Last week I watched Alan Shearer's Euro 96 on Iplayer and it instantly brought back a lot of memories. I can't believe the teenagers of the nation wouldn't have even been born yet during the competition! Euro 96 was my first major international tournament at the age of 8. I can't remember every game as clearly as the world cup in France two years later but it left an indelible impression.
In the program it was certainly nice to see Shearer a little bit more relaxed than in his current role as a pundit on Match of the Day as he reminisced with some of his old team mates. What a fantastic team it was. The “SAS”, Shearer and Sheringham formed a formidable striking partnership in front of the mercurial Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne in midfield and the solid foundation of Tony Adams and David Seaman. We had so much striking fire power some players didn't get a look in. We could definitely use Les Ferdinand and a young Robbie Fowler on the bench now!
We followed the traditional slow start the national team makes in competitions. Before glory against Scotland, the Netherlands and Spain there was a tepid 1-1 draw with Switzerland. The players were derided by the tabloids for their performance and the infamous “dentist’s chair” drinking binge on a pre-tournament trip to Hong Kong.
The team grew into the nation's affections helped in no small part by the release of the greatest football song of all time. “Three Lions” by Baddiel & Skinner & the Lightning Seeds was the official song of the tournament and is sung in stadiums to this day. I listen to it before every tournament now and it certainly makes me believe we can take on the world.
Inevitably we came up against the Germans in the semi finals. Shearer's early goal was promptly cancelled out the German forward Stefan Kuntz, who was roundly mocked in this country for the way we pronounce his name.
The most heartbreaking moment of the tournament followed in extra time with Gazza unable to connect with Shearer's cross into a gaping German goal. This would have been a “golden goal” and won the game outright. It is sad to see what has become of Gazza with his struggles with alcoholism and this would undoubtedly have been his crowning moment.
The game went to penalties and ended in defeat as it has done in every major shootout since for England.
Every competition since has fallen short of the benchmark set by Euro 96. We never seem to learn from our mistakes. It seems unlikely our youth ranks will produce a side of the quality of the 2009 German Under 21 which when it grew up dominated and won the world cup in 2014.
It also seems unclear as to whether England will host a competition again in the near future. The 2018 world cup bid became a farce with allegations of corruption and bribing at FIFA. The organisation is currently facing reform but I wouldn't hold my breath.
Despite whatever comes in the future we will always have the summer where the nation got behind a great side and they came very close to lifting the first silverware since 1966.
Here's to 50 more years of hurt...