The Verdict: Our football team pick out their England highs and lows

Our football team pick out their highs and lows from following England over the years

With Euro 96 hitting our screens again, our football team pick out their highs and lows of watching England over the years.


Paul Higham (@SportsPaulH)

Highs

Stuart Pearce celebrates scoring a penalty against Spain

It’s a funny one with England as you certainly seem to remember those soul-crushing major tournament exits more than any big-game victories, as ultimately the aim is to lift that elusive trophy and end the now half-century of hurt. More often than not there’s penalty heartbreak, a red card injustice or other cruel manner of defeat that really twists the knife too.

England have perfected the glorious failure routine over the years, with perhaps the 2018 World Cup in Russia an exception due to the wave of public goodwill that Gareth Southgate’s side enjoyed.

There have been some tepid and forgettable campaigns mixed in with some extraordinary ones down the years. Personally I can just about remember Mexico 86, while Italia 90 as a tournament was the one that really made us all sit up and take notice, get hooked on the drama, the hope, and, yes, even the despair of watching the Three Lions in a major tournament.

Being in Germany for the 2006 World Cup was a special experience and that 5-1 performance in Munich was another moment of magic - perhaps the best one-off display I’ve witnessed, certainly in qualifying games anyway.

It has to be Euro 96 though, there’s still something magical about that summer that will always come to mind when talking about England – was it the weather, the fact it was a home tournament or Baddiel & Skinner’s football anthem? Everything just seemed to click.

In a way, that penalty defeat against Germany, and THAT near miss from Gazza was the perfect cocktail of England at a major tournament.

The shootout win over Spain was tight and tense, not really 'enjoyable', but for me the stand-out was the night against Holland and that demolition job.

Dennis Bergkamp, Clarence Seedorf, Ronald de Boer, Edwin Van der Sar, Patrick Kluivert – plenty of big names in orange but England blew them out of the water. A performance like that, on a night like that, in a tournament like that – and at home! It just doesn’t get any sweeter.

Lows

Wayne Rooney sent off against Portugal in the 2006 World Cup

How long have we got here? Like I say every tournament ends in disappointment if you don’t win it, but there are ways of losing I suppose, and England certainly have a taste for the dramatic.

If you analyse it too much you could argue that these agonising defeats, that sense of injustice with penalty defeat or red cards for David Beckham and Wayne Rooney may well have prevented a more serious breakdown of how and why teams packed with talent couldn’t go on and win these big games. Self-improvement masked by that stinging injustice could well be behind England’s below-par efforts.

England have had some stinkers through the years, when we’ve talked ourselves into thinking we could go all the way, even with a journalistic head on, when you consider some of the teams they fielded from the so-called 'Golden Generation' there was legitimately enough talent in there to at least get to a final and maybe even pick up a trophy.

The 2004 and 2006 defeats by Portugal on penalties probably sting most – and while '06 had the Cristiano Ronaldo 'wink' and Rooney red card, I thought England had a much better chance of winning the Euros two years earlier.

Playing in Portugal against the hosts, England got a flying start with Michael Owen’s goal and his partnership with Rooney looked far too much for the Portuguese to handle.

Rooney had announced himself at this tournament and everything looked like coming together, only for the youngster to go off injured after half an hour. The inevitable late equaliser followed and England then had to come from behind in extra time to force penalties.

Then came THAT penalty spot in the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon. David Beckham went flying as he blazed his spot-kick wildly over the bar, his foot collapsing in the sliding turf. That coupled with annoying goalkeeper Ricardo then stepping up to score the winning penalty in sudden death made this defeat in particular one that really sticks in the mind as one of the hardest to deal with.



Joe Townsend (@JoesterT)

Highs

Paul Gascoigne celebrates for England after his goal against Scotland at Euro 96

It's easy to automatically think that being an England fan is littered with crushing disappointment, but it hasn't been that way for me.

Maybe I have rose-tinted specs thanks to being a six-year-old when Euro 96 happened (it's my first football memory) and it's therefore made me the eternal optimist when it comes to the Three Lions.

Starting back then, while for many the deflating feeling of deja vu following Gareth Southgate's miss and Andreas Muller's winner in the semi-final penalty shootout defeat by Germany is likely the overriding memory, but for me it was the round previous.

I still distinctly recall running up and down the street celebrating well beyond bed time after David Seaman was the spot-kick hero against Spain.

Between then and 2018, David Beckham was responsible for almost all of my abiding positive experiences of being an England football fan - aside from the 5-1 win over Germany in Munich in 2001, when Steven Gerrard's strike and Emile Heskey's DJ celebration are all I can recall, and the Theo Walcott-inspired 4-1 thrashing of Croatia in 2008.

A Beckham free-kick in what seemed like a brilliant win over Colombia at France 98 evokes some special childhood memories, then there was Captain Fantastic's 'cometh the hour, cometh the man' stoppage-time equaliser against Greece to clinch World Cup qualification three years later, before his own personal redemption moment against Argentina in the tournament itself.

I can still visualise his kiss-the-badge celebration after rifling in a penalty on the stroke of half-time.

Boy did he make up for that 1998 red card!

David Beckham's red card v Argentina

Euro 2012 was special for me as I was lucky enough to be there for a superb to-and-fro 3-2 win over Sweden in Kiev that I'll both never forget and also barely remember...

But the 2018 World Cup knocks them all out of the park. While I was a fan six years earlier, I had the privilege of covering England in the build-up and then at the tournament in Russia itself.

Really, the entire experience is difficult to boil down but if I had to pick out one moment it would have be Eric Dier's penalty to beat Colombia in the last-16 shootout. To witness such a historically significant moment truly was something special. It felt like a weight had been lifted not only off the England football team, but the nation itself.

So much had penalty shootout failure has become entwined in the fabric of England's being that it was trotted out as a cheap metaphor for any situation in which it could possibly be shoehorned.

In one moment all those years of pain were exorcised, and they drifted off in to the Moscow night sky as like a bad dream. The sense of disbelief that England had finally won on penalties, and the sheer joy that it produced, was amazing.

Lows

Rooney sees red against Portugal

Let's just rattle through a shortlist of major tournament disappointments that I can remember distinctly.

David Batty's penalty miss against Argentina at France 98 after Beckham's red card, Phil Neville giving away a needless late penalty against Romania to ensure a group-stage exit at Euro 2000, David Seaman being caught out by Ronaldinho's free-kick in 2002, penalty shootout defeats by Portugal in 2004 and 2006, Frank Lampard's goal not being given during the eventual 4-1 thrashing by Germany in 2010, penalties again in 2012 this time against Italy.

I'll stop there. Because it actually gets worse.

By far and away the worst memories I have are of when as England supporters we actually yearned for a penalty shootout defeat to wallow over.

First, there was 2007 when Steve McClaren was christened the 'Wally with the Brolly' as a home defeat by Croatia ensured England's absence from a major tournament for the first time since 1994. That was a cruel, cruel night.

Steve McClaren with his famous umbrella

It was made all the worse by the half-time introduction of David Beckham and Jermain Defoe inspiring a comeback from 2-0 down to 2-2, which would've been enough to clinch a place at Euro 2008.

Oh and don't forget that one of the Croatia goals came from a Scott Carson howler, a man who had inexplicably been given his competitive England debut in the highest of high-stakes games.

The feeling in the pit of my stomach when a second Luis Suarez strike meant a group-stage exit in 2014, and then the total exasperation watching what looked like a team of strangers conspire to lose to Iceland two years later were desperate lows as well.

But both the World Cup of 2014 and European Championship of 2016 had momentary highs: Daniel Sturridge's quick-fire equaliser against Italy at the former and late winner against Wales at the latter spring to mind.

England failing to qualify for Euro 2008 by losing away to Russia and at home to Croatia in the space of a few days, when all that was needed was a solitary point, remains utterly galling to me.



Dale Tempest (@SkyBet_Dale)

I was born in 1963 so my England experiences go back a long way. The good, the bad and the downright ugly as a football fan born in this green and pleasant land... I've seen them all.

I was three when we won the World Cup so my first real memory was Mexico 1970. I knew all the words to 'Back Home', the players' World Cup song which went to number one and hence that was when the ritual of footballers thinking they could sing began. Maybe we should do the highs and lows of England’s tunes... 'Back Home' was my favourite, I still have it in the loft closely followed by 'Three Lions'.

The worst - and there have been plenty of bad ones - was probably Ant and Dec in 2002 with 'We’re On The Ball'. Just awful. Anyway, I digress - back to the football.

Gordon Banks

The Gordon Banks save against Brazil was the iconic moment that is still as clear today as it was as a six-year-old sat on the sofa with my dad and brother.

I still blame Peter Bonetti for the 3-2 Germany defeat. I was inconsolable given that they were 2-0 up in 50 minutes through Alan Mullery and Martin Peters only to then witness my first ever England implosion. I should have known then there was only pain ahead.

I’m not going to dissect all the individual 56 years of my personal hurt as an England supporter as my colleagues have looked at and highlighted all the main moments. Wow, there really have been some corkers, but I have two big issues I want to mention.

As a player during some of those years (1980-1997), I have watched closely the England squads, managers, players, and tactics.

I actually played against the full England side in Les Strong’s testimonial in 1982. We lost 3-0 and I didn’t get a kick.

Peter Shilton, Kevin Keegan, Trevor Brooking, Bryan Robson, Ray Wilkins, Glenn Hoddle, Paul Marriner, they were just too good but, to be fair, we had been promoted to the Championship a few days earlier so we were a bit worse for wear.

That England squad were on their way to the 1982 World Cup in Spain, led by Ron Greenwood. I didn’t know what betting was back then in the early 80s but I did know England were always fancied to do well.

We’ve always thought we were better than everyone else, our expectations through the roof in every tournament. Maybe it was arrogance or narrow-mindedness, I’m not sure but we have always dismissed football around the world as simply inferior to our own.

I went to play in Belgium in 1986 and it changed my mind dramatically. I quickly learnt tactically and technically English football was so far behind what was happening in Europe. We worked all day on individual technical drills, we talked for hours on strategy and tactics.

After a few months I knew the roles and responsibilities of every position on the field. My touch became brilliant. It was the best I ever was as a player, completely different to anything I’d ever experienced at home. It blew my mind. I could suddenly play.

Sadly I returned to England after one year, moving to Colchester. To start with, I felt a million dollars and within three months I remember going home and telling my wife I was back to being an average player.

We played 5-a side, had a day off, played a game, had a day off, played 5-a-side, played another game. It was awful.

The point I raise is that no matter how good we thought our top players were, English football was so far behind Europe and South America. I remember Arsene Wenger arriving at Arsenal in 1996 and reading about his approach and focus on tactics and techniques. He was regarded ahead of his time. Arsenal were doing what I’d been doing 10 years earlier at a small club in Belgium.

English football has always overrated itself massively.

My second huge irritation at following England has been our inability to take penalties. I wish I had a pound for every player or England manager whose said, 'you can’t practice penalties' - ABSOLUTE RUBBISH.

Harry Kane scores his penalty against Colombia in 2018

A penalty is a technique. Do you think golfers don’t practice short putts because they can’t replicate the 18th green in a final round?

They hole hundreds of them so that when it’s required under pressure the mind and body takes over to implement the action. A penalty taker should know exactly the number of steps/paces he’ll take away from and towards the ball. I was no great penalty taker but I practiced forever into an empty goal. Ten penalties every session, six steps back, short strides, five into one corner, five into the other. On matchdays I simply followed my process and very rarely missed.

Alan Shearer was always regarded as a top penalty taker but I remember reading his comments during a World Cup that the players were well prepared for penalties as they had taken one every day since they arrived at camp. ONE for goodness sake. It’s always made my blood boil. Anyway, that’s my rant over.

We have an incredible amount of young talent in the English game but even now when you look back at Russia 2018 and honestly assess the tournament our players weren’t technically gifted enough or tactical astute enough to keep the ball when in front against Croatia and Columbia.

At least we won a penalty shootout as it did look like finally an England manager (Gareth Southgate) had spent sometime working on them. Happy days.

They say that as a football fan it’s the hope that kills you. I think that’s probably true, but it won’t stop me craving for national success.

Let’s hope one day it does actually come home - but you wouldn’t find me betting on it. Stay safe.



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England captain Tony Adams in action during Euro 96

Rob O'Connor's Euro 96 rewind

In these troubled times let Rob O'Connor take you back to the glorious summer of 1996, when 11 days changed football in England forever.

England celebrate during victory over the Netherlands at Euro 96


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