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.
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.
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.