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England vs Scotland: Paul Gascoigne at Euro 96, revisited

(Image credit: PA Images)

There are millions of old football clips on YouTube, but surely only one that –
no matter how often the team’s supporters rewatch it – still genuinely feels as if it might turn out differently this time. 

A quarter of a century has passed since Paul Gascoigne’s near-miss against Germany at Euro 96, but that footage still causes England fans to release the sort of involuntary howls that horror filmmakers can only dream of eliciting.

It’s easy to paint Gascoigne as a nearly-man given his dramatic exits from several big semi-finals and finals, usually in tears, sometimes on a stretcher. Those teams would have exited those competitions much earlier without him. Look at Euro 92: Gazza missed it through injury and England barely completed a forward pass before limping out at the group stage.  

His goal against Scotland four years later is the other standout memory of Euro 96. The flash of magical audacity altered England’s whole mentality; the same XI that had looked nervy then put together a bizarrely assured dismantling of an ominous Dutch side. 

Like all great fantasy tales – Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Italia 90 – every team gets a boost when a wizard turns up. And Gazza was definitely that, even if the off-field wisdom was lacking.

Really, we should marvel that – deep into extra time, five games into a leg-sapping tournament, a yard from the German goal – Gascoigne got anywhere near Alan Shearer’s cross-shot, let alone near enough to pause, anticipating a goalkeeper’s touch that agonisingly never came. 

He moved quickly. He thought too quickly. His brain was made for football. And it wasn’t just his unique talent that England so needed, but Gazza’s fearless determination to use it. 

Forget the what-ifs. Fire up a video of Euro 96, or Italia 90, and watch Gazza, head raised, dribble snake-hipped through midfields. That was real.

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