The ‘Three Lions’ are synonymous with England and the England National Football Team, having first appeared on the Royal Arms of England during the reign of Richard the LionHeart. The three lions have successfully survived the test of time, and along with the George's Cross, now represent England in sporting events all over the world.
England first adopted the ‘Three Lions’ when the team was formed during 1972. The vast majority of matches during this era (and also over the next 40 years) took place between close neighbours Scotland, Wales and Ireland. However, on occasion, matches outside of the United Kingdom were played. Amazingly, it wasn’t until 1929 that England lost their first international match outside of the British Isles against Spain, with a respectable score of 4-3.
Between the late 20’s and the start of WWII England played many matches throughout Europe, with one of the most memorable being against the German national team under the eyes of German dignitaries in 1938. With much reluctance the England team were ordered to display the Nazi solute as a means of appeasing relations between countries. Although at the time this was considered the best course of action, the decision still remains controversial to this day.
The World Cup tournament resumed in 1950 following the fall of Hitler and it was the first time that England had presented a team for the tournament. Unfortunately a win wasn’t on the cards for England this year as they were knocked out during the first round. England placed better in the 1954 tournament progressing to the quarter-finals, and by this point England were eager for a win, with their sights firmly set on the 1958 World Cup. Unfortunately prior to this tournament tragedy hit the England squad (and England as a whole) as the Munich air disaster crushed the dreams of reaching the World Cup finals.
On the 6 February 1958 British European Airways flight 609 crashed after multiple attempts at take-off from Munich-Riem Airport. At the time Flight 609 was transporting the Manchester United Football team where tragically eight players died from injuries sustained during the crash. Three of these players were established England internationals (Roger Bryne, Tommy Taylor and Duncan Edwards). Although England went on to play the 1958 World Cup, the side was significantly weakened and was consequently knocked out of the tournament by the Soviet Union in round 1.
Despite the 1958 set-back England were more than ever determined to take a win at a World Cup. Fortunately this arrived in 1966 under the captaincy of Sir Bobby Moore. The team secured the Jules Rimet trophy after a 4-2 win over West Germany. The whole squad was (and still is) held in high regard for being the only English team to win the World Cup, especially as this competition was won on home turf. Notable players within this team include Sir Bobby Charlton (a survivor of the Munich air disaster), Sir Geoff Hurst (to this day the only player to score a hat-trick in a world cup final) and Ray Wilson.
Following the success of ‘66, England struggled to maintain their performance at the ‘74 and ’78 world cup. The closest England came to securing a second victory was in 1990 in Italy. It was here that England made it to the semi-finals, only to be knocked out with a disappointing draw with West Germany, a touch of payback for the 1966 win.
Throughout the 90’s England struggled to keep up form, failing to qualify for the 1994 tournament. It wasn’t until France 1998 that England got another shot at taking home the World Cup. Spurred on by the re-release of the Euro 1996 song “Three Lions" (this time featuring reference to current squad members including Paul Ince, Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer and Stuart Pearce) England made it to round 2 before being knocked out in 9th place with a 2-2 draw with Argentina.
For the 2002 and 2006 World Cup England successfully progressed to the quarter finals, however in 2010 their performance dropped once again by failing to progress beyond the second round after being knocked out in 13th position with a 4-1 win to Germany. At the time this match proved highly controversial and a call for goal line technology to be introduced to the World Cup matches began. This was in response to a shot by Frank Lampard where the ball was clearly seen to cross the goal line but was not considered by referees.
With a yearning for victory, England’s road to the 2014 World Cup started in Group H of the World cup qualifiers up against rivals Montenegro, Ukraine, Poland, Moldova and San Marino. Having successfully started the qualifying stages with a 5-0 win over Moldova, England progressed through the groups ending with 2-0 win over Poland securing their place at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.