The Highs And Lows Of England Over Time
Taken from the second issue of our magazine, this is one of our favourite ever features, where we look at the incredible highs and lows that the England National Team and its supporters have experienced at the major tournaments over time.
Heading into the Euros this summer, there is an incredible feeling of excitement and optimism surrounding the Three Lions, and we are sure it’s going to be a memorable tournament. Take yourself back to some of those incredible moments of the past, from Italia ‘90 to Euro ‘96 and of course, that incredible summer of 2018.
Supporting your national team during the major tournaments provides a feeling of pride unlike any other in football. The sense of importance and occasion is unparalleled, whilst the togetherness and collective belief that a national team can bring to an entire country is truly magical.
Over time, the England team have provided so many incredible moments that have brought so much joy to English football fans. Each generation has their own special memories of the Three Lions, and it is fair to say that for most supporters of the national side, nothing matters quite as much as England does.
From the 1966 team winning the World Cup at Wembley, the iconic image of Bobby Moore and Pele swapping shirts four years later, the pain of ‘86 and the pride of Italia ‘90, football coming home in 1996 and another truly memorable summer in 2018, the England team has enjoyed a quite extraordinary history.
For all of the wonderful highs however, there have been some true lows and the atmosphere surrounding the national side at various points in time has been toxic. Since the appointment of Gareth Southgate and England's wonderful run at the 2018 World Cup however, the team has reconnected with the fans and whenever the Three Lions are mentioned, there is an overwhelming feeling of optimism.
It's incredible to think of how far the team has come since Euro 2016 and that night in Nice against Iceland. It was one of the true low points in England's tournament history, but as Southgate's rejuvenated side progressed further and further through the knockout stages in Russia, the young and vibrant team captured the imagination of the entire nation, and for the first time in a generation, fans were able to believe. There were so many incredible moments throughout the tournament, with each goal celebration marked by a sea of beer flying across the outdoor fan parks all over the country, as the nation collectively started to feel that maybe, just maybe, this could be it. The feelings of joy and togetherness brought about by the Summers of 1990 and 1996 were experienced by a whole generation for the first time, who were able to dream of seeing the national side bring home the most coveted trophy of all. When it comes to experiencing the highs and lows of International football, England have really been through it all. Every national team has their own wonderful history of glory, heartbreak and everything in between, and for England fans, it has been through supporting the Three Lions that has provided some of the greatest highs and painful lows; from the controversies to the last minute winners, the penalty shoot out losses to the euphoric celebrations. If there is one thing that is guaranteed with England, it's that there will always be drama. Whilst there have been numerous tournament moments that have disappointed, angered and broken the hearts of England fans, there have been so many others that many would cite amongst their favourite ever memories of the game. The image of Beckham scoring that free kick against Greece, Hurst firing the ball home to complete his hat trick in the 1966 final, the expression on Lineker's face as he celebrated Platt's incredible last gasp volley to send England to the semi's at Italia '90, and the magic of Gascoigne's flick and volley at Euro '96 provide the same feeling of elation each time they are viewed by England fans.
Amongst these amazing moments there have also been the famous controversies that have scarred England fans, with Maradona’s hand of God and Lampard’s ghost goal just as unforgettable, albeit for their injustice. It seems that at so many tournaments, an infamous or outrageous incident has marked England’s exit, although at 2018 the despair that has encompassed the side in the past was nowhere to be seen. The World Cup in Russia will continue to bring back fond memories in years to come to all of those around to witness it, and for many, will remind us why we fell in love with the beautiful game in the first place. Although expectations may have been rather low before the tournament, a brilliant display against Tunisia saw Harry Kane give England victory in stoppage time with a clever header in the opening game, and all of a sudden the excitement and belief started to build. On another day, the result might have been wrapped up by half time, although the side took the confidence that the late winner had given them into the next game against Panama, and went 5‑0 up before the break in one of the most impressive 45 minutes in England tournament history. A ruthless attacking display saw John Stones and Kane net a brace each, with Jesse Lingard guiding a wonderful strike into the top corner. Kane completed his hat trick in the second half before a late consolation made the full time score 6‑1 to the Three Lions, putting them through to the last 16 for the first time since 2006.
After a narrow loss to Belgium in the final game of the group; a match that saw both sides rest several players, England found themselves in arguably the more favourable side of the knock outs, and would meet Colombia in Moscow for a place in the quarter finals. In an incredibly tense and physical match, Kane would put England ahead from the penalty spot, and it seemed that they would hold on to seal a narrow and hard‑fought win in normal time as the clock ticked closer to the 90th minute. But with just seconds remaining in injury time, Yeri Mina rose highest and headed home a corner, meaning this tight and at times ill‑tempered match would be heading into extra time.
A chance came for Danny Rose and he flashed a shot agonisingly wide in what was the only real chance for either side in the next half an hour, and so the match would be decided by penalties. Having only won one previous shoot out at a tournament, England fans instantly feared the worst.
The nation collectively held its breath as Harry Kane made the long walk from the halfway line to the box for England, after Radamal Falco had scored the first penalty of the shoot out. England’s captain buried it into the bottom corner, before Cuadrado, Rashford and Muriel expertly converted for both sides, leaving Jordan Henderson under pressure to keep the scores level with England’s third penalty.
Despite striking it well, Ospina dived the right way and pushed his low effort wide of the post. It was at this moment that fans of all ages had flashbacks of the agony of previous shoot out losses against Germany, Argentina and Portugal, fearing that the all too familiar feeling of exiting another tournament on penalties could be imminent. As is so often the case with supporting England however, the deflated mood quickly vanished as Uribe struck the crossbar for Colombia, giving Kieran Trippier the chance to make things all square. Holding his nerve in the most tense of moments, the right back guided the ball high into the top corner, heaping pressure on the South Americans to score their next spot kick.
England’s performances at this World Cup had felt so different to some of the previous tournaments, where negativity had constantly surrounded the team. The whole mood and feeling that Gareth Southgate had introduced had brought a sense of belief that had been missing at the likes of Euro 2016, Brazil in 2014 and South Africa in 2010. The honest and level‑headed attitude and approach of the manager had been a breath of fresh air, and had helped to create a great bond and sense of courage amongst the players, which transcended onto the football they played on the pitch.
You could see the determination in Jordan Pickford’s eyes as Carlos Bacca stepped up to face him from 12 yards. It was a huge moment in the shoot out, and Pickford dived to his right, raising his left arm to save Bacca’s poor effort in quite emphatic fashion. It was the first save an England Keeper had made in a penalty shootout since David Seaman denied Hernan Crespo twenty years earlier in Saint Etienne, and suddenly the nation was just a spot kick away from the quarter final, when minutes before it seemed that the wait to win a knockout match at the World Cup for the first time since 2006 would be extended. England’s fate rested on Eric Dier’s shoulders. He placed the ball down and steadied himself, focused and calm as he awaited the referee’s whistle. Striking it hard and low, David Ospina guessed the right way but could only get a hand to it as the ball settled in the bottom corner, sending the nation into a frenzy. It was an unforgettable moment and knowing that a meeting with Sweden awaited them in the next round, England could start to dream of a first semi final since the iconic meetings with Germany at Italia ’90 and Euro ’96. These two games in particular really epitomise the contradicting rollercoaster of emotions that supporting England provides. There was the incredible joy of Lineker’s left foot drive in Turin and Shearer’s header at Wembley, and then the agony of Waddle and Southgate being the men brave enough to step up and take the decisive penalties, but ultimately the men who missed. For Gareth Southgate to then manage England to a first ever World Cup shoot out win 22 years later is a quite amazing story, and you could feel just how much this moment meant to him as he celebrated with each of his players. He acknowledged just how difficult it is to face the situation of penalties, but the extensive preparation and focus on “owning the moment” had allowed England to overcome their curse and experience what he described as a “special moment”.
“I’ve learned a million things from that day and the years that followed it… When something goes wrong in your life it doesn’t finish you and you should become braver, knowing that you’ve got to go for things in life and don’t regret because you didn’t try to be as good as you might be.” - Gareth Southgate on Euro '96
After this phenomenal evening in Moscow, attention turned to the match against Sweden in four days time. England went into the match unchanged, and looked composed and assured, not letting the occasion overwhelm them. Their strong start was rewarded on the half hour mark, as Harry Maguire powered home a header from a corner, and suddenly England were within touching distance of the last four.
Sterling went agonisingly close to doubling the lead, before a fine save from Pickford ensured The Three Lions maintained their lead early in the second half. As the clock ticked towards the hour mark, Lingard swung in a cross from deep that was met by Dele Alli at the back post, who guided the ball home to make the score 2‑0 and leave the country in disbelief at the thought of being one game away from the final.
Later that evening it was confirmed that Croatia would be England’s opponents, after they beat the host nation on penalties. Led by their phenomenal captain Luka Modric, England faced a tough test against a golden generation of Croatia stars at their peak in what was set to be a thrilling game.
The country came to a standstill on that warm Wednesday evening, watching on in the hope of seeing Southgate’s men making the final for the first time since 1966. As both sides settled into the game in the opening stages, England won a free kick on the edge of the box.
Kieran Trippier stood over it, assessing the position of the wall and the keeper. At the sound of the referee’s whistle he took just a couple of steps before beautifully curling the ball into the top right hand corner, taking the lead for England in spectacular style.
The nation could dare to dream. Many will recall the huge crowds in Hyde Park going wild, whilst those lucky enough to be inside the Luzhniki Stadium couldn’t quite believe their eyes. England were ahead just five minutes into the semi final and it was a moment that that anyone around to celebrate will cherish forever.
The Three Lions took control of the match and looked dangerous going forward, and after some intricate play from a throw‑in, Lingard threaded the ball into the path of Kane, who found himself one‑on‑one with the keeper. As the space magically opened up in front of him, Kane looked to pass the ball across the keeper, who saved it back into his path.
Keeping the ball in play, it now seemed certain that Kane would make it 2‑0 and put England out of sight in the match, although in the most chaotic of circumstances he struck the post, with the ball then deflecting into the keeper’s knee before somehow looping across the goal and out of play.
This turned out to be the decisive moment in the match, as Croatia grew into the game in the second half, equalising through Perisic before Mandzukic sent them into the final in extra time, with a goal that broke English hearts.
"I'm remarkably proud of the group of players - the reaction of the supporters compared to two years ago shows the country are proud of the way we played. There will in time be lots of positives to take but it's too hard and too soon to put that in context. You have to suffer the result first sometimes. I'm hugely proud of what we've done - I couldn't have asked for any more. They've broken through a number of barriers in the past weeks." - Gareth Southgate after the semi final in Moscow
As with Waddle’s fierce shot hitting the post in the semi final of 1990, and Gascoigne’s outstretched leg coming so close to turning the ball in from Shearer’s cross at Wembley in 1996, there is that same feeling of what might have been if Kane had scored in Moscow against Croatia. In both of the previous tournaments, there is the sense that England would have beaten Argentina and the Czech Republic had they reached the final, although when it comes to discussing the final in Russia, there are far more contrasting opinions on how The Three Lions would have contended with France had they progressed instead of Croatia. Football is so fascinating and unpredictable that it really is impossible to know what might have happened had the fortunes of a side been slightly different, and it feels that there are so many times where this has been the case with England. Although the country was divided in their thoughts of what the outcome of the final might have been, it was a truly special run that restored the bond between the fans and the national team. An incredible sense of pride was felt by all English supporters as their side gave everything in Russia, and the tournament will continue to bring back fond memories of a wonderful summer for many years to come. With the squad continuing to go from strength to strength under Southgate, Euro 2021 and the World Cup of 2022 will almost certainly have fans dreaming of glory once again. As the wait continues for a repeat of the success of 1966, England fans can look to the future with excitement and optimism, knowing that if they are ever able to see the national team win another tournament, the country will witness a celebration unlike any other.
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Artwork by our good friend of the magazine Tiki Taka.