Tuesday 2 June 2020

Euro 96 Rewind: 22nd June 1996 Spain v England, Wembley Quarter-Final: "Twat", the first step to one step beyond

With Paul Ince suspended, Big Ron was released for England's next Wembley appointment, back in alongside Mooro for the first ever international tournament match where a Golden Goal might decide it.

"I have to confess I don't like it", Big Ron mused over the new 'sudden death' element of tournament football, which now bowed to teenage kickabouts-over-the-park by taking it's "Next goal wins" feature.  Big Ron's confessions, though, were his own trademark, along with "spotter's badge" and others I might mention in a bit, and it was comforting to hear him getting in this staple of his ('on air') co-commentary diet. Big Ron made many confessions during his gantry life, so it might seem odd that there was no such prefix before his biggest sin, although "in fairness" he had thought the shutters were down that fateful April night of 2005 in Monte Carlo.

Yet on this June afternoon in North London, with trophy-bound Eng-er-land - after their swatting of the Dutch - taking on the Spanish in the last 16, it was the normally squeaky clean Mooro who appeared to blot the proverbial. During the latter stages of the second half after Big Ron had commented that he'd barely seen Ince's replacement, David Platt, in the oppositions's penalty box, Mooro clearly says "twat" when Paul Gascoigne receives possession of the ball. This may have been a gut-reaction stab at Platty, who to be fair to the lad had been asked to suppress his attacking instincts to fulfil his containment role, or was perhaps an accidental unveiling of his distaste for Gascoigne, though a third option presenting itself is an 'in-joke' contest the commentary team had set themselves, which involved saying an offensive word at some point during the match (a similar game to the one England's players devised at the World Cup in France two years later when naming pop songs during interviews).

If the microphone men were indeed up to jolly japes, then fair play to Mooro - back in 96 I'd watched the match at home with my mum and sister, and only 24 years later has one of us noticed - but potentially this is a bittersweet story. No doubt Big Ron was giggling away to himself while Mooro went for broke, but let's say this popular game carried on into the next decade, century no less and, with practically every naughty utterance already riskily planted by a succession of paid observers, who is not to say that a Champions League semi final involving, say, Marcel Desailly, came at a time when imagination was exhausted and, with so few options left, a ramping up of pressure and impulse led to a co-commentator knocking one out of the sky?       

"Phew, in reflection Clive, I'm bloody glad I didn't go through with that rick! I just thought I'd try it off-air, assess the risk, if you like, but there's no chance I'll go through with it for the Final...what's that, you say?"

Here in the safe confines of the national stadium, nine full years before that night, Big Ron's biggest gaffe was to wonder in the first half whether "David Pleat might step into the centre of midfield". As we all know, Pleat has never stepped into midfield, only galloped there like a loose racehorse in a suit, hailing the avoidance of relegation at Maine Road.

Whilst not everything I've said may be 100% true (though can you rule any of it out?), I rewatched this quarter final assured by my long-held belief that Spain were desperately unlucky to lose. Julio Salinas' shot past David Seaman was still onside, and Spain (with so much promise still to unfulfill) carved England open time and again only to shoot themselves in the foot rather than at goal. Big Ron and Mooro were also united in believing Gascoigne, not learning from Italia 90, had chopped down Alfonso for a clear penalty that wasn't given; indeed Alfonso was booked - ticked off by both a relieved Gascoigne and the ref. 

The penalty is a difficult one, as Gascoigne put his foot in the way of Alfonso who dived over it. Wayne Rooney and Jamie Vardy have won penalties out of Arsenal this way and - surprisingly I know - I yelled injustice both times, but while there is an element of doubt there, it is indisputable that Spain's centre half Fernandez Abelardo should actually have been sent off in the first ten minutes - before the incorrect offside call against Spain and their raft of opportunities. Having clattered Shearer from behind in the mould of (Steve) Bould within seconds of the kick off, Abelardo then manhandled Steve McManaman who'd just put the ball beyond him down the right flank. If Aberlardo had been sent off, the Salinas injustice may not have been so easy to create, nor the attacking dominance displayed by the visitors.

Maybe England would still have played so poorly after the dismissal, but what should have been clear to me watching this first time around was that England were never going to win this tournament on their own soil. The Holland game was, as Big Ron told Frank Skinner on his chat show those nine years later, "an aberration". Holland, it turned out, were nice to play against, and it wasn't so easy against a greater intensity. Or maybe England were just a bit tired, although people say highly paid professional footballers aren't allowed to be, so of course it couldn't have been that. 

I did hesitate over watching this match, and indeed any other Euro 96 match 'relived', after I'd read the tagline on the ITV Hub. "Watch all the games from the greatest ever Euros". Really? What I can only assume is the person who came up with that hasn't watched any of the games on the service he's promoting, or indeed any of Euro 84, 88, 2000 or 2012. I can't comment on anything before 84, but thinking of it, 2008 and 2016 were probably better than 96 too. The next 'available episode' after Spain v England is France v Netherlands, and I remember itching with anxiety over the dullness of that one back at the time. This match up was merely a succession of free kicks outside each box that nobody could take properly; what should have been the Final of the World Cup two years later was somehow so bad in Manchester.

Perhaps it is the 'greatest ever Euros' because it was over 'ere, with Frankie Skinner and little Dave Baddiel and the boy Broudie. 

Sugar Coated Lies.                          

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