Twenty-five years ago, football so very nearly ‘came home’ for England, when the Three Lions were agonisingly close to winning the European Championship on home soil. 

We were joined by former Three Lions goalkeeper David Seaman and Scotland’s midfield maestro John Collins to discuss that iconic tournament, as well as the memorable Euro ‘96 group match between England and Scotland at Wembley on that glorious summer’s day in June 1996.

When asked about that tournament, both players summed it up as “exciting”, although former Arsenal goalkeeper Seaman recalls pressure also being a big part of the experience playing for the host nation.

He said: “In the run-up to Euro ‘96 the pressure was really on us. The fans didn’t seem to be with us, the newspapers were totally against us, so we had this attitude in the camp of ‘let’s stick together, block everybody out and try to do the business.’

“But as we saw with Switzerland, things didn’t get to plan and then that led us into the Scotland game, and the pressure was on us, no doubt about it, but it was Euro ‘96 and it was in England, and it was just an amazing time.”

And Collins believes that it was a special time for the Scotland squad and fans alike, as they prepared to go into the tournament with little expectation and a chance to enjoy the experience.

He said: “After we qualified, we were looking forward to the draw, and all of a sudden we’ve got England in the group stages. From the players’ point of view, it was exciting times.

“England were full of stars: (Paul) Gascoigne was a world star, (Alan) Shearer was one of the top number nines in the world, and obviously there was the great David Seaman in goal.

“But we were going there with no pressure, we were happy to be in the tournament and knew the pressure was all on England. We had the Dutch in the group as well, so nobody was expecting us to qualify, but within the squad we felt we could cause an upset and give any team a game on our day.

Terry Venables took charge of the Three Lions heading into Euro ‘96, and Seaman recalls the former England boss handling the squad well.

He said: “When Terry took over it just felt right, because he was a guy that was brilliant tactically and as a man manager. He managed us really well before the tournament and then during the tournament.

“The tournament got better and better, and bigger and bigger for us. Obviously, the game against Scotland was massive, and it was even bigger for Gazza, I’m sure it was! It was a great time to be around.”

But as the host nation, Seaman remembers things didn’t get off to the best of starts for England, as a draw against Switzerland meant the Three Lions needed a win against their oldest rivals in the second match.

“There was loads of pressure, even before the Switzerland game,” he added. “I remember going up the tunnel at Wembley and looking at the pitch there were knights on horses whizzing round the track and there was a massive trophy in the middle, and we thought ‘whoa this has started!’”

He added: “We didn’t play well in the draw against Switzerland to open up the tournament and that did add the pressure going into the Scotland game. We couldn’t let Scotland get any points off us otherwise we’d be struggling to qualify.”

On the other hand, Scotland started the tournament with a respectable, hard-fought draw against tournament favourites Holland, which meant they went into the second match against England in a positive mindset.

Collins recalls the atmosphere and the spectacle of the game being extremely exciting, and despite losing the match 2-0 after second-half goals from Shearer and Gascoigne, the performance gave Tartan Army fans something to be proud of.

He said: “The atmosphere before the game was electric. The pitch was immaculate, the crowd were up for it, and the sun was shining, so it was set up for a great game.”

After a tense first half, which ended 0-0, the game came to life when Alan Shearer’s header opened the scoring. But at 1-0, Scotland were awarded a penalty and a chance to get back into the game.

Up stepped Gary McAllister against Seaman, and the England goalkeeper made a crucial stop to keep the game level. Collins remembers that save as the match-winning moment for England, which turned the game for the Three Lions.

He said: “If it went in then it would have been a different game altogether and the momentum would’ve swung our way.

“Games are decided on key moments, and David’s save won them the game. Everybody talks about the Gazza goal but really the save probably won them the game.”

But Gascoigne’s goal cannot be forgotten.

A mere 90 seconds after Seaman’s stop, England approached down Scotland’s right-hand side, and a moment of genius from the Geordie, which saw him flick the ball over the head of Colin Hendry and flash a volley past Andy Goram in the blink of an eye, saw England double their advantage and breathe a huge sigh of relief from the home fans at Wembley.

Seaman said: “Anyone who has played with Gazza or trained with Gazza, they realise how good he was. He was special, and that goal really summed him up.

“When he flicked it over Hendry, it was so just so special, and he just volleyed it in. He didn’t even wait for the half volley!

While Collins says it was tough to take seeing Scotland come so close to drawing level with their rivals, he admits he could also recognise the beauty of a strike that is still remembered by many years on.

He said: “Talk about pain and pleasure! It was 90 seconds after the penalty that Gazza scored the goal, and we knew all about Gazza. He’d been running riot up in Scotland, week in week out, on the pitch and off the pitch as well. But on the pitch, he produced the goods, and we all knew what he was capable of.

“It was an iconic goal, an iconic moment and great for England supporters and players. It killed the game, although we kept going until the end.

“The celebration was Gazza. We all know he loves a laugh and a joke, and it’ll be remembered for the goal but equally the celebration!”

The final group game saw England hammer Holland 4-1, although a late goal by the Dutch led to them pipping Scotland to second place on goals scored.

Former Celtic midfielder Collins admitted that it was a blow to the team hearing the news come through, but that they were proud of the campaign regardless.

He said: “We could only get that one goal and at one stage England were 4-0 up and we were through. That last goal meant we were out on goal difference. It was a sad way to exit the tournament, but the fans knew we gave it everything.”

For Seaman, a heroic penalty shootout performance against Spain helped propel England to the semi-finals, before a narrow defeat on penalties to the Germans ended their dreams of winning silverware as a host nation.

He said: “Talk about margins, Gazza was inches away from scoring and Darren Anderton hit the post too. This is all in Golden Goal time. If the ball goes in, the game is over and we were in the final, and that’s how close we were.

“I remember we felt proud that we’d made the England fans love the team again. Even when Gareth missed the penalty, we all got round him, and he knew we’d still done really well. It was a time when the England team could be proud, and the England fans were proud of England.”

While Scotland and England must negotiate tough opening fixtures at Euro 2020, the old rivals will then meet again at Wembley on Friday 18th June, and Seaman predicts the exact same score line 25 years on from the Euro ’96 match.

He said: ““It’s going to be a tough game again. It’ll be a big pressure game, but how can I not say ‘2-0’ again? It’s a score line that worked well in the past. I’m going to go for 2-0 England.”

Collins agreed it’ll be a tough game and that the Scots can give anyone a game on their day.

He added: “No doubt England are the favourites, but I’ve got a little feeling we’ll get a 2-2 draw. Most people would be happy with that. We want a victory, but if you asked most Scottish people then they’d take a draw in that game and hope to get a victory in one of the other two games.”

Could we see history repeat itself on Friday 18th June at Wembley? That remains to be seen.

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