Happy New Year and welcome to 2016 – a year that sees England make the short trip to France for Euro 2016 but it will also contain landmark anniversaries for three tournaments that frequently crop up in conversation in this country…
The first is Euro ’96, which took place 20 years ago in June. England were hosts and it remains the last time they reached the semi-finals of a major tournament. It could have been so much more as well, as they looked to end their 30 years of hurt. A never-to-be forgotten semi-final against Germany ended in heartbreak and since then the wait has gone on and on. But the tournament brought good memories too, including Paul Gascoigne’s wondergoal against Scotland, the 4-1 demolition of the Dutch and England actually winning a penalty-shoot-out against Spain.
England celebrate Paul Gascoigne’s goal against Scotland during Euro ’96.
This year will mark 30 years since Mexico ’86, a World Cup fondly recalled by those old enough to remember it. For England it was another case of what might have been, with controversy right at the heart of it during the quarter-final defeat against Argentina and Diego Maradona. His ‘Hand of God’ goal has been discussed over and over again, as has his supremely taken second. But England did have the consolation of boasting the tournament’s top scorer in Gary Lineker. England’s exploits at Mexico ’86 may not be talked about quite as much as Italia ’90, but the competition still attracts plenty of nostalgia – with the tournament as a whole generally considered more entertaining than what was served up four years later.
The infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal by Diego Maradona against England in 1986.
And there is of course one other landmark anniversary this year – 50 years since the greatest day for England, when they won the World Cup. The first, and sadly only, major silverware they have ever got their hands on. It has been a long wait for glory since then, made worse by the fact they have never even appeared in another final. The 1966 final is well remembered for numerous reasons, but perhaps less so was England’s tournament as a whole – with their strong defensive record helping steer them towards glory. Kenneth Wolstenholme’s words have gone down in folklore as Geoff Hurst completed his hat-trick in the final to seal a momentous victory.
Bobby Moore holds aloft the World Cup in 1966 – England haven’t even reached a major final since then at senior level.
During 2016, we will look back at these three tournaments particularly closely, as well as reflecting on England’s past efforts or failings at the European Championship. This year also marks 10 years since England’s fairly uninspiring showing amid much anticipation at the 2006 World Cup – but it remains the last occasion they won a knockout match – and 15 years since the sensational 5-1 win away to Germany in a World Cup qualifier. It will also be 40 years since the 1976 European Championship, which seemed to cope perfectly well without non-qualifiers England, and 60 years since England first met Brazil.
It has been 50 years of hurt for England since the glory of ’66 – but there have still been some happy moments along the way amid the pain. We look forward during 2016 to continuing to reflect on the past highs and lows…