Why exactly are there three lions on a shirt?

History records that the lion was first used by the Normans as the symbol of England during the 11th century. At this time a single lion was used on a red background, the red colour representing a battlefield. Over 100 years later, during the reign of Richard I (often referred to as Richard the Lionheart), two further golden lions were added to the crest.

Fast forward to 1872 and the first-ever competitive international football match for England against Scotland. It was felt that the shirts needed an emblem that represented national pride, so the Football Association made the decision to use the three lions as a symbol of ‘Englishness’.

Interestingly, the ‘Three Lions’ are officially a royal emblem, therefore The FA has to seek permission from the Royal Family when they need to use it – which means the logo is not the sole propriety of the organisation that it represents. For the 1966 World Cup final, as the designated away team England interestingly wore red shirts and white shorts to avoid a clash with the German’s traditional white shirts and black shorts.

Derby County legend Steve Bloomer, who played 23 times for England between 1895-1907 scoring 28 goals, is pictured below wearing his shirt with pride.

However, there was one minor design change undertaken in 1949, when the crown above the lions was removed in order to differentiate the badge from that of the England cricket team.

In May 2021, the FA revealed a new lion logo for its grassroots initiative England Football. It features a red lion, lioness and cub, and aims to give the crest “a fresh purpose that symbolises inclusivity at all levels of football,” according to an FA spokesperson. Personally, I’m not sure it will last the test of time in the same way as the current logo has basically remained the same for over 55 years.

Interesting that the FA has kept the traditional ‘Three Lions’ on the national shirt, as seen below.

So, whether 55 years of hurt ends on Sunday night or not, it’s worth remembering the 1,000 years of history that inspired the lyrics “three lions on a shirt” in the now famous ‘It’s coming home’ anthem.

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