Sport

England vs Holland

Maybe I’m romanticising the past, but footballers of the mid-Nineties were far more interesting than they are today. Take the current Premier League and its reliance on athleticism, power, and fitness — that’s something Matt Le Tissier could only give for one minute, not 90. He’s the sort of wonderfully selfish player missing nowadays.

On the other hand, it was probably a good job he didn’t make England’s squad for Euro ’96. Bar Paul Gascoigne, you needed to be a team player for that honour. We had born winners such as Paul Ince, regimented defenders Tony Adams and Gareth Southgate, and striking chemistry between Teddy Sheringham and Alan Shearer.

After scraping a draw with Switzerland in the opening group game, England showed a glimpse of what they were capable of with a 2-0 win over Scotland — best remembered for Gazza’s goal, which he celebrated by getting his team-mates to spray a bottle of water on him, and slightly less recalled for Uri Geller’s claims that he made Gary McAllister miss a penalty that day.

England’s next test came in the shape of Holland, who, on paper, were a stronger outfit: Edwin Van Der Sar, Clarence Seedorf, Dennis Bergkamp, whichever of the De Boer brothers wasn’t out injured… They had strength all over the shop.

Yet we kept the ball majestically for the entire first half, and to steal Ruud Gullit’s phrase, played some sexy football. For a team so accustomed to retaining possession with flamboyance, it was enjoyably surprising to see the Dutch get schooled in technical ability by the English before the break. We went in a goal up courtesy of an Alan Shearer penalty [above], which my 16-year-old self was contented with, but I had a feeling we could get more. And in the second half we did. Holland looked clueless against our frontline strength and wide-man pace, particularly when one goal saw Gazza ghost into the box, lay it on for Sheringham, who squared to Shearer — a man who didn’t need asking twice before he rifled it into the net.

We ended up winning 4-1, and it was the first time I can remember us crush a great team. That skyrocketed our confidence. The proof? We won a penalty shoot-out in the following game against Spain.

Inevitably though, our demise came against Germany, in a semi-final penalty shoot-out, and normality was restored. The English nearly-men were back. Still, we’ll always have Holland…

Right Here, Right Now is out now; russell-howard.co.uk