Rock star or footballer? Those were my career options when I turned 15 years old half way through the Euro 96 tournament. I wore a vintage Adidas jacket like Damon Albarn, walked like Liam Gallagher, and had hair like Paolo Sousa. And despite looking terrible, there was something in the air that made myself and the entire country believe that anything was possible.
Football was always my first love; my first word was “ball” apparently. My mistress was music, and I started playing the guitar when I was 10 years old, seemingly impressed with spandex wearing Hair Bands nonsensically fret wanking their way around an oddly shaped instrument. I progressed to having classical guitar lessons on Saturday mornings which meant that I had to tape Gazzetta Football Italia and I would watch it when I got home whilst practising what I had learnt at my class. Football and music were always intertwined.
Football was always cooler than music at my school until Britpop happened. Almost overnight, students would take guitars into school instead of footballs and would fumble around, frustrated about the blisters on their fingers and the lack of progress they were making on the knackered school instruments. By some stroke of luck, I already had a few years of experience on everyone else and suddenly all of the hard kids wanted me to play in their bands and play football with them at the park. Music was thriving in England and so was football. The Premier League was now established and out of it spawned a new generation of English footballers that had previously been stuck in the doldrums since Italia 90. Euro 92 was a disaster and England didn't even qualify for USA 94 and did we not like that? Step up Oasis, Blur, a domestic international tournament, and the potential of a new political regime.
Just like New Order six years prior, it was The Lightning Seeds' Ian Broudie that soundtracked Euro 96 with Skinner and Baddiel playing the role of John Barnes with the song “Three Lions.” It was the perfect accompaniment to a tournament that was quite literally coming home. Tickets were impossible to come by, at least that's what my father told me when I begged him to take me to the City Ground for one of the three games that were played there. The thought of seeing Portugal play with Rui Costa, Luis Figo, and my fellow hair buddy Paolo Sousa on the field was something I wasn't familiar with as a Nottingham Forest fan.
As England progressed through the group stages with a thumping 4-1 win over a fine Holland side, the fervour amongst the English public started to grow as the nation finally started to believe. As my favourite player of all time Stuart Pearce banged in a penalty in the quarter finals and erupted at Wembley, letting out a supersonic reaction that had been building in him for six years, I remember having the exact same response of passion and pride. Come to think of it, maybe it was just the shock that England were actually capable of winning a penalty shootout.
As England progressed to a semi-final showdown with Germany, the Three Lions on the field had a huge amount of momentum and off the field; the Three Lions song was echoing throughout estates, radio stations and stadium PA's. The Czech Republic had made it to the final, surely England could beat them if they could surpass the old enemy.
"Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win." - Gary Lineker
I don't want to dwell on that semi-final against Germany like I did all those years ago although I do have some vivid memories of how I felt and what I did. I remember going straight to my room after the game and listening to music, desperately trying to find my happy place. Closing my eyes and seeing Darren Anderton's shot going in off the post instead of hitting it square and bouncing out, seeing Gazza not hesitate and slot in to an empty net. I also have fond memories of the next day at school. It wasn't “typical bloody England” or “same old crap,” there was an air of positivity and hope. Three Lions wasn't an anthem, it was a tragic love song written from the perspective of forlorn and tired football fans desperate for a change. In the end, it proved to be the perfect soundtrack for a flawed generation.