For those of a certain vintage, proof that time elapses quicker as you get older arrives in the fact that the 25th anniversary of that Euro 96 group game between international football’s oldest enemies is tomorrow.
June 15, 1996. It seems like yesterday.
Deliciously, the milestone arrives in a tournament week when Scotland face the auld enemy on the hallowed turf once again. Friday’s episode will do well to beat the drama of ’96.
Amid a summer of love when Britpop ruled the airwaves, there was unremitting tension, a missed penalty and, of course, that goal from Paul Gascoigne.
Described in one outlet as ‘sporting a bizarre, luminous hairstyle which looked like the result of a bet accepted during a stag weekend’, the irrepressible Geordie provided one of the most iconic moments in the history of the European Championships – piqued by the fact that he played his club football in Glasgow.
Just over 29 years earlier at Wembley in April, 1967, another gifted midfielder playing his club football in enemy territory in Sunderland’s ‘Slim’ Jim Baxter played an impromptu game of keepie-uppie as he and his Scotland team-mates inflicted a first defeat upon England since they won the World Cup in 1966.
Almost three decades on, this was a schadenfreude moment for the English as Gascoigne scored a goal from the Gods.
Receiving the ball from Darren Anderton on the left, Gascoigne instinctively flicked it over Colin Hendry’s head with his left foot to leave the bamboozled defender on his backside before unleashing a stunning low right-footed volley past Rangers’ club-mate Andy Goram. Perfection.
Speaking a few years back, Gascoigne said: “Poor Colin, I bumped into him in London years later and he said ‘Gazza, what are you doing I thought you lived in Bournemouth?’ I said: ‘What are you doing here, I thought I left you at Wembley?’
Gascoigne’s celebration was similarly iconic and told a story. For the uninitiated, he lay on the ground as his team-mates squirted water into his mouth in a re-enactment of the “dentist’s chair” drinking game which took place among England players after being given the night off on the final evening of a pre-tournament trip to Hong Kong.
Naturally, Gazza had been at the heart of the antics out east at the China Jump club. The press got wind of it and the pictures to go with it and a front page appeared under the headline ‘DISGRACEFOOL’ – with a sub-heading of ‘Look at Gazza... a drunk oaf with no pride’.
Gazza and his team-mates were then in for the high jump after a ‘commotion’ on the flight home which ended in airline Cathay Pacific issuing an estimated £5,000 bill for some damaged television screens.
A heap more press vilification arrived before Gascoigne provided the balm in the final stellar contribution of his quicksilver international career.
He later bought 50 copies of one newspaper featuring the celebrations and stuck them around the Rangers dressing room at the start of pre season.
Before that Scotland game, there was only opprobrium from the English media.
England’s tournament opener, a 1-1 draw with Switzerland, underwhelmed and the Scots were the better side in the first half of the contest at Wembley.
But an interval masterstroke from Terry Venables changed the course of that summer Saturday.
He brought off Stuart Pearce, switched Gareth Southgate to left-back and brought on Jamie Redknapp in midfield, with Steve McManaman moved to the right.
The Liverpool duo played a role in England’s clinical opener.
Played into space on the right, the overlapping Gary Neville sent over a peach of a cross which was headed home by Alan Shearer to seemingly settle English nerves.
In time-honoured fashion, England elected to sit back and almost paid a heavy price.
Rotherham-born David Seaman produced a blinding save to claw away Gordon Durie’s far-post header from John Collins’s cross. Unfortunately, the hosts failed to heed the warning.
Supplied by Stuart McCall, Durie invited a clumsy challenge from Tony Adams 13 minutes from time which rightfully saw a penalty awarded.
Sent the wrong way by Kubilay Turkyilmaz when the Swiss were awarded a spot-kick, Seaman had his moment at the expense of someone usually nerveless in penalty situations in Gary McAllister.
The Rotherham-born goalkeeper deflected McAllister’s centrally placed strike to safety with an elbow, with subsequent video footage showing the ball slightly deviated in movement just before the Scottish player struck it.
Famed TV spoon bender Uri Gellar would later bizarrely take credit for that inexplicable moment, claiming that he caused McAllister to miss the penalty by moving the ball using the power of psychokinesis while flying above Wembley in a helicopter.
Speaking about that miss years later, the ex-Leeds United manager commented: “It’s something I have to live with and I still get wee flashbacks about it. There’s no doubt in my mind that, if I had scored, we would have won.’
“After I planted my left leg, in the millisecond before I struck the ball with my right, the ball moves. It’s like a golfer lining up a putt on a windy day and just as he pulls the club back it moves a fraction, just enough to be noticeable and affect your swing.
“Everyone has seen Tiger Woods stop addressing a putt when something like it happens. I was the same – the only difference was I didn’t stop. In that fraction of a second, everything went through my head.”
Moments after McAllister’s miss, Gascoigne, described in the Guardian match report as ‘pink, peroxided and portly’ and an ‘adornment’ for most of the afternoon, came to the party to gloriously seal a 2-0 victory.
It was a tournament which ultimately ended in penalty heartache, again, for England, but Gascoigne was still able to crow back at Rangers.
Taking up the story, Goram said: “My first day at training at Ibrox the season after, the changing room is massive.
“I can hear a commotion and I wonder what’s going on.
“I’ve opened the door and Gazza has got two big police cones at the end of the dressing room as goals. He has a beach ball in the middle of the goal, which was me.
“There was a wee cone with the mop head hanging out of it lying on its side, which was Colin Hendry.
“As soon as I walked in, Gazza has flicked it over the mop head and smashed it past the beach ball. Then he went and laid down and (Ally) McCoist was squirting water in his mouth.”