Almanac Soccer: Let’s Look Back at the Euros – Euro ’96 (England)

By the middle of the 90s there was a brave new world in football on a few fronts. The World Cup had been held in the last frontier of the sport that was the USA in 1994. It was a gutsy move by FIFA and is still seen to this day as one of if not the greatest tournament ever held despite a horrible final validating the risk. On the strength of this and other aspects UEFA decided to expand the Euros doubling the size of the tournament to include 16 teams with four groups of four. After the round robin the top two from each group would go in to quarter finals, semi finals and then the final. There would be a hell of a lot more entrants to the event too. With the splitting up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia there were now 47 countries looking to qualify as opposed to 34 so the move was warranted due to that and the love the footballing world now had for the competition.  

 

After nibbles from a few countries political manoeuvring saw England finally get the hosting rights after agreeing to pull out of bidding for the 1998 World Cup which went to France. Football was coming home! The event would be played in seven cities including Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Birmingham and Sheffield. The final and all England games would be played at the grand old girl Wembley just like the 1966 World Cup.  

 

QUALIFICATION 

 

With more countries and 15 places now at the Euros table qualification was a different beast. A lot of the usual suspects qualified but there were a heap of first timers including the Swiss, Turkey and Bulgaria. A strong Croatian side that had crawled out of the wreckage of Yugoslavia would be in their first tournament with a ready made squad while the Czech Republic qualified for the first time since splitting with Slovakia. Ireland again just missed out losing a play off on neutral territory to a less than convincing but supremely talented Dutch side. Scotland were holding their own under Craig Brown and would cross the border in their masses which was great to see.

 

THE LEAD UP

 

By 1996 England had almost woken up out of a long social slumber. Thatcher was long gone and Tony Blair and New Labour were about to take over at Number 10 and give hope for at least for a little while. There was the whole cool Britannia thing that ranged from Trainspotting through to Brit Pop, Damien Hirst, New Lads, Chris Evans and other patriotic hubris. It was almost like it was cool to be British again in the scheme of things after so many years of conservatism and hosting arguably the second biggest team sporting event in the world would be perfect timing.  

 

While the third Summer of Love was happening and everyone was on a self confident high the actual English football team was not so flash. ‘Turnip Head’ Taylor had failed to get England to the 94 World Cup which was quite unforgivable and he ‘resigned’ after probably spending a week in the stocks at Lancaster Gate. Former Spurs and Barca boss Terry Venables took over and with no qualifiers or other meaningful games to play they toured the world playing friendlies to raise the ‘brand’ and try and get some form before the tournament started. Venables actions as England Manager already starting to make him look a little Arthur Daley-like to say the least playing in places that sometimes also involved his business interests. 

 

On the way back from a trip to the Far East photos emerged of a barbers chair being set up on the England plane where players would sit in said chair and have spirits poured down their throats. This, along with other misdemeanours, meant that the Fleet Street Press were all over the team with enough front page exposes’ to wrap up many a serve of fish and chips from an English high street. The team was in disarray with their discipline while their star striker Alan Shearer hadn’t scored for England for two years, Paul ‘Gazza’ Gasgoine was half-fit and fat enjoying a healthy Scottish diet with Glasgow Rangers along with Arsenal and England captain Tony Adams being a functioning alcoholic. It was cool to be British again but moaning about their sporting teams was still the top national pastime. 

 

The fans wanted it to be their tournament though with the feeling in the air around England at the time. An awful boring establishment theme by Simply Red was released as the official song of the tournament but instead fans sung along to Baddiel and Skinner’s ‘Three Lions (Footballs Coming Home)’ with it’s singalong chorus and celebration of all things close but no cigar about the team.  

THE GROUP STAGE

GROUP A would be interesting with England joined by the Swiss, Holland and in some lovely sizzle they would also play the Scots. In the opening game complete with cringeworthy opening ceremony featuring a pantomime dragon and King George fight on the pitch England took on the Swiss. With questions about the hosts and their star man Shearer’s form they were all answered just 23 minutes in when Ince did a brilliant little pass to Shearer who slammed home a goal with the offside flag staying down. Relief all around a rickety Wembley. England’s strong first half couldn’t produce a second goal and they petered out giving away a stupid penalty that the Swiss converted and it finished 1-1. A poor opening for England and something many expected such was their pessimistic nature. In the other opening game in this group Scotland drew with Holland 0-0 at Villa Park.  

 

In the second lot of games Holland outlasted the Swiss 2-0 with Jordi Cryuff (son of Johan) scoring which meant the game the next day would be pivotal. That pivotal game was to be England V Scotland in what was probably their biggest ever clash. The Sun had a back page picture of Gazza dressed as a Braveheart. A bombing in Manchester by an offshoot of the IRA seemed to be missed by some. At a vibrant Wembley on a sunny Saturday afternoon the first half was incident free and tight with England again tentative and frustrating. The Scots organised. In the second half England finally found something suddenly remembering this was their tournament. 6 minutes in to the half McManaman who passed out right to a young Gary Neville who sent in a peach of a cross to the far post and that man Shearer headed in another goal.  

 

The game was end to end after being woken up by the goal. Gordon Durie, the Rangers striker with a head like Kryton from Red Dwarf had a header saved by David Seaman before a needless tackle by Tony Adams brought him down in the 78th minute. Penalty! Gary McAllister, that wonderful balding midfield stalwart and Scotland captain took the penalty but Seaman saved it with his elbow of all things and it went out for a corner. This galvanised the English and all of a sudden they had confidence. The corner was cleared and Gazza was put through on goal on the break. The out of sorts fractured genius hit the ball over the head of the Scottish Defender Hendry and then slammed home a tremendous goal created from ingenuity, talent and 54 other brilliant aspects of the man to make it 2-0. One of England’s greatest moments (especially at Wembley). Gazza celebrated lying on his back pretending to be in a barber chair as his teammates poured water in to his mouth from a bottle taking the piss out of the incident on the plane. A celebration as great as the goal. England won 2-0 and good times were back. Two days later the Daily Mail printed an apology to the team and Gazza for doubting them.  

 

For the final set of games in this group Scotland now needed their hated rivals to do them a favour and defeat Holland so long as they beat the Swiss. McCoist was doing his bit for Scotland scoring to make it 1-0 in their match at Villa Park while at Wembley England were merciless against the Dutch who they hadn’t beaten in 14 years. Full of confidence the midfield tore the orangemen apart with Shearer and his strike partner Teddy Sheringham both scoring twice to have them up 4-0 on 60 minutes that left English people in disbelief. Where had this been? If it stayed like this Scotland were through on goal difference. Luck, however, always deserts them. With 12 minutes to go at Wembley Patrick Kluivert scored a consolation goal to put Holland through on goal difference. Scotland couldn’t find a second goal and a 1-0 result wasn’t enough to see them through.

 

In GROUP B the fancied French and Spanish teams would play Bulgaria and Romania who were both formidable in the World Cup in the US. This was definitely group of death. A penalty by USA 94 star Hristo Stoichkov wasn’t enough in the opening game as Bulgaria drew with Spain while Dugarry scored and France beat Romania 1-0. In the second lot of games Bulgaria eliminated Romania winning 1-0 (the brilliant Stoichkov again) while Spain scored late to earn another point in a 1-1 draw with France up in Newcastle. In the final lot of games all Bulgaria had to do was draw but France were impressive belting them 3-1 and would have been through if not for Spain scoring very late to beat Romania 2-1 and snatch second spot. The Eastern Europeans were heading home early but at least they now had democracy.  That’s something isn’t it? 

 

In GROUP C Germany and Italy would be with the Czechs and the Russians. Germany beat the Czechs 2-0 and Italy outlasted the Russians 2-1 in their first games in Manchester and Liverpool respectively. Then the apple cart was upset in the second lot of games when the Czechs won against Italy 2-1 in a very entertaining first half while Germany were easily through with a 3-0 win over Russia. For the final game the Italians would have to get a result against Germany and hope that the Russians would do them a favour and knock off their former ‘friends’ the Czechs. Italy v Germany was much anticipated but like a lot of hyped games it was horrible, 0-0. Italy were hoping the other game being played at the same time would result in a Russian win and it almost did. In one of the games of the tournament the Czechs were up 2-0 within 20 minutes but were pegged back after half time to 2-2. If it stayed the same Italy were out but then Russia scored with 5 minutes to go but somehow the Czechs found something and scored an equaliser in the dying moments to draw 3-3 and sneak through. Fancied Italy, the World Cup Finalists, were out.  

 

In a weak GROUP D Portugal with a bevy of new stars were with the champions Denmark and newcomers Croatia and Turkey. The Danes and Portuguese drew their first game 1-1 in Sheffield while Croatia defeated Turkey 1-0 with a late goal. In the next lot of games Portugal defeated Turkey 1-0 to eliminate the first timers and Croatia showed off their supreme talent securing their path to the next round belting the champions 3-0. In the final games Croatia sent out a B team and were beaten 3-0 by Portugal that sent both teams through and left the Danes going home early even after beating Turley 3-0. Lots of goals and history in the final group.  

 

THE QUARTER FINALS 

 

For the first quarter finals in the history of this competition first up would be England taking on Spain. The Sun decided to do a guide to Spain suggesting all Spanish women had moustaches and about the armada. Some rather attractive Spanish women showed up at Wembley for the game sporting massive fake moustaches to take the piss. England had been devastating against Holland but were rudderless against a well organised Spanish team that studied the tapes and had two goals ruled offside as well as having a half chance saved thanks to quick thinking by Seaman. Shearer had a rare chance in the second half that somehow didn’t go in but it was largely forgettable and would go to penalties.  

 

First up would be England and Shearer and he made no mistake. First up for Spain would be their legendary defender Fernando Hierro who shot with venom but it couldn’t stay down, hit the crossbar and out. Platt and Amor converted then Stuart Pearce converted letting out a primal scream after converting finally over that penalty miss against Germany in the 1990 World Cup. Belsue and Gazza both scored and next was the tough midfielder Miguel Nadal. The uncle of Rafa had to score to keep Spain in it after probably being the best player during the match. His shot was strong and too the right but Seaman guessed the right way saving to send England through to the semi finals. More jubilation at Wembley.  

 

In the other quarter finals France and Holland also played out a 0-0 draw and France prevailed in the shootout. Holland had been awful during the whole tournament with the squad at odds with Guus Hiddink and star player Clarence Seedorf walking out claiming racism from other players and the coach but it was about money. For all the talent they had team spirit gave way to ego, arrogance and petty matters. Germany took on Croatia in the most intriguing of the quarter finals. Germany went ahead 1-0 from the spot in the first half but the Croatian star David Suker equalised in the second half. The immovable object Matthues Sammer, a flame haired dominant beast of a sweeper for Germany scored late on to send his country through. Croatia would get their revenge at the World Cup two years later. The Czech Republic needed Karel Poborsky in the second half to be the difference in their 1-0 win over Portugal.  

THE SEMI FINALS 

 

In the first semi final on a day of huge drama the Czechs would take on a French team that had cleansed itself off the egos in the team such as Cantona and Ginola and now had a young hungry side built around Zinedine Zidane. The game was another drab affair petering out to a 0-0 draw and a penalty shootout waiting for someone to blink. In the shootout the sides traded penalties until Czech keeper Petr Kouba saved substitute Reynard Pedros’ spot kick and the Czechs were in to their final since 1976. After the game French boss Aimee Jacquet did some wonderful spin doctor work defending his underachieving side claiming that winning this tournament would put pressure on them in the 1998 World Cup which they were hosting. It seemed to work with France winning said World Cup two years later with many of the same players. 

 

The second semi final was the main event. It was England in their first semi since 1990 and again it would be against the Germans. The whole country was behind the side with national sentiment sweeping through. The Daily Mirror had a cover with Gazza and Pearce made out to be a World War 2 soldiers stirring up some would say misplaced pride. This German side was not be messed with though. Despite failing in 1994 at the World Cup they were a formidable opponent now captained by Jurgen Klinsmann and featuring a core of Dortmund and Bayern Munich players all their peak. Troublesome players such as Lothar Matthues and Stefan Effenberg had been dumped from the team with fears they had split the dressing room. Fleet Street also got a kick out of the fact one German name in the side was ‘Kuntz’.

 

England were all over Germany early at a boisterous humid Wembley in the dying summer light and Paul Ince had a rocket of a shot saved in the first couple of minutes. From the resulting corner the captain Tony Adams headed on to Shearer in a well worked move and the star striker had his fifth goal after a simple finish. 1-0 after only five minutes and England had the start they needed. Germany were not be daunted though dominating possession and letting England exfoliate their emotion. On 16 minutes the brilliant Moller put in an effective pass to Helmer who got behind the back and four and squared for Kuntz to equalise. Various different versions of the scorers name would have been yelled up and down England’s green and pleasant land. 1-1.  

 

In the second half England were the better battling to control a hot midfield. Ince and Gazza v Moller and Sammer. Chances came to England with Sheringham close heading in from a deep cross while Anderton got a rare cross in to Shearer but the latter could only head wide. For the Germans Helmer had the best chance of the match. The end of 90 minutes and it would be extra time and golden goal. In extra time Venables didn’t make a sub keeping his first XI on after being so industrious against the favourites as both teams attacked more to try and finish it all off. Neville beat the offside trap and crossed the an unmarked Anderton but the keeper did enough to put him off and his finish hit the upright and bounced out. Simon says hands on head. Then minutes after that literally golden opportunity Shearer sent in a perfect pass from the right and an unmarked Gazza ran on to the loose ball but missed connecting and putting the game to bed by a millimetre. So agonising for the locals, such a relief for the under siege Germans. How could he miss it? It would to penalties just like 1990. Just like 1990 it would be for a place in the final.  

 

The tension was unbearable. What was at stake unmistakable. England went first and swapped clinical penalties with Germany five times meaning sudden death penalties. First up after the tried and trusted five for England would be the Aston Villa defender Gareth Southgate who was a ‘less regular penalty taker’ according to commentator Martin Tyler at the time. Southgate shot well, low and to the keeper’s right but the latter guessed the right way and saved the penalty. Advantage Germany. Simon says heads in hands. The coaching staff tried to offer solace to Southgate who wanted none of it. Andy Moller who had terrorised England all game had the chance to win it and his shot was brilliant hitting it straight down the middle and running to celebrate in front of the hostile heartbroken English masses. 1990 all over again and such misery for the hosts. Some smashed up Trafalgar Square, some cried, some yelled, some just stared.  

 

THE FINAL

Euro 96 would finish up at Wembley sans England and would be a repeat of the 1976 epic between Germany and the Czechs. They had also faced each other in the group stage. The Czech Republic side were a mix of no names still playing at home and decent carthorse players spread around Europe but they were tireless on the pitch and with team spirit. Germany were clear favourites and very strong but were struggling for injuries after playing out 120 minutes with key players like Moller taking knocks in to the game. It wasn’t as cut and dry as it seemed for the locals that could bring themselves to watch the final after the gut wrenching semi final.

 

The game was expecting to be a dour match from two knackered teams but turned out being an exciting end to end match as the Czechs served it up to their fancied opponents. In the second half with the game still at a cracking pace (with not many chances) the long haired Poborsky darted to the edge of the penalty area on the break and was brought down by Sammer with a penalty controversially given. A foul it was but in the penalty box it may not have been. Patrik Berger, the dashing winger who would go on to play for Liverpool made no mistake and it was 1-0 with around 30 to go. The Germans were echoing 1992 seemingly lost at 1-0 but Vogts didn’t mess around with substitutes this time around and put on Oliver Beirhoff who was a strong box headed striker who never quite understood how to score with his feet. With 17 minutes to go Germany had a dangerous free kick that was perfect for Bierhoff to position himself to ghost in and head in easily. 1-1. Germany had the confidence now but it would go to golden goal extra time like the semi finals. 

 

Extra time had only gone five minutes when after a one-two Bierhoff had the ball on the edge of the area. The big man spun and shot despite having two defenders marking him and his surprisingly powerful left foot strike deflected off one of the defenders and the keeper couldn’t save properly; the ball rolled in to the net in ugly fashion and that was it. Germany had their third European title and broke the drought being the best team in the tournament. The Czechs had won many admirers and the future was bright but had fallen just short. The Queen was there again to hand out silverware like in 1996 but this time Jurgen Klinsmann and his team would go up those famous steps to collect. A deserved title.

 

Euro 96 was the ‘almost’ tournament. England had almost made the final. The stadiums had almost been full for the most part and almost been some epic games but apart from the drama involving the hosts it wasn’t the best of tournaments. Too many draws, the controversy over golden goal and fans from the continent staying away due to the fear of violence was a detriment to this installment. This tournament also saw a shift in the sports going from one for the working class masses to Brand Beckham, Sky TV, WAGs and other changes. The English will always remember this time though as a good one for the country and a time when they could love their national side again for their heroic efforts.

 

CHAMPIONS – Germany (3rd title)

 

RUNNER UP – Czech Republic

 

GOLDEN BOOT – Alan Shearer. 5 Goals. The Newcastle United bound superstar put aside poor for for England to have a tremendous tournament scoring in 4 out of the 5 games.

 

SACRED COW – Matthias Sammer. The scary looking German sweeper was an absolute giant for both Borussia Dortmund and Germany reveling in a united team after originally playing for East Germany. He dominated this tournament powerfully protecting Germany and creating on the break. He was destined to be one of the greats of his generation but injury severely restricting him at 28 and hardly played again after Euro 96. A damn shame.

 

DUNCE HATS – Holland. The Dutch had the master Guus Hiddink as coach and a heap of new stars that had formed a remarkable home built Ajax side but petty squabbles over money and little cliques against the new boys saw them unconvincingly make the quarter finals after drawing with Scotland and being hammered by England. Clarence Seedorf walked out halfway through the tournament too. The photo of the Dutch around the breakfast table above describes it best. This was a massive capitulation even by Dutch standards.

 

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

Comments

  1. James Grapsas says:

    Terrific stuff!

    England hit by their penalties curse again …

  2. Peter Fuller says:

    Dennis,
    Another excellent summary of a Euro tournament, greatly enhanced by the context of the host country and their tortuous history, and some timely cultural references. I loved the Baddiel & Skinner version of Football’s Coming Home and was delighted to be reminded of it.

    I was also taken by your suggestion of Terry Venables having a bit of the Arfur Daley about him. I’m pretty sure that El Tel wrote a script for an episode of Minder, but perhaps that’s my memory playing tricks. He certainly did write (or had ghosted) a potboiler of another British cop show Hazell, and co-wrote the scripts for that series. Little wonder that he later became notorious for dodgy dealing and sharp practice as a club manager and mercenary international boss.

    I meant to comment on the previous thread commending you for resisting the impulse to recount the London Sun headline after the loss to Sweden (where I think Graham Taylor’s unfortunate nickname originated)
    Swedes 2 Turnips 1

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