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Why are England called the Three Lions? National football team nickname explained

13:52 EAT 21/11/2022
Declan Rice England 2022 Three Lions badge
GOAL takes a look at the background of the nickname and the logo that inspired it

Nicknames are ubiquitous in sport and football is no different. Players are affectionately dubbed with names like 'The Phenomenon', 'The Flea' or, depending who you're talking about 'The GOAT'. The same fervour for nicknames exists when it comes to teams too, with both clubs and national teams going by monikers.

England are known as The Three Lions and have a song referencing that fact, but why are they called that and where does the nickname come from? GOAL brings you everything you need to know.

Why are England called the Three Lions?

The England national football team are called 'The Three Lions' because of their iconic crest, which features three lions.

The crest they sport is the official emblem of the English Football Association, which was founded in 1863. Ever since then, the nickname has stuck. Visually, the badge features three lions, one on top of the other vertically, with roses dotted in between the gaps. This has been the official badge since their first fixture, against Scotland in 1872.

What is the history of Three Lions?

There is in fact a long, regal history as to why England has become synonymous with the three lions. Once upon a time, on a 12th-century battlefield, English soldiers would carry flags with three gold lions on a red background, to inspire them in battle.

The three lions on the England badge grew from the union of the royal families’ use of the lion symbol. King Henry I, Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou and King Henry II all opted for a lion on their crests. King Richard would eventually combine the three lions as his official royal symbol, forming the basis for the England crest we see today.

Three Lions song (It's Coming Home)

England's Three Lions association has been famously referenced in the series of popular football songs released by David Baddiel and Frank Skinner - Three Lions (It's Coming Home).

The chorus of the song references "Three Lions on a shirt" along with other notable themes and events in the history of English football at international tournaments.

Are the Three Lions really leopards?

In the 12th century, the original design was described as three leopards. This was because a creature, walking with his head turned (as they do on England’s crest) was described as a ‘leopard’ instead of a lion back then.

The red roses and the star?

When the FA came into existence, they needed to find a way to further mirror England’s heritage in their crest. Alongside the famous lions, they chose ten red roses, which are believed to be a nod to the War of the Roses between Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Additionally, England’s emblem features one gold star, which highlights England’s 1966 World Cup triumph.