So here we are at the start of another European Championship. For some, it’s a month of pointless international football while we wait for the start of the proper club football again. Each to their own. For me, it’s not just a month of football to watch pretty much every night when I get home from work, but it’s the international tournament I possibly enjoy most.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the World Cup is the pinnacle of international football. But it has a habit of almost boringly going to plan. Italia ’90 is the first one I remember and while the home nation hoped to win, ultimately the Germans got revenge over the holders Argentina. In 1994 in was Brazil on penalties – the only exciting thing about that final – and they’re the team who have won the cup most. In 1998 it was the hosts France where the biggest shock was Craig Burley’s hair dye – okay, it was the off-field Ronaldo story prior to the final. Not really the game itself though. in 2002 it was Brazil who won it again, in 2006 it was the Italians getting their fourth title, and in 2010 it was Spain finally living up to their potential after decades of under-achieving. I was delighted for Spain to finally win it, but then they’re by far and away the best international team I’ve seen play. Still no Brazil 1970 though. The only shock was they didn’t blow it again.
Compare that with the Euros. If Italia ’90 was my first World Cup then 1992 was my first Euros. First of all, it was the first time Scotland had qualified for it ever. That in itself made the tournament special. Then they threw us into the group of death with the holders Holland, the World Champions Germany, and what was a team made up of the former USSR who had lost the final four years earlier. They couldn’t have made that draw any harder for us if they had thrown Brazil and Argentina in as the ultimate curve ball. Unsurprisingly we lost the first two games to Holland and Germany. But we gave it a right good go and were pretty unlucky not to get something from both games. But then we played the “Commonwealth of Independent States” and gubbed them 3-0. They had drawn with the other two and still had a chance of qualifying from the group. But no, we battered them. We went home with two points (as it was for a win back then), a zero goal difference, and the most pride I’ve ever had in our national team. We even got the best fans award for kissing the Swedish police woman.
But that wasn’t the story from Sweden. They loved us, but the real story of Euro 92 was Denmark. With Yugoslavia getting thrown out at the last minute for being at war with itself, Denmark got called in late. Literally, they actually had to pull the team off the beach to take part. Then they went and won it. That just wouldn’t happen in the World Cup. Remember when South Korea were third in their own tournament in 2002? Yeah, that was amazing, but they didn’t win it having been on the beach the previous week! You don’t really get shock winners of the World Cup.
The one I don’t remember before Euro ’92, in Germany in 1988, Ireland beat England. People still talk about it today. Of course, Ireland haven’t been in the tournament since, but that will all come to and end this weekend when they play Croatia. But Euro ’88 also had one of the greatest goals ever scored. And it was in the final to clinch the trophy. Marco Van Basten was the striker I first wanted to emulate more than any other, and I’m fairly sure it was because of that goal. I don’t remember it, but people still talked about it.
1996 was the year “Football Came Home”. Funny, it never set foot in Partick. England thought they could replicate the World Cup from 30 years earlier by playing all their games at Wembley and using that to their advantage. But never mind that, the group had a Scotland v England game! They’d scrubbed that yearly match just before I took a proper interest in football so I had never seen it happen. Sadly we lost 2-0, but even I had to appreciate how good Gazza’s goal was. Prick. Still, when he didn’t connect with that effort in golden goal time against Germany, I think we all smiled. Almost as much as when Gareth Southgate missed the penalty. That was by far and away the best period of extra time I’ve ever watched. The Germans had the ball in the net but it ruled out and England hit the post as well.
Back in the group stages, I still haven’t forgiven Seaman for being megged for the Holland goal. If he hadn’t done that, Scotland would actually have qualified from the group. To be honest, we should have scored more than a single goal at the tournament. Bloody Craigy Negative Broon. Out on goal difference we went.
We haven’t been back at the tournament since, but that hasn’t stopped me loving this tournament. Euro 2000 saw us miss out thanks to another Scotland v England playoff – at least we won at Wembley which is still the last time we played them – but that I meant I got to watch a dream group where England and Germany BOTH went out. England had to make do with a narrow win over Germany, but Phil Neville conceding that last minute penalty which knocked them out… ah how we laughed.
The final was amazing that year too. Italy were seconds from winning the tournament, only for Wiltord to score in injury time to level the game. Extra time, so I went to the bar. I was literally handing over the money when I stopped and fixated on the screen behind her as Trezeguet scored the golden goal winner. The barmaid just took the money out of my hand as I stared at the screen, almost oblivious to her.
Euro 2004 was yet more proof that this tournament is crazy. Portugal should have won it. They were at home, they were a decent team, they had the best team in Europe in Champions League winners Porto… but no one told Greece. In the opening game, Greece beat them. 30 games later, they met in the final – after Portugal had knocked out England on penalties and their goalkeeper had scored the winning penalty – and Greece won it again. Sure, they were boring as all hell, but there’s still something nice about an unfancied team winning the trophy.
Then we had the last one – Euro 2008. England hadn’t qualified, and Steve McLaren was an umbrella legend for it, so our televisions were a bit downhearted about it. Aww those poor English commentators. Still, we got a decent tournament with the two best teams meeting in the final. Spain v Germany. That’s almost World Cup like. But in between we had the joy of Turkey’s last minute winner against the Czechs in a terrific dramatic ending to their group match. We had Andre Arshavin taking the Russians to the semis, past the much fancied Holland. This was Arshavin’s finest summer, having played such a big part in Zenit St Petersburg winning the UEFA Cup. I don’t care what Arshavin does for the rest of his life. He could sleep with my wife, I’d still make him breakfast because he stopped Rangers. But enough rivalry, this is the summer after all!
Will Euro 2012 bring up anything like this? I’m sure something will appear. Every one of the tournaments I can remember has had something special about it. I just hope it’s not England pulling a Greece and boring their way to the tournament. It’s impressive when an unfancied country does it, if it’s a big country it’s just sad. Personally, I’d like to see the hosts Poland win it, but then I would! Really, I’d like to see them do well, if only to prove that Group A isn’t as rubbish as many have said. But even if they don’t, we have the likes of Spain v Italy, England v France and Holland v Germany coming up early in the group stages alone. The latter stages will have excitement too, and we’re probably due another surprise package in the final like Denmark, Czech Republic and Greece have done in the past.
I’m as excited about this tournament now as I was twenty years ago. Bring on the football feast!