The summer of 2021 will live long in the memory of English football fans as manager Gareth Southgate took England to the very edge of glory, aiming to end 55 years of footballing hurt and rekindle the spirit of previous glory. Whilst ultimately ending in heartbreak for Southgate’s young squad, the feeling generated by his team’s promising performance throughout the summer brought joy to the nation. But, this was not the first time, and won’t be the last, that the country was gripped with Euro’s Fever. 25 years ago, England played host to EURO 96.
Plans for EURO 2020 to be the first ever cross continental tournament were scuppered by the pandemic, meaning England hosted a larger proportion of games than was originally planned, Euro 96 was all England’s from the outset. Despite being the first home tournament for the Three Lions since their famed World Cup triumph in 1966, Terry Venables’ men weren’t considered to be amongst the pre-tournament favourites. Euro 96 was only England’s second time hosting a major international competition – it also saw an expanded competition for the first time, doubling in size to 16 teams for the tournament’s 10th iteration.
England’s quest for glory began at the Old Wembley Stadium in front of 76,000 fans in the opening group-stage game, but a disappointing result followed as Venables’ side could only manage a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in spite of efforts from star striker, and eventual top-scorer, Alan Shearer. From then on, the only way was up for England. Following the early disappointment they comfortably beat arch-rivals Scotland before putting 4 past the Netherlands in the last group stage encounter. Any win against neighbours Scotland will be fondly remembered, with this particular encounter having extra significance. Culturally, it saw the explosion of Baddiel and Skinner’s ‘Three Lions on a Shirt’, which rang around the stadium after the full-time whistle – ‘Football’s Coming Home’ was born. Just as in the summer of ‘21, England topped their group with 7 points and advanced into the quarter-finals.
Historically the Three Lions and penalty shoot-outs have not been a match-made in heaven, but after a goalless draw in the capital, they managed to overcome a talented Spain side, winning 4-2 on penalties. However, achieving a semi-final position would turn out to be the pinnacle for this England side as they crashed out on penalties to eventual winners Germany. The ironic twist being that current manager, Southgate, missed the crucial spot kick. Therefore, Southgate will know all too well the feelings of Bukayo Saka and co. as England experienced heartbreak yet again on home soil this summer.
Although 30 years of hurt has quickly turned into 55, that’ll never stop us dreaming.