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Euro 96: The last time football came home to England

It seems incredible that it is 25 years since the last time football ‘came home’ for England - Gazza, Baddiel & Skinner, three lions n’all - at Euro 96. 

England manager Terry Venables had spent the previous two years preparing his team solely for the tournament because, as hosts they did not have to play qualifiers. Thus, England had spent over two years playing without a serious competitive match.

However, the build up had not been smooth leading up to the tournament.

Venables took his team to the far east for a series of warm-up games, including a game against a Hong Kong select eleven which featured 80’s Sunderland keeper Iain Hesford. However, the trip became renown for the ‘dentist chair’ and damage to the plane on the flight back home, with star midfielder Paul Gascoigne reckoned to be the main culprit in both instances.

In addition, there had been constant questions about Venable’s activities away from football, largely driven by his long-running battle with Alan Sugar. The FA had refused to extend his contract the previous winter, with Venables confirming he would step down after the tournament regardless of the outcome.

Glen Hoddle had already been named his successor before a ball had been kicked.

Venables At England Training Session Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images

On top of this Alan Shearer - England's main striker and not yet a barcode - had not scored for his country in two years.

Despite the usual pre-tournament hype from the press, it was fair to say that the expectation of England fans was somewhat tempered.

The opening England game, a 1-1 draw against Switzerland seemed to confirm the suspicions of the fans, despite Shearer breaking his drought. It is fair to say that although fans were embracing the tournament being held at home, they were yet to be ignited by the host team.

However, things began to change in the next game, a 2-0 win against Scotland. In a match where the Scots as you would expect, took the game to England. Venables changed things after the break and in a 20-minute spell that turned the game, David Seamen saved a penalty and then Paul Gascoigne scored probably the most famous goal of his career.

A draw and a win from the first two games left England in a good position, but not quite guaranteed as they faced Holland in the final group game. It was a start that most fans were not carried away by, and at this point the expectation really wasn’t for anything more than a run to the quarter-finals - that was until 90 minutes versus Holland.

After England took the lead in the first half, the blistering second-half performance left the Dutch shattered and bewildered with England sweeping them aside 4-1.

This was a good as any England performance you can wish to think of in the past 40 years. Up there with the 5-1 away win in Germany, everyone sat up and began to believe that England could go all the way.

The TV channels seemed to have nothing but the Euro’s to talk about and the home press - which had crucified the England players and Paul Gascoigne in particular after Hong Kong -now came close to holy worship in their honour.

Everywhere, and I mean everywhere was the song that you still hear today. Written for the tournament by comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner along with The Lightning Seeds, ‘ Football’s coming home’ was being sung in bars late at night up and down the country.

Topping the group meant that England would face Spain in the quarter-finals. At the time I happened to be in Pitlochry in the Scottish Highlands. I was sat muted and surrounded by the locals throughout the match, although there was little cause to jump out of my seat.

It’s fair to say the locals were not willing England on, and in a game in which Venables - a master tactician - got it wrong, it came down to a penalty shoot-out after 0-0 draw. Even the locals chuckled at the outburst of relief from Stuart Pearce - who had missed a crucial kick against the Germans in 1990 - when he scored his spot kick.

On to the semi-final against Germany. I was still in Scotland and this time the bar was in Fort William in the Highlands, with a different bunch of granite-faced locals for company and from what I could see, one other England fan.

Even with their own team out, the Scots that were there that night took a keen interest in the game. During a break in play, the camera’s panned out to show the England fans singing ‘Footballs coming home’ in the stands. The Scots even gave a nod to each other and murmured ‘guurate atmoosphere’... or something like that.

This was a much better England performance but as one of the locals said to me, ‘You’s have battered them... and they have had one shot, and it’s gone in’.

The assessment was spot on.

This was in some ways more of an agonising penalty shoot-out to lose.

England over the years have performed very averagely in them, but here against the Germans every single spot-kick of the first five-hit the net... but it was the sixth that missed.

Even my new friends, the Scottish locals who had been shouting ‘MISS!’ for every England kick, went muted when we finally did. A few of them even gave me a pat and a hug and tried to lift my (gutted) spirits by buying me more spirits.

The final itself was watched but as you might expect, not fully engaged with by the England supporting fans. Watching the Germans take the trophy with a ‘golden goal’ by beating the Czech Republic had more of a feeling of ‘It should have been us’ about it.


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