Ian Broudie, the Lightning Seeds singer who co-wrote the Three Lions (Football's Coming Home) song for Euro 96, pointed out in an interview with this paper a few weeks ago that no one knew what was on the England badge until he sang about it with Frank Skinner and David Baddiel: "When we first recorded it, 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!' It seems mad now, but I think before that record if you'd have asked people what was on the England badge, no one would have been able to tell you. It would have been a tricky pub-quiz question."
Broudie might be stretching the point a bit there, but the three songwriters had a knack for capturing the trampled hope of being an England fan and putting it into a chantable refrain. When they reprised the role of national cheerleaders for the 1998 World Cup in France, their reworked song started by repeating the same line over and over: "We still believe (we still believe). We still believe (we still believe)".
Back in 1998, England fans had reasons to believe. They could remember Euro 96, with Shearer certain to score, Gazza good as before and Pyscho screaming. Now they remember Ronaldinho's chip, penalties against Portugal, a goalless draw with Algeria and being embarrassed by Germany in Rustenberg. That memory reel doesn't roll off the tongue so easily.
But the game is not up yet. If Italy can win two games against teams they should beat and England can stick a few goals past Costa Rica, the Three Lions will march into the last 16 of the World Cup finals. But no one believes anymore. They know their history too well: