Mark's Musings

A miscellany of thoughts and opinions from an unimportant small town politician and bit-part web developer

How many years of hurt?


Over on the Facebook “World Cup of Things” group we recently decided that “Three Lions” is the Greatest Football Song Of All Time. Which it undoubtedly is.

But one thing has always irked me about it. The original version, released in the run-up to Euro 96[1], goes on about “thirty years of hurt”. But it’s not thirty years.

To be sure, 1996 was thirty years after we last won the World Cup. But for the first four of those thirty, we were the reigning world champions. There’s nothing hurtful about that. The hurt couldn’t possibly have started until we were eliminated from the 1970 finals.

But even then, I’m not sure it was really that hurtful. OK, we lost to Germany, which is always unpleasant. But, realistically, England were not the favourites for that tournament, and none but the most churlish of English football fans could possibly begrudge the eventual winners, Brazil – especially after that Carlos Alberto goal, which is still the Best Goal Ever Scored In A World Cup Final.

So you can put 1970 down as a blip. Won one, lost one, back next time.

Except that next time didn’t come. Or, rather, we didn’t come the next time. In 1974, we suffered the ignominy of not even qualifying for the finals – just eight years after winning the thing, we were out in the wilderness.

And that, I’d argue is when the hurt really started. And it carried on hurting in 1978, when we once again failed to qualify (and Scotland rubbed it in with Archie Gemmill’s glorious goal against the Netherlands). Even though we got back in in 1982, and haven’t missed out since, we still haven’t erased those memories of being on the sidelines.

So, in 1996 it wasn’t thirty years of hurt. It wasn’t really even 26 years of hurt. It was 22 years of hurt. And now at Euro 2020(+1) it’s 47 years of hurt. But none of them work as well in a song as thirty. So once again, poetic licence overrules reality.

[1] Football wasn’t Y2K compliant in 1996.