Twenty-five years after England’s dramatic Euro 96 campaign reignited the nation’s football love affair, Gareth Southgate’s side aim to emulate the Golden Summer when football is came home.
England manager Southgate leads his side in their European Championship opener against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday.
It should be a momentous occasion as England play at home in a major tournament for the first time since Euro 96.
For Southgate, England’s role as one of the many delayed Euro 2020 hosts offers a chance for redemption after his missed penalty doomed the country to heartache in the semi-final of the Euro 96 against Germany.
If England can create the same wave of national enthusiasm that Terry Venables’ side surfed 25 years ago, Southgate will stand a chance of winning a first major title for the country since the 1966 World Cup.
English football was in a long-awaited renaissance when Euro 96 arrived, recovering from a dark period in which its image was badly damaged by gangs of hooligans who clashed in dilapidated stadiums .
The Premier League had been formed four years earlier, with the Britpop Blur and Oasis groups and even future Prime Minister Tony Blair getting on the bandwagon to broaden the appeal of the game.
Capturing the upbeat vibe of “Cool Britannia”, comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner have teamed up with The Lightning Seeds to write the English Euro 96 anthem “Three Lions”.
With its chorus “Football’s Coming Home”, the song became the soundtrack of the English summer.
Yet, while there were unforgettable days ahead, England started Euro 96 in disarray.
Celebrating Paul Gascoigne’s birthday on a pre-tournament trip to Hong Kong, England players gathered in the headlines after a drunken night at the China Jump bar.
The debauchery culminated in the “dentist’s chair” – a drinking game in which footballers sat with their mouths open while tequila and vodka were poured.
Gascoigne and other players were also involved in a heated conflict which led to damaged televisions on a Cathay Pacific flight back to London.
Rather than reading the riot act as the tabloid headlines screamed “Disgracefool,” Venables fostered a siege mentality within his team.
– ‘We had a lot of fun’ –
Venables’ scheme nearly turned against England in a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in their opener at Wembley.
But the England tournament has turned into a grudge match against Scotland, an opponent who is lying in wait for the Southgate men in their Euro 2020 squad.
Alan Shearer led England in the lead and David Seaman saved Gary McAllister’s penalty before Gascoigne repaid Venables’ faith with a sublime goal that showcased his maverick genius.
Gascoigne celebrated by lying on the floor as Teddy Sheringham squirted a water bottle into his open mouth in a nod to their “dentist chair” antics.
“Gazza saw the dentist’s chair in the middle of that bar. From that moment it turned into chaos,” recalls former England midfielder Jamie Redknapp.
“One of the good nights. And Gazza says ‘I’m going to score against Scotland and when I do I’m going to do the dentist’s chair.’
“Other than Bobby Moore lifting the World Cup, this is the best photo I have seen of someone wearing an English jersey.”
England produced one of their best performances to crush the Netherlands 4-1 in their last group game.
But after surviving a tense shootout to beat Spain in the last eight, England’s infamous penalty demons resurfaced when they faced Germany in a thrilling semi-final.
Stefan Kuntz called off Shearer’s first game and, after Gascoigne was inches from an overtime winner, it was Southgate who played the villain with his missed shot.
Southgate cried on Venables’ shoulder, while Germany beat the Czech Republic in the final.
Despite the painful ending, Euro 96 remains an iconic moment in English football, a moment Southgate would like to recreate with his squad over the next month or so.
“It’s not just that we made it to the semi-finals, it’s that we had a lot of fun along the way, and I think the whole country did too,” said Shearer.
© 2021 AFP