My Summer With Des

This blog was first written for Live Forever Football, a website dedicated to 90s football.

“It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming, football’s coming home…”

A song so inspirational that it makes everyone forget that the first official international actually took place at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground, Hamilton Crescent in Glasgow in 1872.

Yes, I know what it really means, but we’ll come back to that later.

Has there ever been a more catchy football song than Baddiel, Skinner and the Lightning Seeds offering from Euro 96? I’m not sure there has, and certainly I can’t remember any football song before or since that’s been done for a tournament and has made it onto the stands and terraces. For all World in Motion was a terrific song, you don’t hear the crowds doing the John Barnes rap!

For Scotland though, Rod Stewart’s version of Wild Mountain Thyme, which he released under the title Purple Heather, was hardly inspiring and I’m sure many people have forgotten that’s what our official song was for the tournament until I mentioned it there.

But at least we had a song again.

After the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup in the USA, there was renewed hope that Scotland would build from that and take their place among the sixteen teams that would be playing in England in the summer of 1996.

While qualification for Euro 92 had been nothing short of remarkable given there were only eight teams in the final stages, doubling the number of places didn’t necessarily mean that qualification would be any easier.

For the World Cup qualifying campaign, only Russia and the Baltic states had been able to compete after the break-up of the Soviet Union. This time round there were a further six former Soviet states, as well as a newly split Czech Republic and Slovakia, and the former Yugoslav states of Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia. What remained of Yugoslavia was still at war with itself and so missed out, but that still meant 47 teams playing for just 15 places. To put that in perspective, four years earlier there had been just 34 playing for 8.

But still, the odds were better, and with a new manager in Craig Brown and the added incentive of wanting to play in a tournament just down the road in the land of our oldest rivals, all we needed was the draw to be kind to us.

And kind it was.

As third seeds, Scotland would have to hope that the top two seeds were relatively easy by comparison. Only the top two in each of the eight groups had any chance of progressing, with the worst two runners-up playing off while the others qualified automatically.

With the draw in January of 1994, by the time the World Cup had come and gone that summer we had already seen our two in action. Top seeds Russia had hammered Cameroon 6-1 with five of the goals coming from Oleg Salenko who would go on to sign for Rangers, but defeats to Brazil and Sweden had knocked them out of the tournament. Our second seeds, Greece, had fared even worse losing all three games without even scoring.

The rest of Scotland’s group comprised of Jari Litmanen’s Finland, the Faroe Islands and San Marino.

Another thing in Scotland’s favour was that, following two years on the road in the previous campaign, the national team were back at the national stadium. Hampden may not have been complete, but it was now usable for qualification again and that was good enough for us for the time being.

The campaign kicked off with a 2-0 win in Finland followed by a 5-1 win at home to the Faroes. With three points now in place for a win we had a maximum of six ahead of our first real test at home to Russia. Although Scotland took the lead through Scott Booth, Russia levelled through Dmitri Radchenko but a 1-1 draw still meant seven points from a possible nine to begin.

The major slip up though, came in December 1994, when a 1-0 defeat to Greece saw Craig Brown’s post-match analysis suggest it wasn’t all that bad because Scotland had more corners in the game. Most other people were far more concerned by the fact that Greece now had maximum points from their first four matches. With Russia having only played twice, the task of qualifying was now looking a lot more difficult.

The turn of the year saw fortunes pick up again. A goalless draw in Russia ensured they were kept at arm’s length, which became all the more important when they beat Greece away from home as Scotland won in San Marino. As the Russians played catch up on the number of games played against the other teams in the group, it was starting to look like a battle for second place was on the cards.

By the end of the 1994/95 season, Scotland were looking a lot better as a 2-0 win in the Faroe Islands was coupled by a surprise defeat for Greece in Finland. When the new season started, the big game at Hampden saw Scotland beat Greece 1-0. With just two matches left, Scotland were on the verge of qualifying.

Following a narrow home win over Finland in September 1995, Scotland’s second place in the group was confirmed the following month when Russia once again beat Greece, this time in Russia. That result ensured the Greeks could not catch Scotland and also that Scotland probably wouldn’t catch Russia at the top of the group given the gulf in goal difference.

There wasn’t even a question of Scotland avoiding the playoffs, it was a done deal. Scotland had amassed enough points already to qualify automatically for the finals. The final match at Hampden saw San Marino as the visitors, but since the results against the bottom team in the group didn’t count towards decided who the worst two runners up were, the game was meaningless.

Nevertheless, I distinctly remember standing at one end of Hampden watching Scotland record a 5-0 victory over San Marino. It was the only game of the campaign I managed to attend, but it was something of a celebration.

We were going to invade England. The only question now, was who would we be paired with?

Six and a half years earlier, the longest running annual fixture had come to an end. Since the aforementioned first international football match back in 1872, other than during the two world wars, Scotland and England had played each other every year. But in 1989 that run came to an end after England’s 2-0 win over Scotland at Hampden Park. Sadly, whilst still popular with the fans, the fixture was proving more and more difficult to fit into schedules and to make it meaningful for the players. So when the summer of 1990 rolled around with both teams heading to the World Cup in Italy, there was no scheduled match between them.

But that all changed after the Euro 96 draw in December 1995. Scotland were drawn in group A. Once again that meant facing the Netherlands at the Euros, although this was now a team that had only come through the qualifying playoff by beating the Republic of Ireland. It also meant facing our rivals from the previous qualifying campaign, Switzerland. Although Roy Hodgson had successfully coached them to qualification, he had left to take charge at Inter Milan, leaving Portugal’s Artur Jorge to take charge for the tournament itself.

Oh yes, and of course Scotland were also paired with the hosts, England. Cue seven months of excited build up.

The tournament kicked off on June 8th. Just like the World Cup in 1966, the hosts had somehow managed to ensure that all of their games would be played at Wembley as long as they won the group, so the pressure was on from the start. With memories of defeat to the Dutch still fresh in the memory from the previous World Cup qualifying campaign, Terry Venables men needed to get off to a good start ahead of that potential group decided in the final game.

And for a while they did. England took the lead against Switzerland through Alan Shearer midway through the first half, and appeared to be securing three points right up until Stuart Pearce handled in the penalty area in the closing minutes of the game and Kubilay Turkyilmaz slotted away the resultant penalty.

It would be another two days before Scotland would start their campaign at Villa Park, and just like in Sweden four years earlier, that start came against the Dutch.

But this Dutch side were a shadow of the one Scotland had faced previously. The likes of Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard had all moved on, leaving Dennis Bergkamp to lead the line.

No, really, that was a step down!

This was still a Dutch side to be reckoned with, even if they didn’t have their former winners of the tournament. Ajax, who had lost the final of the Champions League to Juventus the previous month having been the reigning European Champions, supplied a lot of the team. Edwin van der Sar in goal, Michael Reiziger and Winston Bogarde in defence, captain Ronald de Boer and Edgar Davids in midfield. Indeed, throw in Clarence Seedorf who had moved from Ajax to Sampdoria the previous summer and substitute Patrick Kluivert also of Ajax, and you can see just how difficult the task for Scotland would be.

But then again, the Champions League top goal scorer, Ajax’s Jari Litmanen, hadn’t done much against Scotland in qualifying.

Scotland needed a helping hand. So when John Collins got away with handling on the line during one of the many Netherlands attacks, that’s exactly what happened. In a backs-to-the-wall kind of a match, Scotland managed to achieve a goalless draw in the opening match and set the whole group up nicely for round two, and the trip to Wembley to face the hosts.

By the time the two oldest rivals in football faced off, the Netherlands had already beaten Switzerland 2-0 to go top of the table. Nothing less than a win at Wembley would now do for England, while for Scotland a draw would be an acceptable result… as long as you forget about the rivalry!

After a surprisingly quiet first half, Scotland were holding their own again. At 0-0, neither goalkeeper had really been tested all that much and with all the pressure on them the hosts were starting to get a bit edgy. But eight minutes after the break, Gary Neville sent an excellent cross into the Scotland penalty area and Alan Shearer was there to meet it and head past Andy Goram.

Despite that lift, England didn’t kick on. Indeed, it was Scotland who seemed to come to life and after having seen David Seaman save a header from him, Gordon Durie was then brought down in the area by Tony Adams to give Scotland a precious lifeline. All Gary McAllister had to do was slot it home for 1-1.

This wasn’t entirely unknown territory for McAllister. He’d scored a penalty against the CIS at Euro 92 after all. But at Wembley, against the hosts, your biggest rivals… that’s a different prospect entirely. A nation held its breath.

Another nation apparently did the opposite though and blew the ball off the spot just as McAllister finished his run up. Whether that slight movement on the ball actually affected McAllister’s finish is something we’ll never know for sure, but what is certain is that Seaman’s elbow kept the ball out of the net and kept England’s lead intact.

It was a bitter blow to Scotland’s hopes, but what followed very shortly thereafter was a severe kick where it really hurts.

Paul Gascoigne had been something of a controversial figure. At this point in his career, Gazza was actually playing his football in Scotland for Rangers, and had hardly been a quiet figure in another fierce rivalry in Glasgow. But it was a pre-tournament friendly for England where Gazza had got the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Several English players, but most notably Gascoigne, had been pictured on a heavy drinking session in Hong Kong doing ridiculous things like “the dentist chair” where the incumbent has alcohol poured directly into their mouth by friends. Hardly becoming of a top professional footballer.

Questions had been raised about whether Gascoigne should be in the England squad at all, and having been substituted off during the Switzerland game those fears were not dispersing. But Gazza would silence those critics by scoring arguably the second best goal in European Championship history.

Yes, second. Marco Van Basten, you know it is, don’t even ask.

Just moments after the penalty miss, Gazza receiving a ball from Darren Anderton and with his first touch with his left foot he chipped the ball over the onrushing Colin Hendry to take him completely out of the game. Not content with that, Gazza then volleyed the ball with his right foot past club teammate Andy Goram and into the net for 2-0.

As a Scotsman, and doubly as a Celtic fan, watching that kind of thing happen sends a lot of feelings through you all at the same time. There’s bitter disappointment as you know that’s game over now. There’s rage that it’s happened against you by your rivals. There’s more rage because you’re still feeling like you just blew the chance to equalise and now they’ve doubled their lead. There’s even more rage because it’s a guy who plays for your club rivals too.

Then there’s a wry smile because our goalkeeper plays for them too. Never mind the defender though, he hasn’t signed for them at this point, that comes later.

But above all of that, there’s sheer admiration for the ability to score such a technically brilliant goal. And then there’s more rage that you don’t actually feel as angry about the goal as you think you should purely because it’s just so good.

While all that’s running through my head, Gazza is off celebrating with his teammates in a mock dentist chair. Take that doubters, take that questioning media.

England’s 2-0 win over Scotland sent them top of the group and consigned Scotland to the bottom of it. We were now in “mathematically possible” territory again. With both England and the Netherlands winning by two goals, and us losing by that same margin, we now needed a five goal swing in our favour. So either we would need to hammer Switzerland by four goals at Villa Park and hope there was a winner at Wembley, or we would need to just beat Switzerland and hope for a hammering at Wembley.

Clearly then, you try to do as much as possible yourself, right?

If there was one baffling aspect of Scotland at Euro 96, it was Craig Brown’s use of Ally McCoist. The Rangers striker had reached legendary status by this point in his career, and was top scorer in Scotland for the reigning eight-in-a-row champions. So you would think that would be enough to see him starting every game for Scotland. But by the time the Swiss game came around, McCoist hadn’t played against the Netherlands and had only played the last quarter of the game against England.

Fortunately though, McCoist would start against Switzerland. With ten minutes left of the first half, he fired in a long range shot to put Scotland in front. Unfortunately for Scotland, that was possibly McCoist’s most difficult chance to score, having already missed two earlier in the match. Who knows, maybe he was just rusty from all that time on the bench.

Remarkably though, things were a lot better at Wembley. By the time McCoist had given Scotland the lead, England were 1-0 up thanks to an Alan Shearer penalty. Still three goals short of anything important at that point but by the hour mark, things were getting crazy. In just a five minute spell, Teddy Sheringham had scored twice either side of Alan Shearer’s second. One goal for Scotland, four for England, there’s your five goal swing!

As this new filtered through to Villa Park, Scotland tried their best to ensure they got the three points. Rather than pushing to get a second and with it a cushion that would see us mitigate anything going wrong at Wembley, Craig Brown’s men shut up shop and ensured the Swiss didn’t get themselves into the same position. After all, a win for them would see them through just as much as a win for Scotland would see us through.

Of course, this is Scotland and if there’s one thing we’re good at it’s finding new and creative ways to break the hearts of the nation. Although Scotland did indeed see out the 1-0 win to get the points on the board, the goal difference slipped away from us in the cruelest way possible.

Substitute Patrick Kluivert, only on the park five minutes earlier, slotted the ball through Seaman’s legs and got the Netherlands on the scoresheet. The 4-1 defeat may have looked bad on paper, but it was still just enough for the Dutch to join England in the last eight of the tournament and send Scotland up the road.

If only Seaman had shut his legs? Perhaps. If only Scotland had scored a second? Definitely.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, two years later the BBC managed to make it worse. Just prior to the World Cup kicking off in France, they aired a very strange drama called “My Summer With Des”. In that drama, Neil Morrissey’s character is down on his luck having just split up with his girlfriend. But at least he has football to distract him since Euro 96 is on and he can focus on that.

Except, bizarrely and inexplicably, Rachel Weisz’s character then turns up as some kind of lucky charm for both Morrissey’s character and for England. So much so that there seems to be some correlation as to how much Morrissey’s character is getting on with her at the time. They’ve just met when they play Switzerland, and things seem to be going well by the time they play Scotland.

So you can imagine that when England are beating Holland that relationship is about as good as it can get. Let’s put it this way, for one of the England goals there’s a timely climax.

But then we get the Seaman nutmeg as a post-coital scene. At this point, Morrissey almost literally looks at the camera and shrugs, only caring enough to say “oh well, that’s Cameron’s team out” where Cameron happens to be his Scottish friend played by John Gordon Sinclair. Cut to Sinclair looking despondent.

So now all the disappointment associated with narrowly missing out has some added jealousy to go with it because, let’s face it, Rachel Weisz is stunning. But I digress.

As per usual, Scotland had to look on and watch as the rest of the tournament went on without them. But this time seemed harder than usual, because we’d lost to England and the commentators seemed convinced they were going to go on and win the tournament.

They always get to that point somewhere along the line, don’t they?

To be fair, England in Euro 96 were actually exciting to watch, but I’m not sure I see that the same way anyone who was supporting England might see it. They’d blown away the Netherlands, but they hadn’t been too great against Scotland and the Swiss had proven difficult to unpick. What would happen when they met the other good teams?

Euro 96 was the first tournament to feature the Golden Goal in extra time, with the idea being to introduce a playground classic of “next goal’s the winner” to try and stop teams playing out time for penalties. Though it was later doomed to failure as teams became too scared to concede, in this tournament it actually worked.

England’s last eight game against Spain didn’t produce one. Instead we were treated to another penalty shootout where England memorably prevailed, with Stuart Pearce screaming after scoring his penalty six years after missing in another shootout. But as with the group matches, the 120 minutes before the shootout hadn’t been all that impressive by the hosts.

And next up was Germany.

England took the lead after just three minutes, yet again through Alan Shearer, but were pegged back thanks to Stephan Kuntz after just quarter of an hour. The remainder of the 90 may have been entertaining, but it was nothing when compared with the drama of extra time.

Firstly, Kuntz had the ball in the net but it was disallowed for a slight push. That must have been heart stopping for anyone supporting England, but there was an even more dramatic point in extra time that even had me at the edge of my seat.

One teasing ball from Shearer across the face of goal that was agonisingly close to the sliding Paul Gascoigne is an image I’ll never forget. Even in replays of that goal you think maybe he’ll get it this time. Sadly for England, he never does though. Just like the previous round, the game goes to penalties and consigns Gareth Southgate to pizza adverts.

As for the golden goal? It would eventually decide the next two finals, with Germany’s Oliver Bierhoff getting one against the Czech Republic, and four years later David Trezeguet would give France a World Cup and European Championship double with his. Sadly it would be gone soon thereafter, somehow construed as a failed experiment due to the fact we never really got anything as exciting as Kuntz’s ruled out goal and Gazza’s slide that never connects.

And what of Morrissey and Weisz? Well she disappears into thin air and he actually gets his life onto a course of happiness. Sounds a bit like Scotland at major tournaments and me leaving school, but that’s for the final chapter.


About Krys

I rant. On twitter, at work, on message boards... well, now I rant here too.

Posted on 7 October 2016, in Football, Live Forever Football. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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