Staying Out For The Summer (of Euro 96)
They say that the music you loved as a teenager are the tunes you always cherish the most. Maybe that's true of football tournaments too. Alan Shearer's BBC documentary, Euro 96: When Football Came Home, laid the nostalgia on thick and I have wallowed happily in it, experiencing the triggering of many faded memories.
It was a summer of firsts: I started my first job (£2.63 an hour to wear a white polyester trilby at Littlewoods café), went to my first gig (the astonishing Smashing Pumpkins, with Arthur and Tom) and even got a girlfriend for the first time (a little too soon after she'd broken up with Tom, if we're being honest).
Shearer’s show reminded me of many of the other moments I loved during that summer: Tony Adams’ searingly honest expression as he admitted that for too long England players were known for being “all heart, no brains” (a quote we repeated to each other frequently). Baddiel and Skinner sitting on their Fantasy Football sofa, which made me feel again the flash of excitement at staying up late to watch them. My proud prediction that this would be the tournament that proved Alan Shearer was rubbish (he scored five goals in England's five games, and was successful in both penalty shoot-outs). More strangely, during the documentary I saw a clip of a woman in the crowd wearing a loose red shirt (pretty much all 1996 clothing was loose unless you were in the Spice Girls), waving her arms and hollering in celebration, and immediately remembered seeing her twenty years ago and thinking she looked funny but it was ok because everyone felt like she did. Of course Three Lions has stayed in the memory, along with most of the lyrics and even the clips of commentary they used.
Jonny Clark's house was the usual location for our socialising and so played host to boys passionate about football and girls laughing at them. That’s where I saw the scarcely believable 4-1 thrashing of Holland, by which time our involvement had developed from general interest to innocent expectation of glory. Those friends were vital to getting me into and keeping me in church. When the quarter final against Spain came around, we, the church youth band, were in a minibus somewhere near Milton Keynes, trying to watch the penalty shoot-out on Ging's Sega GameGear with a TV adaptor. Unsurprisingly, it was only later that we saw Stuart Pearce's raging catharsis. The semi-final saw another new venue: youth leader Simon and Gwen's house, with the game frequently interrupted by “Tobi checks” as we turned the volume off to hear if our screams had woken their sleeping infant. He slept through another Shearer goal, a disallowed German golden goal, Gazza's agonising miss, and Southgate's misery. Mark gave me a lift home in his Fiat Panda for the umpteenth time.
Seeing players you first knew two decades ago, you can't help considering how they have aged. Alan Shearer has clearly always been a man in his mid to late-forties, as the interviews from 1996 show. Teddy Sheringham seems unchanged in a different way, and could probably still play a glorious sideways pass to Shearer when it looked for all the world that he would shoot. He was perhaps the least troubled by what might have been, perhaps sated by his treble-winning experiences of 1999. Terry Venables was living the dream in Spain but wanted to swap it all for a tournament win. Seeing Gazza was, of course, desperate. Ravaged by alcoholism and hopeless without football, he’s aged forty years since his finest summer. The sadness of what has become of him tinged everything else, making the story both better – it was only a game of football – and worse as you looked at the guy now and wondered what would be next for him. He clearly wanted to live in the past, and who could blame him?
Euro 96 confirmed a turning-point, however. It seems incongruous that John Major was still Prime Minister then, for this was very much a Tony Blair-era event: the country seemed colourful and confident again. Football mirrored this, leaving behind much of its working class white male background in a process that had begun after Hillsborough and the introduction of all-seater stadia, and continued with Nessun Dorma and Gazza's tears at Italia 90, and the formation of the Premier League in 1992. On the first day of the season after Euro 96, David Beckham scored that goal against Wimbledon and was described by John Motson in commentary as “surely an England player of the future”, which is exactly what he was.
Perhaps the only thing that hasn’t changed is that sickening feeling of hope deferred.