Ten years ago: The Football Anthems

Ten years ago, Three Lions ’98 by Baddiel, Skinner and the Lightning Seeds began its third and final week atop the British singles charts. Its predecessor, Three Lions, had been the official anthem for the England soccer team in the Euro 96 tournament. When the time came to name the official theme song for the 1998 World Cup, there were three contenders for the title; and receiving the honor of “official” theme ended up meaning absolutely nothing.

Comedian Keith Allen, Blur bassist Alex James and artist Damien Hirst formed Fat Les, who pitched their Vindaloo for official contention. The third was (How Does It Feel to Be) On Top of the World by England United — a supergroup of sorts consisting of members of Echo & the Bunnymen, Ocean Colour Scene and the Spice Girls. The England United song ended up getting the official honor.

Three Lions ’98

It didn’t matter that Three Lions ’98 had been passed up; it ended up winning the battle between the three songs, going to #1 and keeping its closest rival, Vindaloo, at #2. Vindaloo was catchy and funny, but its humor kept it from resonating as well as Three Lions. The lyrics to both versions of Three Lions weren’t entirely optimistic or sunny. Gareth Southgate’s saved penalty kick in the Euro 96 is forever immortalized by the opening seconds of Three Lions ’98; one would maybe expect a positive play-by-play clip to be used in a rallying anthem. It was also a little embarrassing, as two of the four names it mentioned in the lyrics weren’t chosen for the World Cup lineup — including Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne, who was described as being “good as before.”


One of the best parts about Vindaloo was its video. The Verve’s comeback was still fresh, as they were still releasing singles off “Urban Hymns” at the time, so a Bitter Sweet Symphony parody was still relevant and hilarious.The England United song was as forgotten as it was bad, and the video was perfect for such a soulless waste. As it was the official song, it includes cameos from members of the team, like captain Alan Shearer and a goofy-grinned David Beckham. It also includes creepy “morphing” of little kids into members of the bands. If memory serves, it just barely cracked the top 10.

(How Does It Feel to Be) On Top of the World

I remember sitting up late with my friends the night before the first match that year. We were planning on going to a pub in Lancaster called the Friary and Firkin — an old church that had been converted into a bar. My friends didn’t want to spend the money on official England jerseys, and so they got the drunken idea that they’d have me use markers and draw the three lions badge on some white t-shirts. We stayed up late as they drank and I drew, switching the CD singles of Three Lions ’98 and Vindaloo back and forth every 9 minutes or so. It went Three Lions ’98, b-side Three Lions ’96, b-side Tout est Possible, Vindaloo, Vindaloo (Laughing Version) — which was just basically Vindaloo with laughing over the chorus, and therefore extremely funny to drunk people every time, and then Vindaloo (Karaoke Version). Those six songs repeated in that order all night for several hours.The next day, I met up with them at the bar. They all had their jackets zipped up to their necks, embarrassed at the colored-on t-shirts that seemed like such a good idea the night before. I don’t remember much about the match itself, other than the bar being packed. Someone stole the life-sized Alan Shearer cardboard cutout from the McDonald’s up the street, and the bar patrons sent him crowd-surfing throughout the game.

Anyway, there’s little more to this post than just an opportunity to show three YouTube videos, but it’s hard to believe that’s already been ten years.

One Response to “Ten years ago: The Football Anthems”

  1. Honest Mike Says:

    Wow, that takes me back. I was studying in Germany during the ’98 World Cup and Three Lions ’98 was played CONSTANTLY on the German radio stations. I don’t remember hearing the other songs, though. Thanks for sharing that bit o’ World Cup history.

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