Thursday, 28 May 2020

Football Rewind: Euro 96 18th June 1996 England v Holland, Group Stage, Wembley. A big crowd but no "crowd scene".

Perhaps unusually for someone who doesn't support England, I spent last night watching their 4-1 Wembley win over Holland during Euro 96, on ITV, where all the games are being shown again, this time sponsored by Pukka Pies (other life-shortening crusts are available.)

I enjoyed this second full viewing of the Wembley rout a lot more than I did the first 24 years ago, when squeezed in among a joyous mob of England shirts in the Top of The World pub, looking on solemnly as my country scored a flurry of beautiful goals past the lovely Dutch. England's encouragingly staid displays in the opening draw against Switzerland, and in the first half against Scotland, annoyingly gave way now to a Terry Venables style of wide boy swagger, just as I'd pinned all my hopes on my Orange heroes putting their schoolboy squabbles behind them and denying the host nation the draw they needed to qualify for the knockout rounds (which, like turning 40, is when it really begins).

My mate with me didn't want England to win either, and we secretly brought our worship of Cruyff, Rep, Neeskens, Gullit, Rikjaard, Koeman and Van Basten to the all-standing arena of our second choice brewery in town (our local, the Gade & Goose, had taken the extraordinary and disappointing decision to close for refurbishment on the eve of the tournament). Sadly, none of those players were playing for the Dutch anymore, even if there was a Cruyff in name, though watching the game back in my living room, they weren't as flat as I'd assumed - well yes, ok, Holland is actually flat, but their team wasn't such a shadow of their great teams, just lacking a bit of personality in midfield in this post Wouters, pre Frank De Boer era.

We watched on resentfully as one our "friends" from school, also a G&G regular, jumped up and down with one of his oafish Spurs pals in particular celebration of Teddy Sheringham's goals. The "friend" noted our sombre demeanour later and told us "you should be praahd!" in his made up Londoner accent. Our prahdest moment came when sub Patrick Kluivert rolled Dennis Bergkamp's beautiful pass beyond David Seaman to reduce the arrears to a mere three and, in the process by goal difference, save Holland from elimination at the expense of Scotland, who were beating Switzerland 1-0 thanks to a goal from future ITV pundit Ally McCoist.

I wasn't sure if it was this goal that we subtly, or maybe not, saluted or whether it was the four goals we didn't that led my mate to claim that we were being stared at aggressively by a nearby England fan. "Just a defence mechanism, mate, been here before and all that, got the broken hearts to keep us grounded, er grahnded. You heard the song, Guv? Thirty Years Of and all that".

Might have said that.  

There's no denying the quality of Sheringham's performance or of a Gazza Gascoigne, free from carrying around Wouters' elbow in his ear, but watching the whole thing back it's clear that the thing England miss most is Brian Moore. Don't mean to hurt your feelings Clive but he shits on you. That natural, warm-hearted, unrehearsed enthusiasm, that sudden growl at moments of high excitement or anxiety, the reliable outing of "six and one and half a dozen of the other". Mooro's voice gave way in surprise delight after Sheringham's second goal. "Four!" he faltered grandly. How would you do it, Clive? Try and be our friend would you? Try to be a bit...cool. "England have only gone and scored a fourth!" "Where were the Dutch?" Quite frankly, who cares?!"

I'd been expecting Mooro's sidekick to be Big Ron, and quite looking forward to a bit of much-missed observational pottery, but as if airbrushed for a fixture of notable multiculturalism, his ultimately fateful tones never came, and the voice of Kevin Keegan, fresh from telling Richard Keys to tell Alex Ferguson this and that, decorated the occasion instead with some welcome insights. "De Koch is a big lad but not very mobile and I think Shearer can cause more problems for their defence" he said at the very beginning of the second half with England winning 1-0. Also, at 4-0 , "Bergkamp will be happier with Kluivert on the field, he doesn't like being a striker".
A pundit telling it how it will be rather than after it has happened.

As for the guys in the studio, well Bob Wilson observed that John Barnes ("as a player who just missed out on the squad") was "delighted" with the result, and maybe he was, but these footballers are good actors. David Ginola looked nothing other than the model of a patriotic Frenchman throughout BBC's coverage of the '98 World Cup in France, only for it later to turn out that he'd rather have had his eyes bleed out than witness his chosen compatriots lift the prize. 

Co-summariser Jack Charlton, who'd predicted a cagey, dour affair, and showed flashes of a future Shearer with searing interruptions of Barnes' flow that he wouldn't have been able to manage as a defender, was momentarily silenced when Wilson prompted him to remember the last time England had scored four in a tournament match. 

"Oh, Germany in the Final...I always remember it as three!"

Some unexpected crowd moments (if you can imagine such a thing now) included Dutch fans smoking, which was presumably allowed back in 1996 (then again we were all going to die that year, so why not?) and England fans mocking them with "You're not singing anymore!", always an interesting chant against a foreign country or club, but then in all fairness (getting back to Big Ron) the majority of Dutch fans would have understood. Though singing "You're even worse than Scotland!" was surely self-effacing right? I mean, to mock a Scotland team and a Holland team who'd both beaten a Switzerland team whose only point came against England?! Well done Bulldog Bobby's, always the self-deprecating champions.

Most surprising of all for me was that Baddiel and Skinner and Brodie's Three Lions didn't get an airing until the 58th minute, and rather underwhelmingly, too, while Swing Low Sweet Chariot, a ruddy Rugby song, got two rounds of stadium-sweeping harmony. 

I was quite amused that the Dutch sub 'De Koch' replaced Richard/'Dick' Witschge, although it doesn't seem as funny now that I've written it. On the subject of not funny, I noted that there wasn't a trace of humour in the rather curt, obligatory responses to Gary Newbon in the post-match battlefield. El Tel himself couldn't wait to get away, using only a Drogba-esque number of words to an overworked microphone, while the seated Sheringham and Shearer hardly played the belles of the ball. Shearer, seemingly having failed to deposit all his frustration out on the pitch, was brimming with anger, moaning that "people can write what they want". He seemed to basically be saying that all people in the media are arseholes.

That hasn't changed, Al.                               

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