Desire, Drive and the Melancholy of English Football: 'It's (not) Coming Home'

Published in Critical Issues in Football: A Sociological Analysis of the Beautiful Game

Edited by Will Roberts, Stuart Whigham, Alex Culvin, and Daniel Parnell

Abingdon, UK: Routledge


In 2021, the men’s English national football team reached their first final at a major international tournament since winning the World Cup in 1966. This success followed their previous achievement of reaching the semi-finals (knocked-out by Croatia) at the 2018 World Cup. True to form, the defeats proved unfalteringly English; with the 2021 final echoing previous tournament defeats, as England lost to Italy on penalties. However, what resonated with the predictability of an English defeat, was the accompanying chant, ‘it’s coming home’. A ubiquitous presence throughout the course of both tournaments—while chanted at England football matches, it was also repeated across social media, the press and commercial advertising—the chant originates from the 1996 single, Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home), performed by David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and The Lightning Seeds. In what follows critical attention will be given to examining how the song offers what will be argued is a melancholic outlook. By re-approaching examples of English nostalgia and hubris, this chapter will expose how illustrations of English melancholy offer the potential for promoting collective forms of expression, which, when contextualized alongside England’s lack of footballing success (for the men’s team, at least), can be offset against a melancholic mediation that is cognizant of the centrality of loss—both for the subject and our collective sporting endeavours.