I sat and watched the BBC documentary with Alan Shearer about Euro 96 the other night and it brought back so many good memories. I had a tear in my eye more than once. It also reminded me of how let down I felt by the team and partly still do. It shed light on a few things that with the passing of time helped heal the wounds.
I’d recommend giving it a watch…
Euro 96 was my generations 1966. It was our time, the country was behind us, we were on home soil and we couldn’t lose – but then we did. All of a sudden it was like we didn’t know how to cope for a short time. There was rioting in London as people couldn’t express their anger and disappointment in a healthy way.
For me Euro 96 was the last time I enjoyed watching England play. We didn’t have the worlds greatest team but they all pulled together and played with English spirit. Chelsea winning the Champions League was very much the same. If we put our minds to it and focus we can achieve anything. But we lack the killer instinct in this country.
I think we teach our kids for too long that taking part is the important thing and that everyone is a winner. Tell that to an American! Winning is the goal, being first is the goal and we should be allowed to want that and work hard to achieve it without being made to feel we are wrong. As long as the desire remains healthy, winning with grace and humility should be the English way.
I went to the England v Spain match at Wembley in Euro 96. That day has never left me. I remember hiding behind newspapers on the train to Wembley singing “E Viva Espana” and laughing at the looks we were getting. The day before my Mum took me out to get my first England shirt, I only knew on the Thursday night I would be going as my Dad had been offered a pair of tickets late on. I didn’t need asking twice!
I remember it taking an age to disallow the Spain goal that would have knocked us out, and the collective noise of relief from the England supporters in the ground when it finally was. But what stuck with me for all these years was the penalties. Especially Stuart Pearce’s penalty. We had all seen what happened in Turin and I have never heard so many people collectively swear as when he approached the penalty spot that day.
I remember grabbing my Dad’s shoulder and muttering over and over ‘he’s going to score, he’s going to score’. The guy in front of me turned round and said ‘you don’t really believe that do you?’ So I looked him straight in the eye and said ‘yeah, he’s got this’. He grabbed his mate who was holding his head in his hands and said ‘she thinks he’ll score’, they turned round and said ‘we can’t watch so we’ll watch you’.
So now here I am 16 years old, my biggest England game to date, full of belief that this was our year, convinced the penalty was going in and mumbling over and over ‘go left, go left, go left’ with 2 guys staring at me and biting their nails.
When the ball hit the net it was electrifying. The ground was a wall of explosive noise and energy, a collective sigh of people taking a breath, swearing and shouting in release of the nervous energy and so much jumping, hugging and pulling people around it was lucky no one got hurt.
Through a sea of raised hands whilst I was jumping up and down I looked down onto the pitch to see Stuart Pearce roaring back at us and remember shouting ‘fucking yes’ and almost bursting into tears.
His reaction that day has been shown over and over. In the documentary they made reference to the fact that he thought the commentators over exaggerated it. I was there and his reaction was the same as every one of the nervous England fans around the country who were all overflowing with pride and happiness for our warrior who had redeemed himself from his previous penalty nightmare.
I went to Wembley to get a programme for the England v Germany game. I don’t remember why, I just wanted to be there and be a part of it. I spoke to a few of the Chelsea players outside the coach entrance where famous people used to pick up their box tickets. I saw Simon and Yasmin Le Bon and so many other people. I got autographs and some of them on my programme. I even saw a player before the game who kindly signed my programme for me, at the time I could never have imagined the significance of getting that signature.
I stayed outside to listen to the build up and the anthems and as soon as I heard the kick off, made my way to the station. I was full of nervous energy but glad to be a small part of it. Then I heard the unmistakable noise of a England corner. A corner we scored from. I was outside Wembley as that goal went it, screaming and cheering along with all the people inside.
2 men ran towards me, late for the match and spun me round as we sung ‘1 nil to the Engerland’ before they waved me goodbye and ran into the ground. My last memory of the day is walking along Wembley way, hearing the match in the background and seeing England 1 Germany 0 scrolling across a temporary board. I stopped to take a photo, yet I can still see it when I close my eyes.
I was home for the second half and the rest as they say is history. At the final whistle the programme was thrown out of the window – the player who signed it among others – Gareth Southgate. I was so devastated that I was locked in the garden until I could calm down, finally heading to bed around 3am when something started moving in the bushes and scared me.
Ever since that night I have found it hard to put my trust in England. Euro 96 was our time and with hindsight we were unlucky not to have gone through to the final. Few penalty shoot outs go into sudden death and Southgate volunteered to take a penalty knowing it would probably never be needed. It was a shame but there you are, penalties are a cruel way to decide a game.
I think with the introduction of foreign players and owners/ investors in premiership clubs we are losing some of our English footballing mentality. John Terry is one of the last footballers that I would say has that mentality. It is a determination to play at 100% every time the shirt is pulled on and to work as a team. I don’t think our teams have that now.
For me, looking back at Euro 96 2 things stand out in building the mentality of that team. The pre-season tour and the ‘Dentist Chair’ situation and the fact that all the players sung the national anthem, not just barely mouthing the words, there was some full on chest out, top of the voice belting out of the anthem. At the time the ‘dentist chair’ situation was all the media could talk about but it solidified the players as a team and they made a pact to make sure the football outshone the bad decisions of that night.
I’m not suggesting their behaviour was right or we should recreate it, but look at the current squad and tell me there is anything like the same spirit amongst the players. Sure they have a bit of a cry when we get knocked out but how many of them are playing through blood drenched head bandages? Where are the characters? Where are this generations Seaman, Adams, Ince, Gascoigne, Shearer, Sheringham etc.
Who is our leader on the pitch? The man who everyone is going to look to when we go a goal down to pull it back? Who is going to keep the players in line when they start to drift and lose their shape? In Euro 96 we had a team of leaders, since then we have had teams with leaders but I’m not sure we have many leaders now.
Terry Venables was a good England coach. I would like to have seen what Harry Redknapp would have done with the England team but I don’t have much faith in the current crop of managers. We don’t seem to play competitive international football. We have a good group of players who are in form yet we will keep playing the same players who have had chances to shine internationally and have achieved very little.
After not making it out of the last 16 of the World Cup I would have had a hard look at the England set up and built us as tough a team as we could find. Full of players willing to go the extra mile to win us our first trophy since 1966. I don’t think we came close to building that squad.
So sadly, going into the start of Euro 16 tonight, I don’t see England as a winning nation. I haven’t got the flags and the bunting up this year. I hope they prove me wrong, I will be the first person out celebrating to the wee small hours if they do.
I’ll be watching the matches and wearing my shirt, hoping they prove me wrong. I’ll be putting my faith into whoever is on the pitch and willing them to do well. But in my heart there is no excitement at the prospect.
I think we should get into the last 16 with little fuss but worry about us going any further than that. I worry where our match winning leaders will come from and without the team digging in and building an unbeatable spirit I think the tougher European countries will make light work of us.
Whatever else I feel as soon as we kick our first ball until we kick our last in the tournament I’ll be hoping they prove me wrong. Come on England!!
I was listening to this on my walk earlier, to me there is no better England song, this song and the England team of Italia 90 awoke my love of football…
Although some people prefer this one… I still like this England shirt, it was the first one I ever had.