Supporters of England celebrate after the World Cup quarterfinal against Sweden. (Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
Audience editor

As someone who has consumed roughly three million World Cup celebration videos over the past week or so, there are two things I know for sure:

  1. The best way to celebrate a goal is by hurling beer-filled cups into the sky.
  2. You can’t walk more than two street blocks in London without hearing someone sing the chorus from “Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home).”

The song, released 22 years ago from English band “The Lightning Seeds,” has shot to the top of the UK charts, and was streamed more than a million times on Spotify (doubling the all-time high from a few days earlier) when England played Sweden in the quarterfinals. As of July 9, Spotify says the song has been streamed more than six million times since the World Cup started.

If you have watched England advance in the tournament, there’s a strong chance the earworm chorus has already burrowed its way into the deeper recesses of your subconscious.

“It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming
Football’s coming home.
It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming
Football’s coming home …”

And so on. Repeat the chorus roughly 200 more times and you get the idea. If you’ve experienced living in England during a World Cup tournament, the song is a key part of the experience, along with penalty shootout heartbreak, tabloid overreaction and mournful day drinking. And if this is your first time coming across the song (aren’t you lucky?), then you probably have a few questions. That’s where I, your somewhat English guide, come in.

Okay, for starters what exactly does “it’s coming home” mean?

Back in 1996, England hosted the European Cup and the country’s Football Association (FA) tasked the Liverpool band (along with comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner) with writing a song about the tournament. So in a literal sense the “it” was initially about a major soccer tournament returning to England. However, as you can probably surmise, the “it” has shifted to meaning the World Cup trophy.


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Returning home . . . to England? Haven’t they only won the tournament once?

I don’t love the tone of the question, but yes, home to England. While soccer’s origin story can be traced across continents and millennia, the sport’s first official governing body was formed in England 155 years ago, so the English will readily and repeatedly claim the game. Don’t bring this up in a London pub unless you have several hours to kill.

Why this song?

To capture the outwardly pessimistic yet inwardly hopeful psyche of the modern English fan, the song can’t be all “Eye of the Tiger” rah-rah cheering. To resonate, it has to acknowledge the team’s emotional baggage. The first non-chorus lines of the song do just that:

“Everyone seems to know the score
They’ve seen it all before
They just know
They’re so sure
That England’s gonna throw it away
Gonna blow it away
But I know they can play
‘Cause I remember.”

As Lightning Seeds lead singer Ian Broudie told the Guardian:

” . . . after the FA asked me to write a song was that I thought it was only worth making if it reflected how it feels to be a football fan. Even the most successful teams [don’t always win], but there’s a suspension of reality and you believe anyway — whether you support Rochdale or Man United.”

But the song sounds so dated.
Only the actual music. Beyond the obvious appeal of nostalgia, the song’s underlying sentiment has only proven more pertinent with each successive failure. When the song was first released, it had been 30 years since England won the World Cup. In the 28 years since the song was release, this is the first time England has made it past the quarterfinals.

A quick recap of the various World Cup heartbreaks:

  • 1998: Death via penalty shootout to Argentina in the round of 16
  • 2002: Brazil’d in the quarterfinals on a bizarre Ronaldinho cross/shot
  • 2006: Another penalty shootout loss, this time to Portugal in the quarterfinals (progress? sort of?)
  • 2010: A 4-1 loss to Germany in the round of 16 that included a dubious decision to disallow a goal (they died for your VAR)
  • 2014: A group stage exit featuring a single point in three games

Throw in a few more European Cup penalty shootout heartbreaks, and it’s been quite the run. Good times!

The other part of this is the heavy tongue-in-cheek irony associated with the phrase. Leading up to the tournament, few England fans actually thought this team had a chance of winning the tournament, so boisterously exclaiming “it’s coming home!” as a reply to an otherwise insignificant roster update tweet was a head nod to other England fans in on the joke. (Just take a look at any England story on Reddit’s soccer page for entirely too many examples.)

What about the memes?
Oh right, that’s probably why you’re here. Probably should have led with those. With such a simple, slow chorus the song has provided plenty of material for video mash-ups. Here are a few of the better examples:

A few players couldn’t resist joining in:

To complete the meme’s life cycle, brands also found a way to commercialize the fun.

All of this is weird.

You’re not wrong.