England Football Songs: Nostalgic Epilogue (1996)

I’ve just watched a documentary about Euro 96 and had another round of the battle to realise that nostalgia is no excuse for not living your life.

It’s a bit of a sour point, today; something I didn’t really need to realise if I’m honest. Today would have been my dad’s birthday and I feel guilty for having a surprisingly okay day at work.

But one thing the BBC has always been great at, long-lived institution that it is, is looking back through its own field of vision to pull out the vivid memories you didn’t realise you remembered.

Paul Gascoigne dentist chair euro 96

The 1996 European Championship kicked off 20 years ago, on this very day.

My dad was pissed off because we were gonna be late getting home from the weekly shop in time for kick-off. It was his 41st birthday.

(The day’s lottery numbers were 11, 15, 17, 25, 32 and 46. The bonus ball was 29. I don’t remember this – that would be fucking mental if I did – but Google’s a wonderful thing.)

‘Pissed off’ may be a bit strong – that was reserved for the Saturday afternoons between August and May when Leeds were doing poorly – but I remember the drive home, and a news report on the radio at 3pm saying the match was underway.

The first of England’s group games, against Switzerland, finished 1-1. That is all I remember of the game itself, but the build-up to the tournament was spectacular.

I’ve talked about it before in my popular (as of last week according to WordPress) series about England Football Songs, but my 11-year old mind was blown by the sweeping optimism blowing up and down these shores. Not just about the football – we were alright, but we were nothing without Gazza – but about the place in general.

New Labour were parked up outside Number Ten, waiting for the Tories to stop pissing about with the furniture and hand over the keys; and the charts were filled with chest-beating Britpoppers chasing out the last vestiges of dreary, introspective, Americanised pop and alt-rock. Things just have not been the same since. But that’s the nostalgia talking.

Collapsed Lung – Eat My Goal

In terms of footballing merchandise, I’d made a deal with the devil that was Coca-Cola. For the low low price of a couple of dozen ring pulls (and more than a couple of fillings in my teeth) I touted a red t-shirt with the slogan ‘Eat Football, Sleep Football…”. Except…well, I didn’t, not really. But a popular chart combo played on the Coke adverts named Collapsed Lung had me convinced otherwise.

They say you never forget where you were when the really important things happen. Like the time I came out of band practice just in time to see Zinedine Zidane bid adieu to his glittering career with an awesome headbutt. I certainly remember where I was on the day that I’m specifically not going to talk about. And the other one too.

But at the age of eleven you’re just not sure what’s going to turn out to be an important thing, or what the important things even are to you. When I was eleven, shit, now that I’m thirty-one, I feel like there’s vastly more important stuff going on that I’ll never comprehend.

What I remember from Euro 96

I remember Paul Gascoigne’s goal against Scotland, a beautiful thing. I also remember just as well David Seaman’s penalty save from Gary McAllister, because Macca was the Leeds captain and seeing him being capable of missing a pen was like finding out there’s no Father Christmas.

I bought the official release of the Netherlands game on VHS, and I watched it a lot, but I still only really remember that Shearer goal – and I remembered that from the first time around anyway.

I remember nothing about Spain in the quarters. A nostalgic media more than filled those gaps in for me because Stuart Pearce scored a penalty. The whole narrative of the costly miss at Italia ’90 against Germany meant absolutely nothing to me at the time, so this wasn’t a thing.

And I do remember watching England go out on penalties to the Germans in 1996. I remember not really caring, but I don’t remember how my dad felt. He’s not the sort (fuck, I actually used present tense there, I’m leaving that in because I need a sign that today has buggered me up even in some small way) to make a big deal of it, because it was only penalties, and it was only England.

I remember being away with school on the night of the final, and overhearing two teachers talking about the result the next day. And not really caring.

Memory ache

The documentary I watched just now, keen to jam in a song from ’96 to suit every mood, played Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ just as everyone’s face fell after Southgate missed the important penalty. I don’t see anything remotely perfect about it even now.

The programme – well, it wasn’t anything to write home about. I was going to write a review of the whole thing but there really wasn’t much to it. Glorified clip show with new insight from the players, and a vast overuse of Three Lions, of course – even if the show actually did have 2016 Baddiel and Skinner on it.

But where it succeeded was in harking back to the heady days of 1996, with…well, clip-show portions and talking heads. But among its very many strengths, the BBC is very good at making me realise that I’m a sucker for nostalgia, as are most people I’m sure.

Nostalgia means time-pain or something, right? My prognosis is not good. I really need to work on that.

That’s probably the last of the England Football Songs column for a good while now; I’m not even sure if they bother releasing official efforts any more. But you can take a look back at the series by clicking here.

England Football Songs – 1996: It’s Coming Home

The Three Lions phenomenon takes hold as Euro 96 kicks off in England.

In 1992, nothing happened. Well, not for England at the European Championships in Sweden anyway. Scoring one goal in three games and losing to hosts Sweden in their final group game meant that they’d go out early and Gary Lineker would retire without being able to crack the English goalscoring record thanks to an early substitution by manager Graham Taylor.

In winning the bid to stage Euro 96 later on that year – which would be thirty years since their only World Cup win, and also on home soil – England could afford to relax…which maybe they did too much seeing as they didn’t get into USA ’94.

I remember being so, so psyched for Euro 96 – I’d collected the ring pulls from enough Coca Cola cans to send off for the official Euro 96 t-shirt, if that’s not a statement of intent then I don’t know what is. There was a real buzz about everything that year; it wasn’t that we’d actually win it or anything – even at the age of 11 I wasn’t that naïve – but everything just seemed different. In a good way.

David Seaman Euro 96 kit

Not even this shirt could’ve stopped me believing.

I remember watching a BBC documentary about this tournament and the time period it fell into, a real time of optimism for the country which was heading to the election booths just a few months later to vote in New Labour (apparently Tony Blair paraphrased the song at a conference a few months after its release). As it was during the Cool Britannia era of the mid-90s (as further explored in my Britpop post) there was that positivity of the period which was otherwise sorely lacking in 1992, and keeping that spirited feeling of community and cool is what two comedians and their musician friend were focused on when they released this gem:

 

This song is what really clinched it for me that year; shit was looking up. And for an eleven-year old cynic like me that really took some doing. It’s also the most featured role that Steve Stone would ever take up in the England setup but that’s a different story. Most notably, it was probably the first England football song that’s actually got a singalong part for the fans in the stands to adopt – and so they did, chanting it throughout the tournament and even more vocally during wins over Scotland, the Netherlands and Spain. Even eventual winners of the tournament Germany loved the song; Jurgen Klinnsman has mentioned in the past that their team coach was often the source of some serious Three Lions appreciation.

The Lightning Seeds, an Ian Broudie-led project which had recently expanded into an actual touring group, were cruising the waves initially thrown up by the resurgence of British guitar music; they’d had some mainstream success with songs like Lucky You and Sense, and Broudie was approached by the Football Association to provide the music for their official Euro 96 anthem. Broudie agreed on condition that David Baddiel and Frank Skinner provide the lyrics.

Bit of a strange one, this; at the time Baddiel and Skinner were the hosts of a weekly late-night comedy show on BBC2 called Fantasy Football League. While Baddiel had achieved cult fame as part of The Mary Whitehouse Experience on BBC TV and radio, Skinner was an up and coming comic who had previously acted and written for Channel 4 sitcoms. Though recognisable to comedy fans beforehand, it was still a bit of a gap between that Friday night football comedy programme and a co-writing credit on the number one single in the UK, but the show’s appeal rose and saw them become figureheads in the footballing community. Two bits stand out for me from that programme: football presenter Ray Stubbs getting in on the joke of a bad piece of player pronunciation and Peter Beardsley’s impressive celebrations after a four-goal haul in their Phoenix from the Flames segment. I highly recommend watching them both.

So on the back of an all-time national high both in football and the mood in general, how did our players fare in their own back yard? Well, they opened with a draw against Switzerland – in what was the Swiss’ first ever Euro match, so a bit of a disappointment – before big wins in Group A against Scotland (take it away, Gazza) and a massive 4-1 defeat of the Netherlands to send England through as group winners.

Penalties followed against Spain in the quarter-finals, but a combination of Stuart Pearce’s scary celebration and David Seaman’s scary shirt was enough to put England into the semis…where once again they fell on penalties to Germany. Penalties are always a crap shoot anyway but I see myself as something of a jinx in this regard – it’s probably just that the losses are more memorable but ever since this day in the summer of 1996, don’t bet on the team that I like to win it on penalties.

So it turns out that the only thing which came home in 1996 were the royalties for Broudie, Baddiel and Skinner – as they would again from every tournament ever since, where either the original ’96 version or one of several re-recordings with updated lyrics gets back into the charts. Three Lions ’98 was a number one two years later with a new video and new lyrics but none of them have the same charm or sense of self-belief that this one did. It’s almost definitely my all-time favourite football song because it’s a great pop song that holds some great nostalgia of the times for me.

Next up, 1998: the year that the rest of the music industry caught on that there’s money to be made at this football lark.