Euro 1996: When football came home

By Chris BevanBBC Sport
Best moments of Euro 96

The slogan for Euro '96 was "when football comes home" and, for one glorious month, it felt like it actually had.

Ultimately, England failed to triumph on their own turf but that did not stop the tournament from being a magical experience for their players and fans, leaving a lingering feel-good factor that has been sorely lacking for them in most major finals since.

What made it so special, apart from the fact the sun was shining and England were winning, for a while at least?

"It was not only that we reached the semi-finals, it was that we had a lot of fun along the way, and I think the whole country did too," Alan Shearer told BBC Sport.

"It was great to be playing all our games at Wembley and the atmosphere kept getting better the further we went."

There was something exceptional about that England side too. Shearer describes it as the best he played in during his eight-year international career and they had a team spirit to match.

Veteran commentator Barry Davies, who covered the tournament for the BBC, said: "What started that off was a rather defensive siege mentality after a couple of off-field incidents and drinking sessions. They took a lot of stick from the press and I think that gave them a feeling of 'we will show you'."

Show us they did, to a summer soundtrack supplied by the Lightning Seeds, David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, who together sang England's official song 'Three Lions'.

There were memorable lobbed goals by Davor Sukerexternal-link and Karel Poborsky, who helped make sure that surprise packages Croatia and the Czech Republic - who lost to Germany in the final - made a splash in their first appearances on this stage.

But it was England who really got the party started.

Terry Venables' side began slowly with a stuttering 1-1 draw against Switzerland, notable only for Shearer's first international goal in 12 games. He ended up with five for the tournament, enough to win the golden boot as top scorer.

Things quickly got better for England. Lots better.

After Paul Gascoigne's spectacular solo strike - and 'dentist's chair' celebration - helped to sink Scotland 2-0, the Netherlands were demolished 4-1 in what was arguably England's best result at a major finals since they beat West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final.

The iconic imagery kept coming in the quarter-finals too. Yes, England had to scrap to earn a shoot-out win over Spain but there was the sight of Stuart Pearce's fist-pumping celebration after despatching his penalty that helped send them through.

Then came the semi-finals, Germany and the end of the dream - but only after a truly epic encounter.

Davies, who was at Wembley commentating, said: "That was particularly special.

"If somebody told me you are going up to heaven and you can take one game with you, I think I would take that England game. I'd try to get the result changed when I got up there, though.

"It was a night where a lot of the things I believed in about commentary worked. If you go back to the original recording it was six or seven minutes before kick-off when Des Lynam handed over to me from the studio.

"I didn't really say very much in that time because the crowd were singing constantly. I just dotted a few I's and crossed a few T's. It was a huge atmosphere and of course England were incredibly unlucky in the end."

A Shearer header gave England the lead after three minutes but Germany quickly levelled through Stefan Kuntz and, try as they might, England could not find a winner.

Teddy Sheringham had a shot cleared off the line, Shearer sent another header wide and Darren Anderton hit the post in extra-time but the chance you will probably remember best of all came when Gascoigne lunged to try to turn in Shearer's cross, but missed it by a matter of millimetres.

"When I was doing England matches, there were two goals which weren't scored, which should have been," Davies added.

"The first was Gary Lineker versus Argentina at the 1986 World Cup which would have made it 2-2 in the quarter-finals. It was one of those 'oh no' moments, not that I said it in the commentary, but I thought it to myself.

"It was the same with Gascoigne when the ball rolled across the box in extra-time. By then the game had become almost unreal. It was golden goal then, so it would have won it."

It was left to penalties to decide the winner, and an all too familiar ending from England's point of view.

Shearer, David Platt, Pearce (again), Gascoigne and Sheringham were successful from the spot but Germany also scored with their first five efforts.

That meant sudden death and, after Gareth Southgate's tame effort was saved by Andreas Kopke, Andreas Muller stepped up to fire Germany into the final.

"It was such an exciting match and it had such a sad conclusion," added Davies, who has covered 10 World Cups, seven European Championships, and countless England internationals during a broadcasting career that will also take in the hockey tournament at this summer's Olympics.

"I can honestly say that when Gareth walked up to take his penalty I did not fancy him at all. There was something wrong with his body language and you just get a feeling. It was horrible to lose like that, after coming all that way."


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