Football enthusiasts of a certain vintage were given a proper treat last Wednesday night when the BBC screened Alan Shearer’s Euro 96: When Football Came Home. The documentary charted England’s run to the semi-finals of the European Championships on home soil 20 years ago.
It was interesting to Shearer try his hand at presenting. He did front a couple of short films during the 2010 World Cup but the less said about them, the better.
Shearer might not be a polished TV front man but he was the perfect choice to take this role. He was the Golden Boot winner after hitting 5 goals at the tournament and proved a capable interviewer of his former team mates and boss, cajoling answers from them that others have failed to in the past (for instance, Paul Ince’s revelation that he was next in line after Gareth Southgate to take a penalty against Germany.)
The documentary first focuses on the build up to the tournament and England’s boozy escapades in the Far East. The dentist chair antics predictably invoked the ire of the English press but reflecting on it 20 years on, Shearer and co convincingly argue that the episode actually strengthened the bond between the squad.
Shearer headed to Spain to catch up with the England coach for Euro 96, Terry Venables. Venables, who now runs a hotel in Spain, looks in fine form for someone of 73 years of age and is engaging company. In fact, one of the main takeaways I had from the documentary is that Venables is a man criminally undervalued by English football. Ultra-charismatic, tactically shrewd and a superb man manager, it seems a waste that he was only in charge of the national team for one tournament.
Teddy Sheringham, David Seaman, Paul Ince and Paul Gascoigne are the teammates with whom Shearer reminisces. It was a shame not to hear from Tony Adams or Stuart Pearce and one would have thought Gareth Southgate and Gary Neville, both current employees of the FA would have been willing to discuss their experiences, however, they were absent.
Maybe Shearer picked the players he had the best rapport with. His breezy chat with Sheringham around a golf course certainly had all the bonhomie one would expect from two old pros but it’s the Gascoigne stuff which really pulls at the heartstrings. Filmed in a car on the way to meet Gazza, Shearer offers up some of the most profound analysis on the troubled star I’ve ever heard: “I hope daily and I pray daily that the worst hasn’t happened to Gazza because the world would be a sadder place without him.” Coming from a former colleague and friend, it’s particularly poignant.
As we roll through England’s adventures in the tournament, from the lacklustre draw against Switzerland to the crucial win against Scotland, the demolition of the Netherlands and the shootout dramas of Spain and Germany, we hear from David Baddiel and Frank Skinner on the impact their song ‘3 Lions’ had on the nation (“a real key tapper” according to Venables when he first heard it.)
John Motson and Barry Davies, the BBC’s leading commentators also pop up to offer their memories and it’s delightful to see that there still a little good natured rancour between the pair.
Sadly, Gascoigne is the ghost at the feast throughout. David Seaman tells a truly horrifying tale of him watching Gazza take a sleeping pill and try to “fight it” by staying awake. The most tortured soul of his generation, it’s upsetting to see the gaunt figure he has become juxtaposed with the images of him scoring that goal against Scotland.
Looking back now, one can only hope that Euro 96 doesn’t prove the high water mark for England supporters of my generation but let’s be honest, the only thing that could top reaching the semi-finals of a tournament staged in our own back yard would be to actually go and win something. Can Roy Hodgson go one better than Terry Venables? Will Harry Kane become the new Alan Shearer? Will Dele Ali replicate Gazza’s goal against Scotland in France as he pretty much did against Crystal Palace last season? The answer to all these questions is probably no but that won’t stop England supporters hoping and in football it’s the hope that sustains, rather than kills you.
Alan Shearer’s Euro 96: When Football Came Home is available on BBC iPlayer for the next month. Go and watch it now.