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An A-Z of England at the Euros (part one)

In the run-up to Euro 2020 this summer we will be looking back at England’s past fortunes at the European Championship, via an A-Z format. We begin today with letters A-E…

Auld Enemy

There haven’t been too many occasions when England and Scotland have met as part of the European Championship. But when they have the games were memorable, with far more riding on them than just local pride. It may well not happen, but there remains a chance that the sides could face each other at Wembley during the group stage of Euro 2020.

They met en route to Euro ’68 – with the Home International Championship doubling up as a qualifying group – as Scotland proclaimed themselves world champions after winning at Wembley in April 1967. But England would display slightly more consistency in the remainder of the qualifying games and that meant the 1-1 draw they achieved in the return was enough to claim top spot and a place in the last eight. Some similarity would exist when they met in the play-offs in November 1999, as the Scots won 1-0 at Wembley but lost out overall courtesy of two Paul Scholes goals in the first leg at Hampden Park.

Paul Gascoigne scores in style for England against Scotland during Euro ’96.

But the most famous European Championship meeting came during the group stage of Euro ’96, the luck of the draw reuniting the sides after their annual clashes had been scrapped. In the Wembley sunshine there would be three pivotal moments during the second half that the game would forever be remembered for. A spell of crisp English passing ended with Gary Neville putting a superb cross over for Alan Shearer to head home; David Seaman pulled off a vital penalty save to deny Gary McAllister; and moments later Paul Gascoigne produced an unforgettable goal to seal the win.

Coming a week after a tame draw against Switzerland, the second half galvanised England’s campaign and that was further evidenced by the Wembley crowd jubilantly singing along to Three Lions at the end. Paul Wilson wrote in The Observer: “If England are still singing this time next week, something really might be coming home.” What duly happened a week later is something we will come to later in the series…

Butcher

Of all the England players never to make an appearance at the European Championship since it expanded in 1980, one name stands out. Terry Butcher featured prominently in the World Cup tournaments of 1982, 1986 and 1990. But fate would conspire to deny him ever being involved in the finals of the Euros. The 1980 tournament came slightly too soon, making his international debut just days before the finals, while England were pipped by Denmark to qualification for 1984. His retirement from international football meant he was out of the picture by 1992.

However, his most significant absence was Euro ’88. Butcher played in five of England’s six qualifying games, including the superb 4-1 win away to Yugoslavia in November 1987 that sealed a place in the finals. But just six days later he broke his leg playing for Rangers against Aberdeen. He would be ruled out for the remainder of the season and that included the European Championship. Rangers would miss out on retaining the Scottish title and his absence would underline the vital role he played in holding the England defence together, as the side suffered the humiliation of losing all three games.

The young pairing of Tony Adams and Mark Wright (with Dave Watson replacing Wright in the final game against USSR) would not work out as hoped as England conceded seven goals, with Marco Van Basten giving Adams a particularly uncomfortable experience in the second game.

The injury Terry Butcher sustained in November 1987 would spell bad news for both Rangers and England.

“We were always going to miss Butcher,” rued Bobby Robson when asked why England had flopped in the finals. “You can’t replace him. You can only fill in.” He refuted suggestions his midfield general Bryan Robson should have been selected at the back and remained adamant he had taken the best three central defenders with him to the finals. But he clearly knew that he would have to revise his defensive selections in the future, with Des Walker making his debut in September 1988 and becoming a regular alongside Butcher in the heart of the back four.

Clemence

England’s continual failures to qualify for competitions in the 1970s meant a number of high-profile players would make a belated debut at a major tournament at Euro ’80. They included Ray Clemence and goalkeeping rival Peter Shilton, who between them held four European Cup winners medals when England headed out to Italy.

Ron Greenwood would find it tough to choose between the two star goalkeepers and opted to have them sharing duties, the pair regularly alternating. It was an arrangement that had some logic, in that he was trying to appease both Clemence and Shilton and find a workable solution to having two celebrated custodians at his disposal. But both men naturally wanted to be the outright number one and Greenwood would be criticised for being indecisive over the issue (Brian Clough was insistent he would have gone with Shilton).

The rotation arrangement would apply at Euro ’80. Clemence would keep goal for the games against Belgium and Spain, with Shilton going between the sticks for the middle match against hosts Italy (he would presumably have played in the final had England got there).

Ray Clemence saves a penalty as England beat Spain at the 1980 European Championship.

Clemence would certainly have a memorable tournament in the two games he played. He required treatment during the game against Belgium, after his vision became impaired when tear gas was sprayed amid violent scenes on the terraces in Turin. But on a happier note he saved a penalty against Spain, helping England win 2-1 and at least have a victory on the board as they exited in the group stage.

But these would ultimately be the only matches he ever played at major tournaments. The 1982 World Cup saw Greenwood at last opt to ditch the rotation system, with Shilton starting all five games for England. Greenwood’s successor Bobby Robson then installed Shilton as outright number one and Clemence had retired from international football by the time England next qualified for a major finals – the 1986 World Cup.

Did it cross the line?

The expectation and hype surrounding England was lower than usual as Euro 2012 commenced. Widespread disillusionment had set in after the ‘Golden Generation’ had failed to even make a semi-final, with the side now in transition. The months leading up to the finals were overshadowed by Fabio Capello’s departure, with Roy Hodgson replacing him despite plenty of public support for Harry Redknapp. Hodgson would have to prepare for the finals without Wayne Rooney for the first two games, due to suspension.

But England did well enough in his absence, drawing 1-1 with France and beating Sweden 3-2 to have control of their own destiny as they prepared to face co-hosts Ukraine in Donetsk. A point would ensure England went through but they wanted victory as they sought top spot, with Rooney marking his return by scoring in the infancy of the second half.

John Terry hooks the ball clear for England against Ukraine, with footage suggesting it had crossed the line.

Two years earlier England had felt aggrieved over a ‘did it cross the line?’ moment during the defeat against Germany at the World Cup. Now the boot was on the other foot, as Marko Devic’s shot appeared to go over the line before John Terry hooked it away. In a world before VAR, there were continual calls for the introduction of goal-line technology and this incident only added to the demands. It proved decisive as England held out to win 1-0, giving them their first win over a host nation at a major tournament since beating Switzerland at the 1954 World Cup. Fortune had been on their side as they emerged as group winners and prepared to face Italy in the last eight.

Extra-time

Four England matches during the European Championship have gone to extra-time, but none have been settled then as they all proceeded to penalties. There were no goals in the additional period when England played Spain and Germany in Euro ’96 and Italy at Euro 2012, while both sides found the net to restore parity when they faced Portugal in Euro 2004.

But for sheer drama, it’s hard to beat the first period of extra-time during England’s momentous clash with Germany at Wembley during Euro ’96. The golden goal rule had been introduced and the initial signs in this tournament were it was inhibiting teams more than encouraging them to have a go. Yet this game would show just how utterly compelling the format could be if both sides went for the jugular. In this one period of extra-time there would be more significant action than had been served up in 120 minutes between Czech Republic and France earlier in the day.

Just two minutes had passed in extra-time when Darren Anderton struck the post from close-range after good work by Steve McManaman. It was a good indicator of the drama to come. Germany then seized the initiative as Thomas Helmer put a ball into the box that Stefan Kuntz was unable to connect with. They would soon step it up a gear, Andreas Moller breaking from deep and firing in a powerful effort that David Seaman pushed over the bar.

From the ensuing corner there would be a brief moment of panic for England as Kuntz headed the ball into the net, only for it to be ruled out for a push. “A country’s pulse rate must be beyond natural science,” said the ever-perceptive Barry Davies in his BBC commentary. The nation breathed a collective sigh of relief as play resumed.

Germany had been on the ascendancy, but now it was England who turned the screw. Eight minutes into extra-time came THE moment, the one that would be forever talked about as living proof of just how close England came to ending 30 years of hurt. Teddy Sheringham played a lovely ball out to Alan Shearer out on the right. He instantly returned it towards the six-yard box, where Paul Gascoigne was running in from midfield and well-positioned. The English nation was preparing to rejoice. And then came the crushing reality. Gascoigne failed to connect by literally inches with the goal at his mercy.

Paul Gascoigne fails to get the vital touch during the enthralling first period of extra-time against Germany during Euro ’96.

What tends to be forgotten is it was shortly followed by a similar opportunity, where again a ball was floated into the box and Gascoigne was unable to get a touch on it as he stretched out. The chance wasn’t as clear-cut as the first, but it could still be filed under ‘near-miss’ – as could an effort from Anderton shortly before the break that went narrowly wide from distance. Despite the stakes being so high, there had been multiple moments during this period of extra-time which had so nearly produced that elusive golden goal for both sides.

“That 15 minutes alone will be remembered with great joy or despair depending on what happens,” said Davies as the teams changed ends ahead of a quieter second period of extra-time. We all know what subsequently did happen and, from an English perspective, it would be heartbreaking. But it was certainly an epic night in which millions watched enthralled. Just a shame we are forever left with the sense of ‘if only’…

More memories of England at the Euros next month…

englandmemories View All

Blogging about the history of the England national football team, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s.

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