How Euro 96 captured the public’s imagination in England

With England as the host nation, Euro 96 – and specifically the exploits of the home side – thrilled the country during a golden summer 24 years ago.

Here, the PA news agency looks back on a memorable tournament.

How England brought the country together

England fans rode the crest of a wave at Euro 96
England fans rode the crest of a wave at Euro 96 (PA)

England’s brilliant run to within a whisker of the European Championship final would have seemed preposterous barely a month earlier. The team had returned home after playing friendlies in China and Hong Kong, a trip which culminated with negative headlines surrounding Paul Gascoigne’s birthday party and his time in a nightclub’s “dentist’s chair”, where drinks were poured down his throat.

England began with a 1-1 draw against Switzerland but then burst into life with a 2-0 win over Scotland. David Seaman saved a penalty and Gazza scored a memorable goal, lobbing Colin Hendry then blasting home. He memorably reenacted the dentist’s chair in his celebrations. Momentum gathered and Holland were thumped 4-1 before Spain were beaten on penalties. The run ended in the semi-finals in agonising defeat to Germany.

Agony and the ecstasy

The victory over Holland was one of England’s great nights as everything came together for Terry Venables’ side. Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham starred as the Dutch were ruthlessly put to the sword at Wembley. When Sheringham slid in the fourth to the disbelief and delirium of those around him on a balmy evening, anything seemed possible.

Gareth Southgate's penalty miss cost England
Gareth Southgate’s penalty miss cost England (PA)

The semi-final was a different matter. Shearer gave England early hope but Stefan Kuntz equalised and a succession of great chances, including Darren Anderton hitting the post and a sliding Gascoigne almost turning into an open goal, were spurned. Both sides scored all their five regular penalties in the shoot-out but Gareth Southgate’s sudden-death effort was saved.

The rest

Oliver Bierhoff scored the tournament-winning goal for Germany
Oliver Bierhoff scored the tournament-winning goal for Germany (PA)

Germany went on to win the tournament by coming from behind to beat the Czech Republic with a ‘golden goal’ in extra time. Both their goals came from Oliver Bierhoff. The Czechs’ fine run was fuelled by the brilliance of final goalscorer Patrik Berger and Karel Poborsky, who subsequently joined Liverpool and Manchester United respectively. Scotland failed to make it out of the group stage, missing out on goal difference to Holland, who in turn lost to France in the quarter-finals. Italy were a surprise early casualty, going out in the group stage. The tournament created a huge feelgood factor with games also played at grounds including St James’ Park, Old Trafford, Anfield and Villa Park.

Legacy

Gascoigne’s dentist chair celebrations provided some of the most enduring images of the tournament but his international career fizzled out and he failed to make the squad for the 1998 World Cup. After mocking himself in a pizza advert, Southgate put his dejection behind him to earn 57 caps and later become England manager. He took the side to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals. Venables left his post after the tournament but, of the team that played in the final, a number went on to have fine careers. Sheringham and Steve McManaman won the Champions League with Manchester United and Real Madrid respectively, while Shearer joined boyhood club Newcastle for £15million and became the Premier League’s record scorer.

The biggest improvement, however, came from the French. They were underwhelming semi-finalists, failing to score in the knockout stages, but, with a team including Marcel Desailly, Youri Djorkaeff and Zinedine Zidane, their time was to come.

On Saturday the "Three Lions '96" official video was watched by 1.4 million people. That’s the equivalent of selling out 15 nights at Wembley. #itscominghome 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿⚽️ @baddiel@FrankOnTheRadio@IanZBroudie

▶︎ https://t.co/Jsmyhqqhtepic.twitter.com/vM36CfEF2a

— Vevo UK (@Vevo_UK) July 9, 2018

The ‘golden goal’ concept, brought in to reduce penalty shoot-outs by ending extra time as soon as they were scored, endured a little while. It was used in the 1998 World Cup and France won Euro 2000 with a golden goal, but it seemed to discourage, rather than encourage, attacking football and was abandoned after Euro 2004.

Culturally, the tournament’s official song ‘Three Lions’ became firmly rooted in the English fan experience.

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