Fifty-five years of hurt. To some extent, England fans have stopped dreaming.
As a nation, we’ve finally learned not to get our hopes up.
At least, we think we have. And then you hear those three immortal words: it’s coming home.
A rush of patriotism consumes you. Could we actually do it?
More a prophecy than a song, Three Lions perfectly captures the very essence of being an England fan.
That tradition of writing the team off, but maintaining a slither of hope deep inside.
Twenty-five years on, David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and Lightning Seeds still give us reason to believe.
Like we’ll be doing with the track for the next month of Euro 2020: let’s go back to the start.
Three Lions became the official anthem at Euro ’96, despite not even being the tournament’s official song.
That was meant to be Simply Red’s ‘We’re in This Together’ – but you probably haven’t even heard that.
Initially designed as a second song to help the FA out of the serious financial trouble it incurred from UEFA unexpectedly expanding the tournament, the unlikely combination of two comedians and a Britpop icon produced a timeless classic.
But as it turns out, the players weren’t all that into it at first. Just ask Stuart Pearce.
In a new talkSPORT documentary called ‘It’s Coming Home: The Story Of Three Lions’, the former England defender said: “Baddiel and Skinner came to Bernham Beaches hotel a week before the tournament.
“They put it on the table, on a stereo, and we all looked at each other and thought, ‘Oh – another crap football song!’”
It’s true, the awkwardness of that day scars Baddiel and Skinner, who got a particularly harsh review from England’s star man Paul Gascoigne.
Baddiel told talkSPORT: “We went to Bernham Beaches with Ian [Broudie] and played the song to the squad.
“It was really awkward! In my head, Gazza got up and turned it off. He was slagging it off, but he went on to love it. He’s told us he used to play it on the way to matches.
“The only positive from that meeting was that Terry Venables had some car keys and he was sort of tapping one against his palm, and he said, ‘It’s a real key-tapper, isn’t it?’”
It would eventually become Gascoigne’s alarm (and probably that of half the population) – thanks in part to a rogue DJ during that famous victory over Scotland in the group stages.
After an indifferent start, Gazza’s iconic goal against the Scots had the whole of Wembley chanting Three Lions in unison, but the song wasn’t supposed to be playing.
“The DJ was told by the FA not to put it on, it was a bit too partisan for the Scotland game, he did it anyway,” Baddiel said.
“It still gives me goosebumps, the moment they put on the song, every England fan knew the words.”
And Skinner added: “It was like we just fast-forwarded to the bit where everybody sung it.
“I could cry now talking about it, I can’t tell you how that felt. It was like we were sort of part of the team.”
And its popularity stretched beyond the borders of England, who infamously had another one of those oh-so-near experiences.
Germany, who knocked the hosts out on penalties in the semi-finals before winning the tournament, liked the song so much they sang it to celebrate – and it actually hit the charts over there.
The Germany captain for Euro 96, Tottenham icon Jurgen Klinsmann, told talkSPORT: “We loved it!
“With the Euros being played in England, 30 years after winning the World Cup, it had a very special meaning to everyone in England, but it was also a beautiful song to sing along, even if you’re not English.
“I just remembered we listened to it in the hotel and it became bigger and bigger. We loved it so much that we sang it after we were fortunate enough to win the trophy.
“We sang it on the balcony of the Frankfurt Civic Centre when we showed the trophy to 20,000 fans!”
Since then, as it gets replayed at every major tournament, rival fans have perhaps confused its message for English arrogance and the idea this country thinks it invented everything.
After Croatia dumped England out of the 2018 World Cup, when its popularity outgrew Euro ’96, Vedran Corluka walked past the British press and said, ‘It’s not coming home’, while Luka Modric revealed the song inspired them to victory.
But it’s the opposite of arrogance: it’s an almost self-deprecating wish for something miraculous, highlighting how magical it would be given England’s history of failure since 1966.
The lyrics tell you they literally never win, and it’s that lack of cheerleading which makes it so authentic and subsequently iconic.
As football comes home in a geographical sense at Euro 2020 this summer, starting with Croatia of all nations on Sunday, Three Lions will turn into a battle cry.
That’s what happened in 2018, as the song hit No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart for the fourth time, more than two decades after it first did.
Like football’s version of Christmas, Baddiel and Skinner become Mariah Carey every two years, or three in this case.
Maybe it’s because the FA don’t do music anymore, but we always revert back to the classics: Vindaloo, World in Motion, Three Lions.
Without getting too competitive, Baddiel believes his tune is one of the only true football anthems out there.
He added: “All football songs up until the point of Three Lions hadn’t been football songs.
“They might vaguely refer to football. World in Motion is a very good song, but it’s a love song with a John Barnes rap in the middle of it. Our song mentions Gary Lineker and Bobby Moore and a tackle.”
We’re not even sure what Vindaloo is about: ‘Can I introduce you please, to a lump of cheddar cheese? Knit one, pearl one. Drop one, curl one. Kick it. NA NA NAAA.’
Where were we? Oh yes, football.
Another thing which gives Three Lions its advantage is that England did pretty well that year – and 2018 probably has something to do with that, too.
Like World in Motion and Italia ’90, the memories of the tournament become part of the song and help create those nostalgic vibes we feel today.
Baddiel added: “It’s incredibly tied to the success of a sporting team. If England didn’t get through to the semi-final, it would do no good at all.”
And on a personal level for Skinner, the song’s resurgence in 2018 was even more special.
“My kid was born in 2012, so he was six in 2018,” he said. “I’ve got a video of him singing his head off with all the crowd singing Three Lions. It’s pretty special.
“Every dad, deep down, wants to be their kid’s hero, if just for a short time.
“2018 rewound 1996 for me with my kid there to witness it.”
I know that was then, but it could be again this summer.
Listen to It’s Coming Home, the story of Three Lions on Thursday at 7pm on talkSPORT and hear from more big names including David Seaman, Gazza, Darren Anderton and John Motson