Euro '96: Southgate remembers
He was a star of a resurgent England side that came within touching distance of glory on home soil in Euro 96, yet Gareth Southgate accepts his triumphs will not be remembered as long as a solitary failing.
After five successful spot-kicks followed 120 minutes to nerve tingling semi-final drama against Germany, England manager Terry Venables may have expected to be toasting a passage to the Final. But the clinical Germans matched England blow for blow and when Southgate stepped up to the plate, there was a sense of inevitability about what was to follow.
'Everything in England harks back to 1966, when we won the World Cup,' reflects the elegant centre-back. 'Now, here we were back at Wembley, playing against Germany and the history and memories came flooding back for everybody. We knew what was at stake on the night.
'We felt that if we beat the Germans, we would win Euro 96. It was especially true once we heard that the Czech Republic had beaten France to make it through to the Final. There could not have been more tension, so to get that close and come up short was so frustrating.
'We started well and Alan Shearer scored very early on from a set piece we'd worked on in training. At that point, everyone thought we were on our way, but we sat back and allowed them to equalise.
'It was an amazing game. Both sides went for it in extra-time and had chances to win on the golden goal rule, but, just like six years before when England played Germany in the World Cup semi-final, it went to the penalties and that is when the nightmare unfolded for me.
|“||I had missed the only other penalty I'd taken in my career, but I still said yes. ”|
|— Gareth Southgate|
The rest is grizzly part of English football history and makes up a desperate tale of woe for their national football team. In 1990, 1996 and 1998, their hopes of progressing in major tournaments have been dashed in shoot-outs and Southgate was to be the man who missed at Euro 96.
'I remember the walk from the centre circle to the penalty spot being the longest in the world,' continues Southgate. 'Their keeper kicked the ball on his way to the goal line. It hit the bar and bounced away to the other side of the penalty area so I had to go and get it. It just prolonged the moment for me.
'I knew exactly what I wanted to do, but I didn't put my kick far enough into the corner. When he saved it, there was an incredible sense of deflation. There's nothing to be said really. You just hope they miss the next one and then your miss will not be so crucial. It wasn't to be.
'For months afterwards, it was all I could think about. Even though I was pleased with my performances in the tournament as a whole, it didn't seem to count for much at the time. You get on with life, but you'll always remember that one moment.'
Germany went on to lift the Euro 96 crown by beating the Czechs in the Final, but this was not a tournament that sparkled in the manner of others before or after. Take the England story out of the equation and the average of goals per game and excitement was less than satisfactory.
For England, however, it could so easily have been their finest hour in 30 years. With their catchy Euro 96 anthem, 'Three Lions', becoming something of a national obsession during a warm London summer, the nation went football crazy. The streets cleared for games against Switzerland, Scotland, Holland and Spain, while the team performed with the sort of passion they have not always shown in their less than successful history.
A few years on, Southgate can see the positives from the tournament. 'I look back on the night when we played against a good Holland side and beat them 4-1 at Wembley,' he adds. 'Not many players get the chance to be involved in something as special as that. Also the atmosphere before the first game we played against the Swiss and then in the Scotland match was incredible. They are all great memories.'
Germany may have been champions again in 1996, but, as the song goes, this really was the summer when football came home.