Alan Shearer’s Euro 96: When Football Came Home documentary which was aired by the BBC on Wednesday night was a wonderful trip down memory lane and great opportunity to wallow in nostalgia. In a world where some, genuinely and bizarrely, seem to question the value of the BBC, the organisation deserve credit for creating a fantastic throwback documentary to England’s last great chance of footballing greatness on the tournament’s twentieth anniversary.
The programme saw Shearer, one of the stars of England’s Euro 96 squad, meet up with some of the other squad members to share their memories and to find out how it affected their lives. Shearer met up with manager, Terry Venables, at his Spanish hotel and he travelled around England to speak with former colleagues Paul Gascoigne, Teddy Sheringham, Paul Ince and David Seaman. The only regret is that there weren’t more of the former squad included in the programme. That said, the appearance of David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, who sung the ubiquitous Three Lions anthem as England’s tournament song, perhaps offered the most interesting insight into English football culture in 1996. Commentators John Motson and Barry Norman also offered another perspective.
There was a lightness of touch about the film. Whilst we all know the agony of losing to Germany on penalties in the semi-final (I think this was the first time I ever cried about the outcome of a football match) there seemed to be genuine fondness for that period in time by the ex-players. It was a celebration of a moment in history rather than a post mortem of a crushing defeat. There were tales of great team spirit and genuine optimism amongst the squad, which seemed to be reflected in the popular culture of the time. The explosion of Brit Pop seemed to be the soundtrack, along with Three Lions, of Euro 96.
There were moments of sadness, too. Gazza’s problems with alcohol and his own demons are well documented and it was bittersweet to watch highlights of his immense talent on show during Euro 96 knowing full well that he was on the brink. Tony Adams was also suffering in silence during the tournament and not long after the defeat to Germany he publically declared he was an alcoholic. One can’t help but think that some of the things the squad got up to can’t have helped, if some of the anecdotes shared in the programme are anything to go by. Thankfully, Adams managed to overcome his struggles but Gazza has tragically continued to struggle.
From a personal perspective it was a real treat to throw back the years to my childhood. I turned nine a day before England beat Scotland 2-0 at Wembley and it was wonderful to spend an hour reliving those moments of watching, who were at the time, my heroes. As a nine year old Manchester City fan, domestic football wasn’t that much fun in the mid-nineties but there was something terribly exciting about Venables’ England team. My child like innocence meant that I knew no footballing tribalism so the fact that Paul Ince had played for Manchester United made no difference to me. In truth, I probably didn’t even know he had at the time. He, like everyone else in the squad, was an England player first and foremost and I loved them. Shearer was a particular favourite and to see the footage of him setting the world (or Europe) alight in ’96 was fantastic. As is often the case with nostalgia, every day was sunny but that actually seemed to be the case during Euro 96. There is footage to prove it.
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Written by Rob Toole