three lions gareth southgate harry kane hug
Society and Social Structures

Three Lions — a Psalm of England

Three Lions — a Psalm of England

It’s coming home
It’s coming home
It’s coming
Football’s coming home (we’ll go getting bad results)

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

It’s coming home
It’s coming home
It’s coming
Football’s coming home

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

Three Lions on a shirt
Jules Rimet still gleaming
Thirty years of hurt
Never stopped me dreaming

So many jokes, so many sneers
But all those oh-so-nears
Wear you down
Through the years

But I still see that tackle by Moore
And when Linekar scored
Bobby belting the ball
And Nobby Dancing

Three Lions on a shirt
Jules Rimet still gleaming
Thirty years of hurt
Never stopped me dreaming

(What a save, Gordon Banks!
(Good old England, England that couldn’t play football)
(England have got it in the bag)
I know that was then but it could be again

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 (England has done it)

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

Three Lions on a shirt (it’s coming home, it’s coming)
Jules Rimet still gleaming (football’s coming home, it’s coming home)
Thirty years of hurt (it’s coming home, it’s coming)
Never stopped me dreaming (football’s coming home)

Three Lions on a shirt (it’s coming home, it’s coming)
Jules Rimet still gleaming (football’s coming home, it’s coming home)
Thirty years of hurt (it’s coming home, it’s coming)
Never stopped me dreaming (football’s coming home)

Three Lions on a shirt (it’s coming home, it’s coming)
Jules Rimet still gleaming (football’s coming home, it’s coming home)
Thirty years of hurt (it’s coming home, it’s coming)
Never stopped me dreaming (football’s coming home)

Three Lions on a shirt

When Frank Skinner and David Baddiel penned the lyrics to ‘Three Lions’, they could never have known that they were writing a Psalm for England. It has become the National Anthem of English football; a patriotic hymn to the beautiful game; a manifestation of corporate worship, perhaps giving insight into how the Psalms of David would once have been sung – with spiritual fervour, zealous faith, and a yearning for national salvation.

As England plays Italy today in the final of Euro 2021, we may glimpse the real Church of England in the Temple of Wembley Stadium. This is where the people are: it is where the nation’s leaders are, and where millions upon millions of hearts and minds are. Three lions on a shirt is a prayer for deliverance or healing: its Sitz im Leben is the hope of a people for victory in their spiritual sporting history.

Gareth Southgate is not the Messiah, but today he assumes kingly, political, social, and religious duties. Harry Kane is not the Christ, and yet he exercises an important function in the cult: his is a psalm of confidence, reifying the myth and ritual which shapes the worship system of the English people on this special day of Temple procession, in which ‘Three Lions’ is a covenant renewal to create the sense of a living faith. It is one way of confronting the new generation with the continuing covenant and inculcating the national religion. It is the heart of the chosen people’s life which radiates into every area of life.

If you have ears to hear, you will discern the form of a Psalm of David: there is a proclamation of intent (‘I will extol you, O Lord‘); a narrative of motivation (‘you lifted me out of the depths‘); a retrospective time of need (‘you hid your face‘); an act of deliverance (‘turned my wailing into dancing‘) and a renewal of praise (‘I will give you thanks forever‘). The psalmists David and Frank call others to praise and bless England, repeating the vow of deliverance over and over again: ‘Football’s coming home.’

What does it mean, exactly? Well, it doesn’t really matter: the recitation is itself the meaning. The antiphonal choral singing of pilgrims wending their way to the holy city opens the gates of righteousness into which the nation shall enter and bow down before the Lord of the Game.

It’s coming home,
It’s coming,
Football’s coming home

What might otherwise seem overly repetitious in a written text achieves great energy when recited orally in antiphonal form, drawing the participants into the ethos of thanksgiving and driving home the major theme of the psalm in a powerful way, making the religion vibrant. It is a cult-dramatic conception which is so much more alive than stuffy ecclesiastical decorum and the turgid liturgies of history.

Perhaps you find this enthronement to be a very poor theology and excessive if not unseemly enthusiasm. After all, it isn’t about YHWH and it doesn’t mention Jesus, does it? And yet for many, many millions today ‘Three Lions’ will be greater and richer than any hymn sung in any church because it is an expression of a real hope and a fervent prayer for national salvation.

A psalm which is drawn from the messiness of life has an appeal which uniformity and formality simply cannot have: there is meaning in the meditation, and purpose in the incantation. Don’t laugh or sneer at ‘It’s coming home’, for it does not seek to address the important theological questions with which a community of faith wrestles. Today, it is the hope of all England in its ongoing spiritual pilgrimage.

…The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’