As the lockdown continues I have been looking back at games I’ve attended over the years. In the 1980’s I had started going to see England play, either through the football supporter’s society trips with the University of Warwick where I was studying, or with friends. It started with a 1980 Home Championship game against Northern Ireland, which my Dad took me too. I next remember seeing England beat Turkey 8-0 with a Lineker hat-trick in 1987, on a Wednesday October evening and then had been at a very scary England V Scotland game in 1988, where having been crushed into the standing area behind the goal, found England and Scotland fans had been put in together, which was terrifying. There was a real crush and lots of violence, especially when Beardsley secured the win for England.
So when my friend secured tickets for the England v Scotland match at Euro ‘96 I was slightly wary, although reassured as Wembley had finally become all seater that year in readiness for the Euro’s.
England hadn’t started well with a draw against Switzerland, and ties to come against the Auld enemy and Holland, didn’t fill fans with confidence. Venables was in charge and he was still perceived to be a technical coach with the class to match the best in Europe, however England had failed to qualify for the World Cup in ‘94 so national confidence was low.
The day was warm and it was a good atmosphere when we arrived at the stadium. There were lots of Scotland fans dressed in kilts, Tam O’Shanters and orange wigs. Gascoigne was named in the English side along with Shearer. The atmosphere was always incredible at the old Wembley and the two towers really stood over the ground reminding you constantly where you were. I’ve never quite had that feeling in the new ground and the sound and atmosphere isn’t trapped in the same way.
The first half was a tight battle. England were attacking the end facing us behind the goal. Then in the second half Pearce went off and Redknapp came on. Suddenly England looked sharp and Shearer scored. The atmosphere lifted…. England fans started to believe… then as usual England blew it… giving away a penalty and right in front of us McAllister stepped up and then Seaman saved!! The tournament really turned in that moment as from the clearance the ball was played upto Gascoigne who flicked the ball over the defender and then volleyed it in for 2-0.
The famed “dentist chair” celebration referenced a drinking game whilst on tour with England, which Gascoigne had been slammed for in the press prior to the tournament. The relief around the ground was clear and it suddenly felt like this was our year. Gascoigne was truly a talented and mercurial figure in England football history and while he seems like a tragic figure now with his health issues, he was one of our true greats and helped lift us back as credible contenders onto the world stage in Italia ‘90 and again in Euro ‘96.
At the end of the game the crowd went wild and then the tannoy played Skinner and Baddiel’s “Three Lions” and it seemed everyone had stayed and was singing together. I haven’t walked away from a game, before or since, with that sense of elation.
The tournament had a bittersweet memory for me in the end. My Dad had secured me a ticket for the final and I was convinced I’d watch England win the tournament; so you can imagine the disappointment when two weeks later I was back at Wembley watching Germany play Czech Republic. We had hospitality tickets so even seeing Ken Wolstenholme speak, at a special pre-match dinner, seeing Peter Shilton and Gordon Banks at close quarters and watching Mick Hucknall of Simply Red perform before the match, didn’t ease the pain.
I just kept thinking of how close Gascoigne was to sliding the ball in during extra time and wondering why anyone, like myself who watched Southgate play at Palace, would have ever thought he was the guy to take a penalty!! I also kept remembering the feeling of the crowd at the end of the Scotland game and imagining just what it would have been like if England had been there and finally lifted a trophy that day!