Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Never stopped me dreaming: How Euro 96 illuminated our world

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Twenty-five years ago, when football last came home, the Euros captured the hope and spirit of the time. Is there any chance this year’s tournament can do the same?

A quarter of a century on and history repeats itself. England are hosting the Euros, playing Scotland in the group stage, and football’s coming home again. In 1996, it came home for the first time. It was the first major tournament England had hosted since the World Cup victory of 1966. England fans also hoped it was coming home in the larger sense – that the country was going to win the European Championship and end 30 years of hurt. But despite the best efforts of a team fired by the maverick brilliance of Paul Gascoigne, England lost in the semi-final. On penalties, of course. To Germany, of course. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Now it’s 55 years, and the clock still ticks away relentlessly, mockingly.

For England football fans of a certain age, Euro 96 was a golden age – or golden three weeks. For those like me, not quite old enough to remember the World Cup victory of 66 in real-time, but old enough to remember all the false dawns and muted dusks, that summer was special. It wasn’t simply the achievement – after all, England reached semi-finals in 1990 and 2018 at the biggest tournament of them all, the World Cup, but neither resonated quite like 96. It was a coming together of all kinds of things – style, hope, politics, culture, commerce, sunshine, under the great brolly of international football. Twenty-five years on, might it just happen again?

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