On the eve of Euro 2012 and the BBC dipping deep into its football vaults to upload footage from previous tournaments, I thought that, while I’m in the mood, I’d share my memories of the times when England have underperformed, lost to Germany or failed to qualify for the championships. It’s going to be wonderful. Stick with me.
I’ve never been to a Euro tournament before, so my accounts may read like any other typical England fan disappointed with the past, present and future of his nation’s football team. However, as an England fan, I am also naturally programmed to have furtive favourable feelings about our chances in Poland and Ukraine (and when I say ‘chances’ I am of course referring to qualification from the group stage. To consider us as potential winners would require me to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983 – which just happens to be my year of birth).
Ok, so let’s do this in chronological order. I would have been five years old in 1988 so I have zero memories of Marco van Basten’s immense volley in the final against the USSR – although I never tire of seeing it on YouTube and imagining how awesome I’d have felt if it had been me putting my laces through it.
My first memory of a European championship came in 1992 when England were outdone by Sweden and Thomas Brolin. All I recall is that goal by the bloke who later piled on the pounds and scored funny goals for Crystal Palace. I had no concept of expectation at the age of nine (when kids play football for the enjoyment and not the result). The level of disappointment was only tangible by the way my dad left the room in absolute silence. If my dad ever left a room in silence it was either because he needed the loo or he was incalculably pissed off.
Ah, Euro ’96 – this is a fine memory. Somewhere between ’92 and ’96 my interest in football had snowballed into a sort of obsession. Dinner time football at school was always on. Football shirts were given to me as Christmas and birthday presents. My home town club Grimsby had stormed into the second division and were playing teams like Wolves, Bolton, Derby and Leicester week in, week out. Even when no one was around I would take my penny floater into the side street adjacent to my house and play out matches in my head using the school gates as the goal. I was madly in love with the game. Euro ’96 came at the peak of my childhood interest in the sport.
At 13 years old, my knowledge for the game was expanding rapidly. I knew everything about the players, their clubs, their form and their previous international history. I even knew bits and bobs about the other international teams. I understood the significance of goal-shy Shearer’s strike against Roy Hodgson’s Switzerland in the opening game. Strangely, I don’t recall where I was when that goal went in. All I knew was that the result was a bit of a disappointment, but we were the hosts – and the hosts always do well – so everything was going to be ok.
We had a crap first half against Scotland. I was watching the game on an old portable black and white TV set that we used to take with us when we went away in the caravan. It was half term so my parents had taken us to a campsite in Yorkshire. The weather must have been nice because I was the only one in the caravan watching the game on the telly. My dad was outside listening to it on the radio. My backside had barely touched the seat after Shearer had put us 1-0 up and Gary McAllister missed that penalty, so when Gazza lifted the ball over Colin Hendry’s head and then crashed a volley in past Andy Goram to double our lead I went mental. The fresh air immediately in front of me came in for a pummelling. I danced and jumped and clenched my fists, knees bent, head down. My celebrations were mute. There was no screaming; just pure, silent ecstasy.
There was more air punching when we steamrollered Holland in the final group game. I watched this at home while my parents were out for a meal at a semi-posh restaurant. That performance made me think that we had a chance of winning the tournament. The win over Scotland was great, but this victory was more about us demonstrating our ability against quality opposition. It remains one of my favourite England memories.
I remember getting honked at by a car decorated with flags as I rode my bike to a mate’s house after we beat Spain on penalties in the quarter finals. The blast came out of nowhere and my front wheel scraped the kerb and I just managed to come to a standstill before stumbling off and rolling onto the pavement. It was the most ungraceful cycle dismount in the history of the world, but I didn’t give a toss because England had made it through to the semi finals.
I watched the Germany game with the rest of the family. The edginess of the affair probably disguised the fact that it was a really entertaining game. Extra time was incredible – not that I recall it that way, given what happened in the shoot-out. Ten perfect penalties. Gareth Southgate. Andreas Mueller’s camp chicken celebration. Urgh.
It’s easy to forget what Euro ’96 did to the nation. For four weeks we were absolutely gripped by it. Everyone seemed happy. How much of that was to do with England’s success on the pitch is still up for debate, but I just recall it being a happy time. It was all anyone would talk about. Even my grandmother, who knew nothing about football, would talk to me about it.
I could talk in depth about Euro 2000 – going 2-0 up against Portugal and losing 3-2, finally beating Germany in a major tournament, even – but sadly it’s inextricably associated with that tackle by Phil Neville. Oh how we hated him back then. People often blame him for our exit, but all his foul did was mask our tactically inept approach. The best memory I took from the competition was the major disagreements Johan Cruyff and Martin O’Neill would sometimes have as part of the BBC’s punditry.
I remember Euro 2004 happening just before I left for university. I had spent most of the year waiting for September to come around after losing my part-time job at a call centre – although I put my time to good use by learning to play the guitar and passing my driving test.
I watched a couple of games at my mate Pete’s house. For the final group game against Croatia I even took my camera round to record the events as they unfolded. I just ended up with an album of us both pulling stupid faces, interspersed occasionally with shots of us watching the TV. I never knew when we were going to score, so capturing the moments of joy were impossible. The photos of us celebrating the goals were dryly manufactured. Sorry to dispel any curiosity.
I did the same for the Portugal game – because, you know, when you do something once and England win, you do it again for good luck. We had none of the luck against Portugal. I seem to remember the referee, Urs Meier, being a complete tool bag and disallowing a perfectly legitimate goal from Sol Campbell on the basis that the Portuguese keeper Ricardo slipped and cried when he came to collect a cross. Rooney also broke a bone in his foot – there went our new-found protégé (and with him our chances of winning in normal time).
There’s not a lot to say about Euro 2008, other than I was sat watching the game with the rest of my university mates in our disgusting student house in Huddersfield when we lost 3-2 against Croatia. One of my mates, Joe, in a fit of rage, picked up one of those wooden mug holders and smashed it against a wall. It was then that we realised that our walls weren’t made of brick. It left a massive gaping hole and so, as responsible tenants, we covered it up with a homemade sign made by the landlord instructing us to ‘Keep it Tidy’. However, the font he used to make the sign made it look more like ‘Heep it Ploy’, and so it invented two new words into our vocabulary, which we still merrily exchange today (albeit very rarely now).
Euro 2008 did in fact turn out to be a belter of a tournament (probably as a result of England’s absence). I moved from Huddersfield to a better house in Leeds right in the middle of the championships and Russia outplaying Holland in the quarter finals was the very first thing I watched in the new place. I happened to be unemployed, temporarily, during that tournament too (in between jobs), so I ended up watching nearly all of the games.
For what it’s worth, I think Germany will win Euro 2012 and England will go out at the group stage. I have a feeling that Poland may get through to the quarters. The domestic football season feels like it finished ages ago so I’m more than ready for the games to start…