The 15th European Championships is upon us and, yet again, Scotland fans will be watching as mere neutrals following our latest failure to qualify.
It’s been two decades since our Euro finals appearance and it was one to remember for various reasons as Craig Brown led us to Euro 96 where we faced Holland, Switzerland and, of course, the Auld Enemy and host nation England.
I spoke to Bein Sports TV presenter Ally Begg and Scotland fans Alan Blacklaw and Paul McEwan to share their memories of Euro 96 where Scotland, as ever, put us all through a roller coaster of emotions.
What do you remember about the build up to Euro 96?
Ally: Every man and his dog were talking about the tournament and how much everyone was looking forward to it. In 1996 I played charity football for the Arsenal Ex-Pros & Celebrity team and the carry on about how both England and Scotland would fare was great fun. Whenever I took a trip into London the anticipation built daily, it really was something very special.
Paul: There was obviously a lot of talk about Scotland facing the Auld Enemy on there own patch. I remember ‘that’ song – Three Lions, and actually secretly liking it!
Going into the tournament, how did you rate Scotland’s chances?
Ally: As soon as the draw was made I knew it would be very difficult to progress to the knock-out stage with the group we found ourselves in. I had no fear of Switzerland but appreciated the difficult task facing us when up against both England and Holland. If we showed some of the grit and determination that was evident in qualifying then I believed back then that we had half a chance.
Alan: I didn’t fancy our chances if I’m honest. England and Holland always had stronger squads than us. Realistically I’d expect us to have a chance against the Swiss.
Paul: I was always optimistic then as a young 22-year-old (and used to Scotland qualifying for EVERY tournament all my life practically until then). I knew England would be tough though on home soil and they did have a quality bunch of players back then. I fancied our chances to get through the group in second place.
Did your hopes increase after the 0-0 draw with Holland in our opening game?
Ally: Absolutely, in-fact I was actually quite disappointed we didn’t win the game. We played a decent side that day but yet again our lack of a killer instinct in-front of goal let us down. To get any sort of result from the first game was a positive in my book. I have to be honest it raised my expectations of qualifying!
Alan: Yes of course they did. Teams have been known to qualify with 4 points, I thought we had a chance of getting that or possibly more with a bit of luck.
Summarise your feelings when Seaman made THAT save then Gascoigne sealing the win with THAT goal.
Ally: When we were awarded the penalty I was up on my feet pacing the living-room in anticipation. As Gary began his run-up I held my hands to my face, almost praying he would score. When David Seaman dived full-length and saved it I gave out an almighty “NOOOOOO” with maybe an added expletive here and there. I couldn’t believe it! Then typically within moments Gazza goes up the pitch and scored that incredible second goal. I think I remember burrowing my head in some cushions or something like that not quite believing what had just happened! It was simply devastating!
Alan: “That” penalty was made for super Ally to take I didn’t feel confident in McAllister at all. The save from Seaman left me deflated and gutted for McAllister but I felt we still had a chance as we had played our way back in. “That” Gascoigne goal killed us and brought tears to my eyes. We were undone by amazing football and I couldn’t hold Hendry or Goram responsible.
Paul: McAllister’s record for scoring penalties was phenomenal and I was confident – although I watched it through my fingers. It’s hard to summarise my feelings after the miss and then that goal shortly afterwards. It is my worst feeling as a Scotland supporter.
Did you think our hopes of qualification had gone?
Ally: To be brutally honest yes! The England game had knocked the stuffing out of me so god knows how the players were feeling. Saying that, I still honestly believed we had played some really good football and on our day could take something from the Switzerland game.
Paul: If I am being honest I did. I thought we would have to win by 3 or 4 (which I could not see happening), as I thought England would win – but only by 1 or 2!
Ally McCoist put Scotland 1-0 up, should he have started the previous two matches?
Ally: I had no problems with Kevin Gallagher and Scott Booth starting against Holland but I did question why John Spencer started against England after Scott Booth’s injury. I would have preferred to have seen Ally start. I get that John is a pest and works tirelessly for the cause but I wasn’t convinced he was a natural goal-scorer like Ally.
Alan: As the super one is one of my all-time idols, I’d have him as first choice striker in all 3 games. Strikers like that pop-up and score important goals so was very surprised he wasn’t.
Paul: Definitely. He was our most potent weapon and poacher – although THAT goal against Switzerland was not a typical poacher’s goal, or a typical Ally goal either for that matter.
What went through your mind when England went 4-0 up against Holland then Kluivert nutmegging Seaman to put Scotland out?
Ally: When Teddy Sheringham slid in to score the fourth goal I was out my seat cheering as loudly as I had done when Ally scored against Switzerland. Just like the England game, the range of emotions that we went through is like something I have not experienced since as a Scotland fan. One minute your hopes are up and the next they all come crashing down around you. When Patrick Kluivert found himself in all that space inside the eighteen yard box, with only eight minutes to go, it was like time stood still. I clearly remember cupping my mouth with my hands and, when the inevitable happened, I fell to my knees not quite believing what had just happened! I knew we were going out in that moment, it was just our luck.
Alan: something along the lines of you dirty English b******!
Overall, how would you assess Scotland’s performance?
Alan: couldn’t fault our players or our effort. We didn’t go through down to the England game. To draw with the Dutch and beat the Swiss was very good.
Paul: Probably the best that I can remember at the finals, steady against the Dutch, matched the English in a topsy turvy match and HAMMERED the Swiss 1-0, but, as per the norm, that hard luck story that followed us around like a bad smell.
What are your other memories of Euro 96?
Ally: I have to be honest my favourite moment was when Stuart Pearce scored his penalty kick against Spain. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him after missing that penalty against West Germany in the World Cup semi-final so, when the ball hit the net and his subsequent celebration, I was genuinely delighted for him. Karel Poborsky for me stood out from all the rest. He had an amazing tournament and scored a couple of cracking goals, which led to his big move to Manchester United. Such a shame he didn’t really fulfil his potential at Old Trafford.
Alan: I’ll give you my favourite moment – Gareth Southgate’s penalty miss against Germany in semi final. I’m not a bitter man but I celebrated that like a madman.
Paul: Andreas Moller’s winning penalty against England – just after that Southgate miss. You’d have to say that the golden goal for Bierhoff to win the tournament was special – not that actual goal as it was quite jammy if I remember right, but the fact that it was won in that manner.
20 years since our last Euro finals, do you think Scotland will be in a position to qualify for Euro 2020?
Alan: We can dream. All we can do is go along, get behind our boys and hope for the best
Paul: I think if some of our promising young players continue to develop, and we get a luckier draw, then, with the expanded finals format, yes WE CAN MAKE IT. We have to believe. We have a dream……..