Football came home, and what a fine house-guest it once again was. Vithushan Ehantharajah conjures up some notable memories...
1. The redemption of Psycho
Football exorcism at its rawest. Never exactly the most widely popular player at club level due to his scything tackles for Nottingham Forest, Pearce had endured six seasons of scorn after seeing his spotkick saved in the Italia 90 semi-final shoot-out. By now a 34-year-old elder statesman, Pearce was nevertheless still on the pitch after 120 goalless minutes of the quarter-final against Spain – and had no hesitation at all in offering, if not demanding, to take part in the shootout.
With Alan Shearer and David Platt scoring and Fernando Hierro rattling the bar, England were 2-1 up when Pearce walked up to take the third penalty – but this was about more than a game, and a nation held its breath. Pearce hammered it low to Zubizaretta's left - and stood momentarily still, listening to Wembley's relieved roar, before reacting. Punching the air repeatedly, stomping toward the crowd, Pearce became iconic, his face became frozen in a thousand photos, his roar of redemption regularly voted the best celebration in English football history.
2. Schoolboy football joke
Kuntz. It’s the name of a footballer and a bad word. Get it? Every child (of every age) in England did, every time the name was uttered by John Motson, Barry Davies or Brian Moore – or better yet the knowingly suave Des Lynam.
Winningly, our new friends the Germans decided to continue their drive to cap players with sniggerable names with the likes of Carsten Jancker, Michael Ballack and, more recently, Sven Bender. Oh how we lol-ed…
3. England's finest hour and a half
Have England fans witnessed a more complete performance since Venables' side tore apart Guus Hiddink's Netherlands 4-1? The 5-1 win in Munich comes close for unexpected delirium, while the 1-0 win against Argentina in the space-agey Sapporo Dome vanquished a few of its own demons. But for most England fans, the victory over the Dutch tops the lot. It's partly context: the team hadn't fired on all cylinders against Scotland, and the Dutch had not long since made Graham Taylor's team look anachronistic in stopping England qualifying for USA 94.
More than that, though, it was also the manner of victory, confidently passing it around and through a dispirited Dutch. The third goal summed it up: Paul Gascoigne probed and danced before finding the unmarked Teddy Sheringham, who intelligently passed sideways to Alan Shearer... who unforgivingly hammered it past Edwin van der Sar. Every facet of England’s play – from the tactics to individual players – was in perfect harmony. Even the late Dutch consolation pleased the fans, meaning as it did that Holland, not Scotland, would reach the knock-out stages…
4. The unexpectedly brilliant game
Though fondly recalled by the English, Euro 96 was quite dull and certainly low-scoring (2.06 per match, lower than any World Cup). Imagine how bad it would have been without this six-goaler as Group C drew to a close. The newbie Czechs had beaten Italy, who therefore needed to beat table-topping Germany at Old Trafford to secure qualification to the latter stages. That clash of the titans looked like much more essential viewing than the Czechs against the fourth-and-out Russians at Anfield, right?.
Wrong. Russia might only have been playing for pride, but boy did they have it, as they proved after the Czechs went 2-0 up within 20 minutes. Almost unbelievably, Oleg Romantsev's team turned it round in the second half, going 3-2 up with five minutes left through one of the goals of the tournament, from Vladimir Beschastnykh.
VIDEO FEATURE The best goals of Euro 96
With the Czechs behind, the Italians – busily grinding out a 0-0 with Germany – would qualify for the next round. Unfortunately for the Azzurri, Vladimir Smicer (who would later go on to call Anfield home) scored on 88 minutes, eliminating the Italians and paving the way for a Czech run to the final, three years after the country’s peaceful dissolution from unity with Slovakia.
5. Gazza: Let's go f***ing dental
Prior to Euro 96, the press were at their vitriolic worst, pulling no punches in condemning the “lads’ holiday” nature of England's pre-tournament tour of East Asia. One of the more notorious pictures plastered across front pages was of Paul Gascoigne having drinks poured down his gullet (this time by other people) in a "dentist-chair" stunt in a Hong Kong bar. While his vices were accepted, it was the potentially harmful influence on the rest of the side that had hacks calling for Gazza’s exclusion.
Backed by both squad and manager, the mercurial man of excess claimed it was all in the name of team-bonding and, after a sublime goal against Scotland at Wembley, the now peroxide-blonde midfielder decided to show just how right he was. Lying on the floor, he was joined by his jubilant team-mates, who proceeded to empty the contents of a nearby water-bottle into Gazza’s gob. Well, we’re assuming it was water...
6. Goalkeeper kits go mental
Did goalkeeper kits peak in the mid-'90s? There was some fantastic stopper-clobber on show in Euro ’96, showing that Europe’s No.1s are a more than capable match for their South American counterparts for both eccentricity and colour co-ordination (or lack thereof).
David Seaman led the way with a snazzy yellow number, but blew away the opposition when he stepped up his game in the semi-final with one of the greatest away ‘keeper jerseys in living memory, which also highlighted the perils of washing your whites with your packets of Skittles. Jorge Campos, eat your multicoloured heart out…
7. Football: It's all in the mind...
Remember Uri? No? World-renowned television-hogging spoon-bender? Former co-owner of Exeter City? Michael Jackson’s mate? The man who helped England vanquish the Auld Enemy? There you go. A year after promising to help his local team Reading beat Bolton in a Wembley play-off final (they didn't), Geller was back in the spotlight again for the England-Scotland game.
With England leading 1-0, Scotland were awarded a penalty which Gary McAllister stepped up to take; David Seaman saved it and Paul Gascoigne scored an unforgettable second almost before replays could show that the ball had rolled slightly off the spot before McAllister's spot-kick. Geller claimed that this was due to his supernatural powers – beamed down from a helicopter hovering above Wembley Stadium. Scotland were furious when they found out: “What kind of name is Uri?” questioned Tosh McKinlay, fictitiously.
8. "Next goal wins"
Introduced by FIFA in 1993 (but not enforced in time for USA 94), the “Golden Goal” promised excitement on paper: a winner-takes-all invitation to throw men forward in search of instant, unassailable glory. In fact it delivered anxiety and very few goals indeed. FIFA thought "Golden Goal" sounded more positive than "sudden death", but it killed entertainment as teams preferred to sit it out for penalties.
Euro 96 was the first major tournament to employ the system and you can imagine the displeasure as two quarter-finals and two semi-finals passed without goals. When the final went to extra time it looked like we might get a re-run of the Euro 76 final shootout in which Czechoslovakia beat West Germany, but after just five minutes Oliver Bierhoff struck to win the trophy. And in a way, FIFA were right: “Golden Goal wins European Championship” looks and sounds better than "deflected effort punched into net by off-kilter goalkeeper"…
9. An anthem is born
The greatest football song since, well, New Order’s World In Motion six years before, but even that ecstasy-fuelled anthem (original title "E for England" nixed by the FA) wouldn't have the same popular reach as the Euro 96 touchstone. Tapping a toe to the indie-pop chart-botherers The Lightning Seeds, the FA approached their tunesmith Ian Broudie to write a song; he in turn approached favourite couch-bound football pundits, Baddiel and Skinner, to write the words.
Laddish icons at the height of Britpop, the two comedians could have served up boorish nonsense (witness the witless Keith Allen vehicle Vindaloo two years later) but their masterstroke with Three Lions was to go for pathos over patriotism. As Baddiel later told FourFourTwo, "We shouldn’t write a song that says 'We’re going to win', because what England fans normally feel is 'We’re going to lose but we hope we’ll do well anyway'."
The grounded fatalism chimed perfectly with English sensibilities, and the memorably simple tune was soon being belted out in grounds (and pubs) across England... including by the victorious Germany team, who adopted it as their own tournament anthem *waves fist*.
10. Reynald Pedros loses game, plot, career
Who? Exactly. Talk about a fall from grace: Pedros was regarded as one of the best midfielders of his generation (on par with Zinedine Zidane, who wasn’t too shabby). At Nantes, he was part of the “Trio Magique”, also featuring Patrice Loko and Nicolas Ouédec, who guided Les Canaris to the French title in 1994-95, and then the semi-final of the Champions League the next year. Loko and Pedros made it into the squad, but both were limited to roles as impact subs. And Pedros had an impact all right in the semi-final.
France had beaten Holland in the quarters on a penalty shoot-out; Pedros was the sixth penalty taker but unneeded thanks to Bernard Lama saving Clarence Seedorf's spot-kick. However, when the semi-final against the Czechs went the distance and each side's first five takers found the net, Pedros's moment arrived. Striding up to the Stretford End, he stroked his shot left-footed to the left of Petr Kouba - but the Czech goalkeeper got down easily to parry wide, and Miroslav Kadlec scored to put the Czechs into the final.
So France’s tournament was over – and so, it turned out, was Pedros’s international career. Scapegoated by the French media, he fled to Italy but couldn’t stop his stock crashing; an attempted comeback in lower-league French football failed and he eventually saw out his career out lowly Swiss club FC Baulmes.