Last time there was a major summer football tournament on (the 2014 World Cup), I rather enjoyed myself doing a small, as Mark Corrigan would put it, World Cup reminiscy-package on the blog.
This time round, I thought I’d be entirely unoriginal and do exactly the same thing for the upcoming European Championships in France. I commence with my memories of Euro 96, just down the road in England.
As with the first of my France 98 posts in 2014, the most obvious of my abiding memories of Euro 96 involves my own country – Scotland. Scotland’s second, and most recent, qualification for a European Championships saw us finish second in what I think has been the most generous qualifying draw we’ve had in my lifetime. Finishing a comfortable second in the group to Russia, seeing off the challenge of Finland, Greece, the Faroes and San Marino (in the same group!), Scotland’s luck soon deserted us in the group draw. Hosts England, the Netherlands and Switzerland (who had swatted us aside in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers) would surely prove too fierce a test for Scotland.
The first match in the finals for Scotland was at Villa Park against the Dutch. Having enjoyed their performances at USA 94, I was expecting the Netherlands to embarrass us in Birmingham. The 0-0 draw that followed was treated almost like a victory. My two abiding memories of that match are (1) Andy Goram being absolutely outstanding in goal for Scotland, and (2) John Collins (who remains probably my favourite Scotland player) getting away with a blatant, red-card-and-a-penalty handball.After Villa Park, we moved to the headliner. Scotland v England (the vagaries of the group draw leaving Scotland as the home team) at Wembley Stadium. This was the first “Auld Enemy” match I would experience, the annual game having finally petered out in 1989 with the final Rous Cup. It would also be a disappointment.
With the score 0-0 at half time, Alan Shearer’s header 8 minutes into the second half gave England the lead. Scotland kept themselves in the game though, and Gary McAllister was provided with a wonderful opportunity for Scotland to equalise. I remember watching the game at my aunt’s house and running into another room as McAllister stepped up. Of course, the ball moved, McAllister smacked the penalty off David Seaman’s elbows and the score stayed 1-0 to England.
A minute later, it was all over as Paul Gascoigne flicked the ball over Colin Hendry’s lovely hair and smashed a volley past his Rangers team-mate in goal. Regardless of my nationality leanings, it was a fantastic goal, and gave England a just-about-deserved 2-0 win. It’s also worth pointing out that this match saw Jamie Redknapp put in probably his best performance for England, his arrival at half-time changing the game for the hosts.
And so to the final game. Scotland needed to beat Switzerland, ideally by more than one goal. We also needed England to do us a big favour and beat the Dutch. Both games were 7:30pm kick-offs on the evening of 18 June 1996. The evening is one that particularly sticks in my mind because it was also the first of two “Musical Evenings” (basically a summer concert) at my primary school. My fellow Primary 7s and I (as well as the P5s and P6s) were probably expected to behave with decorum and respect throughout the evening.
Of course, what inevitably happens when you put a hundred reasonably excitable Scottish 11 and 12 year-olds in a room with a big TV showing Scotland playing a vital international match happened – we all went a bit mental. I can particularly remember playing my violin on the “stage” (some wooden pallets at one end of the gym hall) and hearing a roar from the school dinner hall (where the other kids were waiting to perform) when Ally McCoist shot (with what the Guardian’s Iain McIntosh would describe as a “thunderbastard”) past Swiss keeper Marco Pascolo from about 30 yards out to give us the lead. I remember being both delighted and gutted that I’d missed the goal at the same time. That there was no TV provided for the second night of performances, with classical music instead being played in the dinner hall, was not a surprise.
Anyway, Scotland pressed on and pressed on for that second goal against the Swiss, but it didn’t come. The updates from Wembley were favourable – England were 4-0 up against the Netherlands. If the scores stayed the same, Scotland would qualify for the knockout stages of a tournament for the first time.Of course, with this being Scotland and all, fate decided that we still hadn’t gone through quite enough before we’d get to qualify for the knockout stages of an international tournament – 20 years on, I’m still waiting. 12 minutes from time, Patrick Kluivert scored what would prove to be that most vital of consolation goals, sticking the ball through David Seaman’s legs into the bargain. No more goals were scored in either game, despite Scotland’s continuing desperation for A SECOND GOAL.
With the Netherlands having beaten Switzerland 2-0, but losing 4-1 to England, their record read P3, W1, D1, L1, F3 A4, Pts 4. Scotland’s read the same, other than a slightly more miserly goals tally of F1 A2. That was miserly enough to see Scotland knocked out of Euro 96 at the end of the group stage, not even on goal difference (as occurred in the 1974 and 1978 World Cups) but on goals scored. It was the closest we’d ever got to the knockout stages of a tournament, and remains as much.
I’ve possibly gone on more than I thought I would with this first post, so I’ll do another Euro 96 one in the next few days.