Rants and musings from the magazine team
Continuing our series marking 15 years since Euro 96. In summer 2008, FourFourTwo asked several of the key figures for their memories. Read on...
The Manager: Terry Venables"I wanted to do something different at Euro 96. I knew it was going to be a football festival and I wanted to give our fans something to be proud of. England hadn’t lost too many matches at Wembley over the years and I thought we had what it took to be successful no matter who we met.
We were lucky in that the team was packed full of leaders both on and off the pitch. We had the likes of David Seaman, Tony Adams, Paul Ince, Gazza – these were players who you could look to when things weren’t going your way. Even the younger guys like Gary Neville were really confident individuals.
We were determined to play a passing game, and if you’re going to play that way then you need players to want the ball and demand it in all sorts of situations – that’s exactly what we had. With Steve McManaman and Darren Anderton, we also had two skilful players who weren’t scared to run at defenders. They were terrific throughout the tournament. A lot was made of our problems on the left-hand side of midfield before the tournament started but Anderton really solved our problems out there.
From a personal perspective, the time before Euro 96 was really important. I had an idea about how we were going to play and I discussed it with Tony Adams and David Platt, who was in Italy at the time, before the tournament to make sure the players were up for it and knew what we trying to achieve.
With no qualifying matches it was helpful that we didn’t have to win games in the run-up because it gave us a great chance to experiment and try out different personnel and formations. Funnily enough our record before the competition was excellent and the more games we won the more confident we became.
Alan Shearer had his critics before the start because he had had something of a barren spell – but there was no doubt in my mind he should play, because he’s the sort who can win a game. He was, quite simply, a goalscorer. You can never leave a player like that out, and he proved me right.
The Shearer goal apart, the first game against the Swiss, which was played on a very hot day at Wembley was a bit of a disappointment but then we really started to play. We all remember the Holland game but we played some great football in the second half against Scotland and played just as well, if not better, in the semi-finals against Germany.
After qualifying for the quarter-final, people always remember that we were lucky against Spain, but I don’t believe it. We might have had a poor first half – they scored a goal that was ruled out, incorrectly as it turned out, for offside – but I would have backed us to get back into the game anyway, and in the second half and extra-time we more than matched a very good side.
People also say that we never do too well at penalties but we scored nine in a row, four against Spain and five against Germany so I don’t think that’s a fair criticism either.
Going in to the Germany game you could sense there was a real confidence, although the experienced players made sure that there was never any complacency. Even when the referee blew for full time at the end of extra-time against the Germans, I was confident we would be OK. I knew it was going to be difficult – after all, how many teams beat Germany in a penalty shoot-out? But I also knew our first five penalty takers were excellent.
When Gareth [Southgate] missed, it felt a little bit like death must do. It was awful. It was definitely the lowest point of my career – that was my chance to win a trophy for my country in front of our fans. I think we would have beaten the Czech Republic had we gone through to the final, but that’s football.
I achieved a lot as manager, but looking back it’s Euro 96 that makes me most proud. I think we made a lot of people happy with what we achieved that summer."
The England Star: David Platt“We went into Euro 96 full of expectation. The run-up to the tournament gave Terry Venables the chance to experiment with different players and formations and, as a result, we were extremely well-prepared.
Playing at home was obviously a huge advantage – you’re familiar with the hotels, the language, the food, so you don’t have to think about all the little details you do when you’re overseas. Playing every game at Wembley in front of massive crowds also gave us a huge lift in the early games when things weren’t going too well.
Everyone talks about the game against Holland but from a personal perspective it was the Spain match in the quarter-finals that made me start to think we could go all the way. They were possibly the better side on the day but after we went through on penalties you started to believe that maybe we could do it.
Ironically, I would say our best performance was against Germany in the semi-finals. Both sides were under a huge amount of pressure but we played as well in that match as we did in the semi-final against them in the 1990 World Cup, although sadly we ended up with the same result.
The penalty I took in the shootout ended up being the last time I kicked a ball in an England shirt – but although I went into the tournament thinking this could possibly be my last, I wasn’t thinking about it that night. I was a penalty taker so I put myself up for it; it was just a case of doing what I had done, time and again.
In the end it wasn’t to be, but we got so close to winning a major tournament – closer than I think a lot of England teams are going to get for a long time.”
The Presenter: Des Lynam“It was the first time Ruud Gullit had really done any television and he’d go on to coin the phrase ‘sexy football’ but when he turned up on the first day, he got out of his chauffeur-driven Mercedes, took one look at the BBC bus that we travelled everywhere in and said ‘What's this sh*t?’ I thought ‘Christ, we’re going to have a tough time with this one’, but he turned out to be a great bloke.
As I later discovered, the BBC always beat ITV but that summer we won hands down, even winning a BAFTA for our coverage. It was my most gruelling time in broadcasting as I also did the Olympics and Wimbledon that summer, but the football was such fun that it almost didn’t feel like a job.
At football tournaments you always felt that you were the nation’s agent in a sense, and I felt extra responsibility this time as we were the hosts. I’ve always felt that I know what the viewer is thinking – it’s a sort of arrogance, really – which is what prompted the one-liners, things like ‘Shouldn’t you be at work?’
When England went out, I said 'There we are. No use crying for what might have been. Not for more than a couple of years, anyway.' Somebody described it as my ‘Kennedy’ moment. I don’t know about that, but it was my job to sum up the mood of the nation.
Arthur Smith later wrote a TV programme about Euro 96 called My Summer With Des and dug out some clips of me – which was a great compliment. They got me to record a few new lines too, but they weren’t nearly as good as the originals!”
The Journalist: Henry Winter“When it comes to England, journalists reflect the mood of the nation, and the mood of the nation was one of euphoria at Euro 96, so the press got caught up in it, some more than others, with some newspapers running football headlines front page and back.
I think there was a sense of euphoria because on the whole we liked the players and wanted them to do well. That said, Gareth Southgate was the only player who spoke to us – perhaps that’s why he wasn’t criticised too much after he missed the decisive penalty – because a lot of the others were hacked off after the reaction to the Cathay Pacific incident.
I tend to think that increased England’s chances of winning. Although Venables was always very good with us, I’m sure he used negative press in his team talks, where he said ‘go and prove those buggers wrong’.
Shearer, in particular, took an absolute battering from the press in the build-up because he wasn’t scoring, but when it really mattered, he delivered, particularly in the 4-1 win against Holland. We played the opposition’s press on the day of the game, but we didn’t do too well as they had Seedorf’s dad playing for them! On the night, though, everything just clicked. The better England play, the easier my job is. All journalists do is hold a mirror up to the drama, the colour and the occasion, so that was one of the easier reports to write.
In terms of the effect on English football, Italia 90 really changed things in terms of the creation of the Premier League and showing it could flourish in the corporate age – Euro 96 was a catalyst for even further development of the game in this country.”
The Celebrity: David Baddiel“Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds was asked to come up with an England song for the tournament and he contacted me and Frank because of Fantasy Football. Originally, I wasn’t sure because I couldn’t sing but Frank said it didn’t matter because most fans can’t sing – I could represent all of them!
I remember saying that we shouldn’t write a song that says we’re going to win, because what England fans normally feel is that we’re going to lose but we hope we’ll do well anyway. Perhaps that’s why it had the impact it did.
We went to present the song to Terry Venables and the players and as they were listening, nobody said anything apart from Venables, who sat there tapping his keys on his leg. When the song finished, he said it was ‘a real key-tapper’. We later heard that before one of the games, Gazza refused to get off the coach until the song had finished and he made everyone else sit there too.
It was the only song to go to No.1 in the UK charts three times. It went down to No.3 after the Switzerland game, where we didn’t play very well, but went back to No.1 after the Scotland game. After that game, everyone was on a high when the PA played Three Lions and the whole stadium started singing. That’s probably the greatest moment of my life.
The worst thing to happen to Three Lions was that the Germans started singing it before every game and it even got to No.17 in the German charts. Frank and I were invited to sing it in Germany a few years later, so we turned up wearing England shirts. We were told to take them off but refused.”
The Fan: Mark Perryman“I went to every England game but the most extraordinary experience was going to Germany-Italy, because it gave me a sense of what an international tournament was all about. In London, it was just England, England, England, which was fine, but you didn’t feel you were a part of an international tournament. In Manchester the pubs around Old Trafford were full of Germans and when the teams came out, a huge banner was unveiled across the Stretford End which read ‘The Peterborough Azzurri welcome the Azzurri’.
In other cities, they organised festivals and campsites where all the fans of the different countries congregated and it was these sorts of things that made me want to be at World Cups and European Championships – I’ve been to every one since.
From an English point of view I think there are three things that have become so important 12 years on. One was the St George’s Cross. Secondly, we acquired a new national anthem. I don’t think Three Lions is the greatest tune, but whenever England play and they put it on the PA system, the whole place completely erupts.
The third thing is that the England-Scotland game had importance way beyond football because it began the process of Scotland having a referendum over devolution – which happened a year later. At Euro 96, it was so obvious that we were two completely separate nations.
When Gordon Brown waxes lyrical about the return of the Home Nations and the Union Jack, he really is on a different planet to those people who got to see those games at Wembley and Hampden Park.”
The German: Matthias Sammer“Even today, a smile crosses my face as soon as I hear 'Football’s coming home...'. There was very much the feeling we were in the motherland of football. The enthusiasm was amazing, and although in the end people didn’t like us too much because we beat England, it’s still a highlight of my career.
At Euro 96, we didn’t have the best German team. The ones in 1992 and 1994 had better players, but having lost to Denmark in the final and Bulgaria in the quarter-finals respectively, there was a real determination to go all the way.
There were sides with better individuals and Italy – who had the best tactics – went out in the group stages. What we had was a great team spirit. Players like Mehmet Scholl and Oliver Bierhoff didn’t play every game, Jurgen Klinsmann was injured for some games, Thomas Helmer, Jurgen Kohler and Stefan Kuntz missed the final. But we knew there wouldn’t be many more tournaments for most of us – we had, let’s say, a mature team – so we were determined to overcome any problems.
Take the game against Croatia. We lost Klinsmann through injury, Suker scored to make it 1-1, but we still came back to win. Or beating England at Wembley in the semi-finals – a real task, I can tell you. Anderton hit the post, Gascoigne almost won it... It was a great game against a great team and we only didn’t lose because we wanted the win so desperately.
What people don’t know is that there was also one ‘scandal’ surrounding the German team, with complaints about us going in the sauna without bathing trunks. It obviously wasn’t en vogue to go in naked, as we did…"
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