Book Review – When Football Came Home

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This summer marks the 20th anniversary of Euro ’96. Although there may not be as much focus on the tournament’s landmark anniversary as there is on it being 50 years since England’s World Cup triumph of 1966, it is certainly not being ignored. A new book, When Football Came Home, has been written by Michael Gibbons and helps capture the spirit of the competition staged in England – which the hosts so nearly won but suffered penalty heartache in the semi-finals.

The front cover of this book does not depict Paul Gascoigne scoring his wondergoal against Scotland, England celebrating beating the Dutch 4-1 or Stuart Pearce screaming with delight after scoring his penalty against Spain. Instead the image is of Gascoigne missing the ball by inches with the goal at his mercy during golden goal extra-time against Germany. It’s an incident at the heart of the book, Gibbons dwelling more on the significance of this moment than Gareth Southgate’s decisive miss in the shoot-out. It reminds us England were literally inches away from reaching the final and in all probability winning Euro ’96.

Gibbons picks up the story with England failing to qualify for the 1994 World Cup and Terry Venables taking charge of the team shortly afterwards. As the book’s sub-title of ‘England, the English and Euro 96’ suggests, England are the primary focus but the tournament as a whole is rightly afforded detailed coverage. Memories such as Romania’s ‘did it cross the line?’ no-goal against Bulgaria, the emergence of Croatia at their first major tournament, BBC pundit Ruud Gullit coining the phrase “sexy football” and the Germans winning the final with the competition’s first golden goal are all recalled along with many others.

The author has clearly done his research and one of the book’s strengths is digging up some of the long-forgotten details of the competition. Examples include England forward Teddy Sheringham helping lead the way in internet coverage of the tournament at the time with his website Teddy Hits the Net (anyone remember it?); UEFA rejecting a request by Denmark to play in their stadium host Sheffield Wednesday’s colours of blue and white as a mark of respect to those killed in the Hillsborough disaster; Germany being granted special dispensation to call up extra players to their squad for the final amid a plethora of injuries and suspensions; and the FA suddenly withdrawing its request at the 11th hour for David Baddiel and Frank Skinner to perform the competition’s hit song Three Lions on the Wembley turf prior to England’s match with Germany.


Teddy Sheringham scores and you could read all about it on his Teddy Hits the Net website!

The book recalls the contrasting impression visiting nations left at the clubs they trained at and towns they stayed in, from the eventual finalists Czech Republic winning plenty of friends at non-league Bamber Bridge to Bulgaria being so unimpressed with what was on offer at Scarborough that they upped sticks and moved to Stockton-on-Tees. Germany it seems generally created a decent impression during their visit, despite manager Berti Vogts being extremely critical of Macclesfield Town’s Moss Rose pitch where they trained. Such details may not represent the most significant moments of Euro ’96, but their inclusion gives added depth and colour to the book.

Gibbons is clearly nostalgic about Euro ’96 but this is not a one-eyed love letter to the tournament. As well as hailing the successes, he reflects on the competition’s failings including the significant number of empty seats at some matches, a truly dreadful semi-final between France and the Czech Republic and the negative approach teams generally adopted under the new golden goal extra time ruling (England’s clash with Germany being a notable exception). He also goes into detail on England’s infamous pre-tournament trip to China and Hong Kong and is scathing about the xenophobic conduct of the English tabloid press during the tournament.

Nor does this book glorify England’s achievements. Gibbons details how fortunate they were to win against Spain in the quarter-finals and takes them to task over how only the five likely takers practised penalties, those in charge not appearing to consider the possibility of a shoot-out going to sudden death – which it duly did as they lost out against Germany. “It was an extraordinary oversight,” Gibbons writes, bemused at how this eventuality had not been considered during 27 months of preparation.

The Cross of St George was increasingly seen on flags waved by fans from this tournament onwards.

The author tells of some other key changes that took effect during Euro ’96, including how England fans were now starting to increasingly wave flags bearing the Cross of St George at matches rather than the Union Jack. Gibbons also notes that the public response to Southgate making a Pizza Hut advert with Pearce and Chris Waddle – as he was condemned in some quarters for making light of his penalty miss – gave strong hints of the increasingly melodramatic way the public would react to anything concerning the England team. “The subsequent outcry was an indicator of where football was about to go,” he writes. “Rage became all the rage. From Euro 96 it was possible to map a rising hysteria with all things relating to the England team.”

The shifting political and cultural landscape of the time is recalled, particularly musically with the rise of Britpop and the impact bands such as Oasis had in the mid-1990s. The feelgood factor from that summer is perhaps the lasting memory. If you aren’t old enough to remember Euro ’96 then this book may help give some explanation of why it is so fondly recalled by most of us who were around for it. And if you did watch it all, this is a good way of reliving the competition two decades later. It’s an excellent read, which does justice to both the tournament and the period in England.

When Football Came Home: England, the English and Euro 96 is written by Michael Gibbons and published by Pitch Publishing. The book is priced £12.99.

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