tournament in 1966.

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If you can't name this guy, then you've been living in a cave.

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After the subsequent chorus we get some more lovely commentary from the archives:

England have done it in the last minute of extra-time!  Good old John ‘Motty’ Motson in David Platt’s 1990 volley past Belgium.

What a save, Gordon Banks! — Commentator David Coleman on the infamous save by Banks from that absolute power-header from Pele in 1970.

Good old England. England that couldn’t play football. England have got it in the bag!  We had to do some serious digging on this but, eventually, we found the answer from the horse’s mouth—David Baddiel himself. This line is lifted from the 1966 World Cup Final radio commentary by Kenneth Wolstenholme.

So next time you find yourself blaring out the unofficial national anthem of England along with a hundred other emotional human beings in a pub, you’ll know, and you can turn to the people around you and shout into their ears with the futility of a San Marino qualification campaign, “THIS IS ACTUALLY ABOUT DAVID PLA—” before getting covered in lager.

By Andrew Martin