Football is a sport awash with nostalgia.
Many of us long for the good old days when the beautiful game hadn’t been overrun by monetary and commercial concerns, and before seducing, cash-rich international owners without a shred of interest in football or the local area became the norm.
For sentimentalists, the European Championships of 1996 will forever be regarded as one of the most romanticised and memorable showdowns of international football. Recently, this historical tournament has been fetishised even more with the Euro 2020 playing out partly on English soil. And, as was the case 25 years ago, a familiar foe awaits in the knockout phase – however, this time, the England v Germany betting odds suggest it’s the hosts that may just prevail.
Classic Squads— Classic Football Shirts (@classicshirts) June 18, 2021
England // Euro 96
Euro ‘96 was played out with a backdrop of a beautiful English summer, and given that the national team was blessed with a set of excellent players – and the ghosts of Graham Taylor’s managerial reign, in which England failed to even qualify for the World Cup of 1994 – there were hopes that this version of the Three Lions could achieve something remarkable on home soil.
Germany and Italy had been installed as the joint-favourites to lift the trophy, with England given a decent chance by the bookmakers to go deep into the event. They did exactly that.
The English set-up prominently featured four figures with significant Spurs ties. In the managerial hot-seat was Terry Venables, who led Tottenham to glory in the 1991 FA Cup. He fashioned a team in his own mould, who played brave and – whisper it – cosmopolitan football, which was a rarity indeed for an England side.
In his squad, he named Teddy Sheringham, who made more than 250 appearances for Spurs, Darren Anderton, who won the League Cup with the club in 1999, and who pulled on the lily-white shirt a frustratingly non-rounded 299 appearances. And then there was Paul Gascoigne – Gazza – the epitome and totem of the English public’s restored love of the game.
The unofficial English anthem for the tournament – ‘Three Lions’ by the comedians Baddiel & Skinner – featured a line in which they prayed that England could finally end ‘30 years of hurt’. But would life imitate art?
A Summer of Love
It wouldn’t be long before England fans fell in love with football again.
In fact, it took just 23 minutes for Alan Shearer to fire the Three Lions ahead in the tournament opener against Switzerland.
Like all summer romances, there were obstacles to overcome and when the Swiss equalised, it was back to the drawing board for Venables.
But he would be able to call upon the mercurial talents of his talisman, Gascoigne, in the next game against Scotland. His goal against their bitter rivals – lifting the ball over Colin Hendry’s head before volleying it home expertly – remains one of the best ever scored in an English shirt.
That left a winner-takes-all clash with the Netherlands in the final Group A encounter. The Dutch had been priced as favourites to win the group, but you wouldn’t have known that on the evening of June 18, 1996 – Sheringham bagging a brace in a 4-1 demolition that had home fans in raptures, the strains of ‘it’s coming home’ ringing out across the land.
Penalty shootouts have not been kind to England in the past, but even that mountain was navigated in the quarter-final victory over Spain – with no other than Gazza notching the winning spot-kick.
And so it was the old enemy, Germany, who awaited in the semi-final. They had dumped England out of the World Cup in the most heartbreaking fashion in 1990, and revenge would be a dish best served cold under the London sun.
Well, that was the plan, anyway. The reality was that a 1-1 draw once again saw the two sides lock horns on penalties, and once again it was Germany who prevailed despite Sheringham and Gascoigne slotting their kicks home. They went on to lift the trophy, defeating the outsiders Czech Republic in the final.
So, that was that. But what a summer for fans of Tottenham and England nonetheless.