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Euros 2021: Why was Euro 96 so special for England and why did it capture the hearts of the nation?

The days when football came home

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Euros 2021 is in full swing, with newspapers and websites in full nostalgia mode for Euro 96 and England.

The 1996 tournament, held in England, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and once again fans are transported back to those heady, sunny days.

But why was it so special and why did it capture the nation’s heart?

Euro 2020: Why was Euro 1996 so special?
Alan Shearer in his heyday (Credit: MICHAEL PROBST/AP/Shutterstock)

Euro 2020: What happened in England’s opening game in 1996?

The tournament kicked off (pun intended) at Wembley when England played Switzerland.

If ever a tournament failed to provide an explosive lift-off, it was this first game.

England started well enough thanks to Alan Shearer’s goal after 23 minutes, but as the game went on the Swiss team came back into it.

Read more: Nadia Nadim joins ITV Euros pundits for – what happened to her father and is the footballer married?

When they equalised in the 83rd minute, England fans felt that familiar crushing feeling they had come to know only too well.

But nothing could prepare them – or the nation – for what was to come next.

Euro 2020: Why was Euro 1996 so special?
Gazza celebrating his special goal in inimitable style (Photo by Shutterstock)

What happened when England played Scotland?

Prior to the tournament, the tabloids had slammed star player Paul Gascoigne and his group of his teammates for going on a bender during a team get-together.

The Sun screamed “DISGRACEFOOL” as a topless, booze-soaked Gazza looked three sheets to the wind.

Back on the field, England took on Scotland on a sweltering day in a must-win game for both teams.

Once again, England went ahead thanks to Shearer.

However, like Switzerland, Scotland came back into it and won a penalty.

The next minute would change the course of the tournament for both teams.

Gary McAllister’s spot-kick was saved by David Seaman and then, in a flash, the ball went quickly to the other end where Gazza knocked the ball over a defender and volleyed into the back of the net.

One of England’s greatest-ever goals scored by a player who only weeks before had made headlines for all the wrong reasons!

How did they celebrate? Gazza lay down on the pitch and his teammates squirted sports drinks into his mouth – recreating the ‘dentist’s chair’ drinking game they played during the pre-tournament get-together.

Euro 2020: Why was Euro 1996 so special?
Stuart Pearce got redemption (Credit: Photo by Ted Blackbrow/Daily Mail/Shutterstock)

What happened in the rest of the tournament?

After smashing a much-fancied Dutch team 4-1, the nation suddenly started to believe.

Flags were everywhere, the sun was shining and it seemed everyone was invested.

The quarter-final saw England take on a resolute Spanish team, and the game went to penalties.

Up stepped Stuart Pearce.

The Nottingham Forest left-back was in tears when he missed a crucial penalty in the shoot-out during the World Cup semi-final in 1990.

It was time for redemption, and after he smashed it into the net he turned to the crowd and screamed as six years of anguish suddenly lifted.

Euro 2020: Why was Euro 1996 so special?
Poor Gareth Southgate consoled by David Seaman after missing a penalty in the semi-final (Credit: firo Sportphoto/DPA/Cover Images)

Sadly, the semi-final didn’t quite work out the same for England.

After dominating against Germany, the game went to penalties again.

Where six years earlier it was Pearce, now it was Gareth Southgate, who missed the crucial penalty.

England were out, unbelievably, when it looked like they were going to win the tournament.

Euro 2020: Why was Euro 1996 so special?
Frank Skinner and David Baddiel singing Three Lions (Credit: The Lightning Seeds/YouTube)

Why was it so special?

Quite apart from having a great team, England as a nation suddenly came together as one.

Britpop had taken over, the Spice Girls were happening in a big way, Cool Britannia was in full flight and the sun was shining gloriously.

And then you had Three Lions.

Read more: What channel are the Euros on? Graeme Souness lands ITV pundit gig – who else is on the team?

Written by comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner (who hosted hit football show Fantasy Football League on BBC Two) and Lightning Seeds singer Ian Broudie, the song became a huge hit.

It was sung in the stands, in pubs and bars, out of windows, and it was constantly on the radio (yes, people listened to radios back then) and in the streets.

Gazza’s goal and celebration, the summer sun, a resurgence in Brit culture and Three Lions made the summer of ’96 very special indeed.

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