Earlier this week, I received this tweet: “Yeh thanks for ‘footballs coming home’ as yet again the germans are using it to mug us right off well done”. Seemed a little unfair, I thought.
True, when Frank Skinner and I wrote the lyrics for Three Lions as the England song for Euro 96 we could possibly have predicted that we would go out of that tournament at the semi-final on penalties to the Germans. After all, we’d seen that happen only six years earlier, at Italia 90. But I think it’s unlikely that we could have foreseen that the German team would nick from under our noses not just the tournament but the song.
It’s been going on for a while now. In fact, immediately after Euro 96 (during which Three Lions had topped the UK charts twice) the song tore up the German charts – dislodging, I dunno, the Scorpions and David Hasselhoff, one presumes – to reach Nummer Sechzehn (16). A very little-known fact is that Frank and I actually performed the song on German TV in 1996, on their sporting review of the year. I know this may seem something of a betrayal, but a) we thought it would be funny, which it was, and b) we insisted, despite the protestations of the producers, on wearing 1966 England shirts.
It’s been a staple for German fans since then. I’m told that they had replaced Lions with Stars: Three Stars on their shirts. Now, of course, it will have to be four. Interesting. Various people have suggested to me that the good news for me and Frank is that at Euro 2016, we will finally be able to re-release the song with the well-scanning line “Fifty years of hurt”. So, in the English version the hurt increases; in the German one, the triumph.
Not of the will. Why would you even think that? God.
People ask how it makes me feel, to hear the Germans sing it. Well, there’s a part of me, to be honest, that’s glad someone is still singing it on the terraces. England fans seem to have stopped. There are two reasons for this. One is the England band, who play resolutely through every game, and who have done a weird thing of unilaterally deciding, via the medium of loud horn instruments, what England fans should sing. Which seems to be mainly God Save The Fucking Queen, Rule Fucking Britannia, and The Great Fucking Escape. But not, for some reason, Three Fucking Lions.
And the other reason of course is that the song – particularly the refrain, Football’s Coming Home, which is what was chanted repeatedly by the crowd in Euro 96 – is only generated by, um, England doing well. No one is going to be chanting about football coming home when, as has been mainly the case in recent years, it’s actually lost somewhere on the wrong night bus with an out-of-date Oyster card.
However, I am aware, of course, of the irony of the Germans singing it. (I’m not sure the Germans are aware of the irony. I get the impression that for them, post-1996, it was just a matter-of-fact thing: “Ve have von ze tournament, so ve vill haf the song. Danke!”) It rubs hard against an England fan’s sensibilities; to say nothing of an England Jewish-from-refugee-stock fan’s sensibilities.
But in this World Cup, there was no real getting away from it. If football was coming home, it wasn’t coming anywhere near these shores. It was heading bang square towards continental Europe, hoping for a frankfurter and a comforting gluhwein when it got there. It was clear to any football fan, that the Germans – Colombia and James Rodríguez notwithstanding – were playing the best football at this tournament. So one would have to be a hardened remember-er indeed of the war (and the 1970 quarter-final; and the 1990 semi; and the … etc, etc) to begrudge them a tune to go with that football. Even if hearing them sing it does mug us right off.
• David Baddiel’s new panel show, Don’t Make Me Laugh, begins on Radio 4 at 11pm on Thursday