By Leo Moynihan
13 Jun 2016
Football’s coming home,” they sung (contentiously if you’re Chinese), as Euro ’96 arrived in England. Sure, it then buggered off with the finely sculpted German next door, again, but for a few weeks optimism reigned. A major championship was being held on British shores for the first time since 1966 – and we all know what happened then.
What followed was glorious, life-affirming and, of course, ultimately tragic. There were great teams, players and matches (including a classic between the oldest of rivals: England and Scotland). But most of all, there was great weather, fun and drama. This is the tale of that heady summer as told by those who were there…
THE BUILD UP
During a strange halfway point in time, between players being approachable, one-of-the-lads types and Premier League multimillionaire untouchables, an infamous photo captures the England team squirting booze down each other’s throats in the ‘Dentist’s Chair’ on a pre-tournament trip to Hong Kong. “I only went in for a filling,” joked Gazza years later, but it proves to be a PR disaster.
Steve McManaman, England
“The crazy thing about the Dentist’s Chair incident was I wasn’t even drunk when those pictures were taken. Young footballers were starting to get this reputation for being overpaid and always out on the town and I guess we
in the England squad were an easy target.”
Paul Gascoigne, England
“I was always making headlines back then, so it was no surprise I got slaughtered. Terry [Venables] was great, though. He told us to enjoy ourselves and we had. It got us motivated for the tournament.”
Paul Ince, England
“It was weird. We all thought the media had gone well over the top and while it was only a few of the lads in the pictures, we were all in it together. We came back and got our days off. I went to a pub in Epping. I only had a couple of beers but there were photographers taking pictures over the hedges. I thought, ‘Jesus Christ, this is out of hand.’ Terry and [England coach] Bryan Robson made sure it brought us closer.”
Henry Winter, football writer, then at The Daily Telegraph
“Relations had been great between the press guys and the team. Gary and Phil Neville had helped lug photographers’ kit up the Great Wall Of China. It was only when we got back – and the news of the damage to the players’ plane and the Dentist’s Chair pictures broke – that relations soured. The criticism was quite nasty. Some press were calling for the guys to be sent home from their own tournament. Terry played it well, though, and the squad came up with this collective responsibility line that brought a togetherness. It was funny. England had this impressive media centre at Bisham Abbey. The first thing that greeted you was two huge pictures of McManaman and Robbie Fowler, two players photographed in the Dentist’s Chair. The FA went into meltdown. You could hear FA officials shouting, ‘Get me a picture of Gareth Southgate!’”
Chuck together two comedians and a moderately successful pop group, and, voilà, one of the most successful, catchy and enduring football songs ever. Three Lions captures the mood perfectly and, as Frank Skinner demonstrates, you don’t need a great voice to sing it.
Ian Broudie, The Lightning Seeds
“I got a call from the FA asking if I’d do a song for the tournament. I love football, don’t get me wrong, but my reaction was, ‘Why would I do that?’ Then one night
I was watching Fantasy Football League with David Baddiel and Frank Skinner. I started to think maybe we could tap into their chemistry and make it fun.”
“Ian approached us and we all agreed that this should not be about glory, but about pain and misplaced hope. It should be about being let down by teams, about being hurt. For 30 years!”
“Frank and David sent me the lyrics and I think someone from their office typed it out because I didn’t have a clue about the title and the main lyric. ‘What does Three Lines mean?’ I asked.
‘It’s Three Lions!’‘Oh, I get it.’
I’m not sure the squad got it, though. We went along and played it and it was a little awkward. I think they and the FA expected a song about how great England are and how wonderful the tournament would be. Instead they got this song which is about how cr*p we often are and how we’ll probably mess it all up.
‘England’s gonna throw it away!’”
“I can’t believe it’s 20 years ago. I hear the Three Lions song today and I am transported back to that summer. At first they are nice memories, the camaraderie we all had, the great football we played and the famous matches, but then I get down. I get down because we had such a great chance to win something for England. To end 30 years of hurt! How did Gazza miss?”
THE SHEARER PROBLEM
It’s hard to believe, but the Premier League’s most prolific striker can’t hit a barn door for England prior to the tournament. What to do?
Alan Shearer, England
“I hadn’t scored for England for almost two years and there were calls for me to be replaced. The thing is there were so many really good strikers about. Les Ferdinand, Andy Cole and Robbie Fowler. I won’t lie, my confidence was low.
I had been scoring plenty with Blackburn but, for some reason, they weren’t going in for England. Terry, though, was brilliant. He took me to one side a month before and said, ‘Relax, you will be starting.’ Brilliant man management.”
The Dutch and Swiss must feel as if they are interrupting a private party, as everyone is talking about England vs Scotland in Group A.
Gary McAllister, Scotland
“We had a good team. It was a very tough group but we had big players. Andy Goram, big Colin Hendry, Ally McCoist. These were top guys and we were hopeful of progressing. The Tartan Army came south in their thousands, as usual, and there is always a great party wherever they go. Our lot in England? Well let’s just say they offer something extra to things.”
“I was relieved to score our opener. I had proved I was good enough for this level. Sure, the draw [1-1 against Switzerland in the tournament’s opening match] wasn’t ideal, but we weren’t panicking.”
“It was a team full of characters. A team of men. That helped. The amount of pressure on us from the press might have weakened some teams but not us – we used it to our advantage. We dare not lose that first game, though!”
THE SHOP WINDOW
Europe’s elite players are enjoying the experience of football in England.
“The likes of Jürgen Klinsmann and Dennis Bergkamp had come to England but we hadn’t yet seen an influx of top foreign players. Europe’s best would have gone around the grounds, seen the crowds and the sun shining and the atmosphere and thought, ‘Yeah, this country is a good place to play football.’ Especially as the Premier League was so popular. It seemed the image of English football was getting better and better. The two standout goals were scored by Croatia’s Davor Šuker and Czech Republic’s Karel Poborsky. Both came to England, the latter very soon to Manchester United. Italy’s Gianfranco Zola went to Chelsea, too, and was one of the great overseas players.”
THE AULD ENEMIES
Scotland and England have been locking horns since 1872, but this may be their most important battle yet. David Seaman saves a penalty and Gazza scores a wonder goal as England triumph 2-0.
Teddy Sheringham, England
“It was another hot day and I remember the pitch being very sticky and the game was really tight. Terry made some changes at half-time, switching to a 3-5-2 formation and we were more fluid in the second half. We deserved to go one up through Alan.”
“We deserved our penalty and I was up for taking it. Big David [Seaman] in goal was a top keeper, of course, but as I stepped back, I was thinking only of equalising. As I planted my left foot by the ball, the thing moved. It was all split second. I was terrified of totally shanking the ball or stubbing my toe on the turf so in a second I thought, ‘Smash it.’ I’ve never smashed a penalty before or since. David saves it and then I have to watch Gazza go up the other end and score that goal. I wanted to disappear under the Wembley turf.”
“Aye, it was all right wasn’t it? I had always said to the guys that I wanted to celebrate a goal using the Dentist’s Chair. Luckily for me, it was that goal.”
“I later heard that Uri Geller had been in a helicopter above the ground that day and he insists that he counted to three and said, ‘One, two, three, move.’ He later contacted me asking to redress the balance by helping one of my teams win. Weird. The thing is, though, that ball did move.”
Thirty years of hurt are replaced with a month of fun. It isn’t just the fans who notice.
Philippe Auclair, France Football
“Football didn’t come home, it had never left, but this summer made it OK to be a football fan again. I arrived in England in 1986 after [the] Heysel [Stadium disaster] and being a fan was sneered upon. Euro ’96 changed that. What I remember is sunshine and everyone smiling. It all just began to click. The football wasn’t that good, especially in the group stages, but the public loved it and could now express that love without shame.”
“You are in a cocoon, but you know how much people are getting into things. We’d leave our hotel on the bus and at first there were a few people outside and a few flags. Then we beat Scotland and there were a few more, then Holland and the bus journey was taking longer. By the time we beat Spain and we were heading out for the Germany game there was a sea of people and red-and-white flags everywhere. It was incredible. That lifts you so much.”
THE DUTCH MASTERED
In one of the great England performances, Terry Venables’ men turn on the style against Holland for a 4-1 win. Sadly for Scotland, the ‘1’ means their elimination on goals scored.
“What a night. That performance was from all the hard work we’d put in on the training ground. Terry went with a 4-4-2, hoping we could put real pressure on the Dutch 4-3-3 formation and it worked.”
“That is easily the best game I was ever involved in. We played the perfect game, really. Everyone knew their drill but we all knew we could drop off or move forward and there’d be someone filling in. Total Football? Yeah, why not?”
“Ince won the first penalty by running beyond Alan [Shearer]. He was the holding midfielder and there he is, bombing on.”
“I’d put us two up and we were playing so well. Gazza broke into the box and pulled it back to me. I thought about hitting it but Alan was screaming at me to pass. I feigned to shoot and knocked it sideways for Alan to score. That was the perfect goal.”
“We were beating Switzerland 1-0 and heard that England were four up. That would have seen us through. Now I know and like David Seaman, but to let a goal in at his near post to knock us out, that was cruel! That said, we should have scored more against Switzerland. Typical!”
“I remember the atmosphere at the match. We were 4-1 up against the Dutch and the whole ground was singing Three Lions. That was nice.”
Six years on from his shootout miss against Germany at Italia ’90, Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce makes amends against Spain – and celebrates like only he can.
“I had got myself suspended, so that was tough for me. All I wanted to do was play in a semi-final against the Germans. I didn’t care about Stuart and his redemption! I was selfish and just wanted to win!”
DAS ALTE LIED (THE SAME OLD STORY)
Fear and excitement are felt in equal measure as England take on Germany in the semi-finals. England – who create plenty of chances, including the ‘Gazza Slide’ – lose to the Germans on penalties in a major tournament semi-final for the second time in six years. This time Gareth Southgate is the fall guy.
“Piers Morgan and The Daily Mirror ran the ‘Achtung’ front page that seemed so out of tune with the national mood. To be fair to Piers, he was tapping into part of the fans’ psyche, but it did seem like a relic of the past.”
“The 1990 semi-final was still fresh in a lot of minds, but we weren’t dwelling on that. This was now and it was a game we felt we could win.”
“Alan scored an early goal but you don’t get too excited. There are 87 minutes left and this is Germany.”
“I loved [first-goal-wins in extra-time rule] Golden Goal. Loved it. It was so exciting. I planned that if I scored the winner I was going to run straight down the tunnel and no one would see me again!”
“I have nightmares about my miss. I held back, thinking the keeper would get a touch. If I was a natural centre-forward, I’d have slid in earlier.”
“We had gone with the five who scored their penalties against Spain. Terry asked about sudden death. I said I would, and Gareth said he would. He’d go sixth and I’d go seventh. Thank God he missed, it saved me taking mine! I felt for him so much. It was such a missed opportunity. We were such a great team and we had so many great chances to beat Germany.”
Barbara Southgate, Gareth’s mum
“Why didn’t he just hit it?”
“No one wanted to go home. The atmosphere was terrible but it was hard to leave each other. We all had a beer and quietly reflected on what had happened.”
Jürgen Klinsmann, Germany
“There was a tremendous atmosphere – above all, coming from the English fans who sang all the way through the game. It was fantastic, it got under your skin. I think no player, English or German, will forget that semi-final.”
“The French lost to the Czech Republic on penalties, too, but both teams were very defensive. The French public thought little of the manager [Aimé Jacquet] or the players. Why no Eric Cantona and why no David Ginola? You’d never have thought we would win the World Cup just two years later.”
Germany take on the Czech Republic in the final. It ends 2-1 to Germany with Oliver Bierhoff scoring the first ever Golden Goal winner.
“It was a disappointing final. There was this strange atmosphere and feeling that the best game had been the semi with England. The Czech team had some decent players, but it was a pretty defensive game.”
“The winning German side were hardly a good vintage. They were not France in ’84 or Holland in ’88.”
“The German squad took out an ad in The Times, thanking the nation for a great tournament and for looking after them.”
“We had lost the final four years before, in Sweden against Denmark, because we weren’t focused, we were too arrogant. That’s what we wanted to avoid against the Czechs. [The Golden Goal] was new – a goal is scored and then immediately it is over. Of course, we started to party. We fought all through the tournament, even if we were not the best team. Italy were a bit better, England had a great team, but we had the best will.”
Paul Ince is celebrating Carling’s Pay Per Inch promotion, giving you the chance to win a brand new TV for the price of its screen size; payperinchtv.com