As an England supporter, you get used to the ups and the downs, the hope and the despair, the sublime and the ridiculous. It comes as part of the package!
The European Championships have been particularly dramatic over the years, giving England fans a fresh hope every four years, only to be let down tragically by a controversial decision, a moment of madness, or just by being downright dreadful. Let’s take a look at the rollercoaster of emotions that is England’s story at the European Championships.
Rooney’s coming of age, Euro 2004
At Euro 2004, England was in need of a new hero. The group of players that had disappointed in Holland and Belgium four years previous were largely still present, with only one new beacon of hope standing tall, and ridiculously over-hyped. Having made his debut for England in 2003, Euro 2004 was the stage set for Rooney to announce himself to the world.
He did so in stylish fashion, putting England’s opening group defeat to France behind the team with four goals in two games against Switzerland and Croatia. Finally, England fans suddenly had something to cheer about, and a new hero in their midst.
England crash out on penalties to Portugal, Euro 2004
Rooney was unable to repeat his miracles in the quarter-final encounter with Portugal, but England fans needn’t worry, because the bench was deep…oh, no actually it wasn’t. Darius Vassell was called upon to save the day, and so set in motion yet another agonising exit from a major tournament, featuring a slip on a loosely-turfed penalty spot from David Beckham for the first kick of the doomed shoot-out, and a goal and cheeky chipped penalty from Hélder Postiga, one of the Premier League’s worst ever strikers.
Shearer buries Germany, Euro 2000
England’s bitter history of tournament encounters with Germany needs no introduction. The old enemies were pitted against each other in the group stage of Euro 2000 – Germany featuring an old guard including Lothar Matthäus, seemingly mere days away from his pension, England with a left-sided pairing of Phil Neville and Dennis Wise.
The encounter was less than a classic – in fact both teams could legitimately lay claim to being the worst in the tournament – but when Alan Shearer was left unmarked in the area to meet a David Beckham free-kick, England fans were afforded a rare moment of cheer against their old rivals.
Phil Neville’s self-destruct moment, Euro 2000
When you’re relying on Phil Neville to help keep you in a major international football tournament, then you know you’re in trouble. But everything seemed to be going to plan with moments left of England’s Euro 2000 group stage decider against Romania. England had cut it fine, but a 2-2 draw would be enough to sneak them through to the quarter-finals ahead of their opponents.
Step forward Phil Neville, with a desperate 89th minute lunge at a Romanian who looked to be running the ball out harmlessly for a goal-kick. The tackle was hopelessly miss-timed and miss-construed. Of course the resulting penalty was gratefully converted, and England were on their way home again.
Holland schooled in total football, Euro 96
Euro 96 was truly the year when football came home – and what a tournament it was. England really only played well once all tournament, but when it was this good, it seemed to seep into our memories of every other match in the competition, imbuing each game with a rose (or should that be orange?)-tinted hue. For once everything just clicked, and England destroyed a perhaps technically superior Dutch team, who just didn’t know what hit them.
Shearer and Sheringham never looked so potent together, bagging two goals apiece, and suddenly it felt like England might just be able to go all the way.
England Möller-ed by Germany in shout-out, Euro 96
One of the all-time agonising England moments, the Euro 96 semi-final defeat to Germany was filled with everything that’s great about a tragic yet heroic England tournament exit. A herculean battle with an age-old football enemy, a desperately near-miss in extra-time that would have finished the match on a golden goal, a brave but technically deficient penalty-taker, and an arrogant German celebration to immediately give England fans someone to hate. Gareth Southgate’s agonising penalty miss, and Paul Gascoigne’s out-stretched, just-too-short leg stick in the memory, while Andreas Möller’s prancing celebration created an instant villain for us all.
Gascoigne’s glorious volley, Euro 96
Euro 96 actually got off to a slow start for England. A draw to Switzerland in the opening match left work to be done for Terry Venables’ men, and a slow start against Scotland in the next match had a few people starting to shift nervously in their seats. Alan Shearer went some way to easing concerns by heading a deep Gary Neville cross home to make it 1-0 against the Scots, but it was after Gary McAllister’s missed penalty that Paul Gascoigne stepped forward, and the Euro 96 party really began.
An exquisite turn, flick and volley, Gascoigne left Scottish stalwart Colin Hendry on his backside and slammed home in style. The celebrations were cheeky, a glimpse of the spirit of this England team, and one which would lift the whole nation with it’s enthusiasm.
Lineker subbed as Sweden dump England out of Euro 92
Euro 92 was a rotten tournament for a poor England side, and the manner of the defeat to Sweden which spelled the end for Graham Taylor’s side was indicative of everything bad about this England team. Having drawn their first two games of the tournament 0-0, Taylor inexplicably withdrew Gary Lineker, England’s goal hero (with 48 international strikes to his name) in what proved to be his last England match, replacing him with Arsenal’s Alan Smith. Tomas Brolin scored a peach to dump England out, and the tournament was better off without Taylor’s woeful side.
Stuart Pearce’s penalty heroics, Euro 96
England’s Euro 96 quarter-final against Spain was an unremarkable 0-0 draw, but will be forever remembered by England fans for the burying of some very personal demons by Stuart Pearce. One of England’s most lion-hearted performers, Pearce stepped up to take a spot-kick in the shoot-out, fully aware that the last time he’d done so in an England shirt was six years prior, when he missed in the World Cup semi-final defeat to Germany. The man affectionately known as “Psycho” gritted his teeth, stepped up and slammed the ball home with authority. The celebrations have gone down in England folk-lore.
Three strikes and out, Euro 88
England arrived at Euro 88 with a terrible record in European Championships. The last time they appeared, in 1980, they’d gone out in the group stage. In 1988 they fared even worse, losing all three of their games in humiliating circumstances. Bobby Robson’s men started appallingly, going down to Ireland thanks to Ray Houghton’s early goal. From there it got even worse, with 3-1 defeats to Holland and the Soviet Union, and England were on their way home with their tails between their legs.
England fans headed off on cheap Benidorm holidays to drown their sorrows in Sangria, and that summer’s smash hit single The Only Way is Up had a hollow feel for many… thankfully Robson survived (just), and went on to lead England to a World Cup semi-final just two years later.