"Three lions on the shirt,
Jules Rimet still gleaming,
30 years of hurt,
Never stopped me dreaming"
Sixteen years and four Euros ago English comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel released the song 'Three Lions'.
It was 1996, 30 years after England had won the World Cup, and English fans were hopeful of another international triumph on home soil. With the popular Terry Venables in charge and Paul Gascoigne, David Seaman and Alan Shearer on the team sheet, the hosts had every reason to enter the tournament with a swagger and a song.
But despite the optimism, it was not to be. England were knocked out of Euro ’96 in the cruellest way imaginable losing to Germany during a penalty shoot-out in the semi-finals.
Following England’s 1-0 victory over Belgium on Saturday, 'Three Lions' was blasted out at Wembley as the squad did a lap of honour before jetting off to Poland.
Despite the lyrics proving as catchy as ever, this time round the song was not greeted with such warmth from the crowd.
More than anything it felt plain awkward.
Sunday Telegraph’s football correspondent Henry Winter immediately Tweeted, "They never learn. 'Football's Coming Home' blasting out at Wembley. Such triumphalism totally out of keeping with Hodgson's low-key approach."
While the song choices at Wembley are unlikely to affect England’s Euro chances, the return of Skinner and Baddiel’s vocally stretched harmonies reminded fans of the contrast between how the England team entered ’96 and how they enter it now.
Because for once England arrive at an international tournament with only the most enthusiastic patriots propagating that football is coming home. (Assuming that football belongs to England in the first place...)
It has taken a long time (46 years in fact) for England’s fans and media to mature to such levels of non-expectation. And while time and strong opposition are the biggest indicators as to why England should not expect glory, these factors have again played only the smallest roles.
Instead a negative chain of events releases England from their shackles of over-expectation.
First came the dismal 2010 World Cup campaign (which had nothing to do with Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal), then star striker Wayne Rooney was banned for the first two group matches and to top it off former captain John Terry was embroiled in a racism scandal that led to our manager departing weeks before the tournament.
The recent injuries to Frank Lampard, Gary Cahill and Gareth Barry are small blots on the landscape when looking at the overriding madness that has been England over the last two years.
In fact, if Baddiel and Skinner were to re-release ‘Three Lions’ now, it would be by far their funniest gag.
So what now? We wait, that’s what.
After saying arrivederci to Fabio Capello and appointing Roy Hodgson as manager, England enter a competition silently.
The calming Hodgson has steadied the ship with two friendly wins against Belgium and Norway but as Henry Winter rightly says Hodgson has also brought with him a low-key approach.
The noises around the England camp are far quieter than they would have been with Harry Redknapp in charge and what a blessed relief.
"The noises around the England camp are far quieter than they would have been with Harry Redknapp in charge and what a blessed relief"
The media wolf pack might be rounding on Hodgson following his decision to exclude Rio Ferdinand from the squad but one suspects they are trying to assert some authority with his position safe regardless of the results in Poland and Ukraine.
Euro 2012 does not look like it will be the tournament where England triumph against the odds and it is naive to assume playing like Chelsea will do much good against the likes of Germany and Spain. Neither will it necessarily be the tournament where England grow into a tournament winning side – hopefully we have learnt enough from the failure of the 'golden generation’ to say that.
But with an experienced English manager back in charge, a matured media (well, in some cases) ready to accept they haven’t got a clue what is going to happen and no shortage of passion from the players we should be content rather than expectant.
Anyway, does it matter if England do well at the Euros? It has taken nearly fifty years but England supporters have gained control of their senses before a major tournament, arguably a far greater victory.
Football doesn't look to be coming home but that shouldn't stop us enjoying the action from the comfort of our own.
Joanna Tilley is a freelance journalist working with Al Jazeera on the Sport website. She has worked at Sky News, Sky Sports News and LBC Radio.
Follow her on Twitter (@joannatilley) or her website mythoughtonsport.
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