The man who gave England fans something to sing about

The ultimate football terrace anthem, Three Lions and its infectious chorus of “Football’s coming home” has been a ubiquitous chant at stadiums throughout the country ever since its release for the Euro 96 tournament held in England.

Made by The Lightning Seeds with comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel, England fans have helped give it a unique place in chart history – the only single to reach No 1 on four separate occasions: twice in 1996 and, again, around international tournaments in 1998 and 2018.

Last year, England’s triumphant Lionesses memorably interrupted manager Sarina Wiegman’s press conference after their historic European Championship victory by belting out Three Lions as they danced around parading the trophy.

No song has so perfectly encapsulated the feelings of hope and disappointment shared by football fans as Three Lions, which Lightning Seeds mainman Ian Broudie wrote 27 years ago after being approached to write England’s official tournament anthem.

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Yet Broudie did such a good job the song was almost never released – as the FA wanted something more triumphant, in the vein of previous over-optimistic naff official England songs like Back Home and This Time.

It was only the determination of Broudie, Skinner and Baddiel that meant Three Lions got released, as Broudie reveals in his hilarious and touching new memoir, Tomorrow’s Here Today. “It was the fans who got behind Three Lions, not the FA,” Broudie tells the Daily Express. “I’d been very reluctant to do England’s official song, because I didn’t want to make a typically laddish, triumphant song about how we’re the best team in the world.

“It was only when I thought about making a football song that was realistic about our chances that I said yes to the song. The FA were horrified when we gave them Three Lions. They wanted it rewritten to say how great England were, and they wanted to get England’s players to sing about that.”

Instead, the trio stuck to their guns and the FA, in Broudie’s words, “reluctantly” released the single. It took off immediately. The songwriter had approached Skinner and Baddiel to write its lyrics as he was a fan of their cult BBC2 show Fantasy Football.

“Frank and David are proper football fans,” explains Liverpool supporter Broudie, 65. “They understood what Three Lions should be about. Football fans suffer more than we celebrate, and that’s what Three Lions captures. I wanted it to be like You’ll Never Walk Alone is to Liverpool fans, about a shared sentiment that’s not just ‘We’re the greatest.’”

The comedians’ singing has been mocked over the years, but Broudie insists: “Their voices are perfect for the song. They sound like fans. As much as I love Whitney Houston, I wouldn’t want to hear her sing a football song. A voice that perfect just doesn’t fit.”

Once Three Lions echoed around the grounds, the FA wanted in. Broudie laughs: “I’ve seen the guy from the FA who tried to get us to change it say, ‘Oh yeah, Three Lions was my idea.’ That just makes me laugh.” Despite being proud of the song’s resonance with fans, for years Broudie refused to perform it at Lightning Seeds shows. It was only recently, when it was revived again for the Euro 2020 tournament held in England, that the singer realised what it meant.

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Broudie explains: “Three Lions is everyone else’s song, not mine. And that’s great. I’ve always been very grateful for Three Lions. I’m glad I did it, but it comes with a lot of baggage. For a long time, it overshadowed The Lightning Seeds. It doesn’t really fit with the rest of my songs. I don’t play it at every gig and, when we do it, it’s at the very end – it’s slightly separate. But don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy with Three Lions.”

Broudie’s complicated relationship with his biggest song echoes his complex attitude to his career in general. The Lighting Seeds is effectively a solo project for the songwriter. Throughout the 1980s, he was a successful producer for post-punk bands including Echo And The Bunnymen and The Fall. He began recording as The Lightning Seeds rather than under his own name because he dreamed of finding the right singer.

“I wanted to be the guitarist, part of a Lennon and McCartney-type partnership, but I never found my Lennon,” ponders Broudie, whose hits include Pure, The Life Of Riley and Marvellous. “The line-up of The Lightning Seeds has been stable for a while, and they’re great musicians. It’s only because they’re so good that my fear about being the singer has gone. I’m hardly Freddie Mercury, but I’ve now learned to enjoy the experience of being the frontman at our gigs.”

The closest Broudie came to finding his ideal singer was with Terry Hall, frontman of ska legends The Specials. The two regularly wrote songs together before Hall’s death from cancer last year and Broudie reveals: “Not long before Terry’s death, we spoke about making an album together, that it was finally the moment for us to do a project. We were close and we always worked well together. I’d love to have done that.”

The two friends shared an uncompromising attitude. Although Broudie is friendly and shows a ready self-deprecating humour during our interview, he’s been viewed as difficult in the music industry – which was brought home when the infamously difficult Hall told Broudie: “Your problem is that you’re awkward.” Broudie grins: “When Terry Hall calls you awkward, you’re definitely awkward. Terry saying that, it was like I was top of the awkward league.”

That awkwardness was brought home when Broudie botched the chance to write songs with George Michael. They were brought together by a mutual friend, music business exec Dick Leahy, to discuss collaborating over lunch. It didn’t go well. Broudie recalls: “As a producer, I’d been having a difficult time with a band where there were a lot of drugs in the studio. I blurted out to George, ‘I just don’t think I want to work with someone who’s stoned all the time’.”

Michael was known for smoking cannabis and naturally took offence. Broudie continues: “I sometimes lack a filter, and I was so wrapped up with what was going on producing this other band, I didn’t think anything of what I said to George. It was only when I was thinking about stories for my book that I realised how stupid I’d been.

“I’m sure I could have told Dick a week later, ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean anything bad against George’ and set up another meeting. But it took me the 20 years since that lunch to realise, ‘What a stupid thing to say.’”

The lunch occurred when Broudie was going through a tough time.

In the space of a few years, both his parents and two of his siblings died. He also endured the end of his long marriage to wife Becky – the inspiration for songs including Pure. It resulted in Broudie’s songs drying up, with a 13-year wait between albums until last year’s comeback with the typically infectious See You In The Stars.

“Everyone has these hard times in their life,” he reflects today. “I’m aware what I went through was no different to most people. The effect on me as a songwriter was strange, though.

“When you write songs, you delve into yourself all the time. But every time I tried to do that, what I came up with didn’t sound like The Lightning Seeds. I just couldn’t get back to that place.”

There was a 13 year wait between albums[]

Broudie’s creative rebirth is helped by being managed by his son Riley – the boy celebrated in The Life Of Riley. Riley also plays guitar in The Lightning Seeds.

Proud dad Broudie beams: “Throughout my career, I fumbled from one thing to another and never had a plan. Riley is brighter than me and sees things more clearly. He’s given me clarity and direction.

“But as he’s my son, I can’t get away with anything. He tells me exactly what he thinks, and I know he’s always got our best interests at heart. It means that right now is the best period I’ve ever had.”

It took a long time and a lot of hardships to get there but, finally, The Lightning Seeds are coming home.

  • Tomorrow’s Here Today: Lightning Seeds, Football and Cosmic Post-Punk by Ian Broudie (Nine Eight Books, £22) is out now. Visit or call 020 3176 3832. Free UK P&P on orders over £25

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