We have taken a look back at a memorable but ultimately heart-breaking summer as football nearly came home at Euro 1996.
The fourth season of the revamped Premier League had just ended with Manchester United overcoming a 12-point deficit to win the trophy for the third time in four years at the expense of Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United.
Optimism was high as England, under the stewardship of the popular Terry Venables, were set to host a major international tournament for the first time in 30 years.
New labour was getting into full swing, the Britpop era was still in its peak and the likes of Paul Gascoigne and Stuart Pearce were ready to capture the hearts of a nation once again.
The new crop of England players would go on to bring the country to a standstill for a month, ending with a night of unbearable drama that only England’s rivalry with Germany can bring to a football stadium.
From Alan Shearer’s goalscoring prowess to the genius of Paul Gascoigne and one of the great all-time England performances, Euro 96 had it all.
The defining moment amongst all the brilliance, however, was a gut-wrenching penalty miss which saw England fall at the semi-final stage.
And who could forget the BBC montage of an incredible summer to the tune of Cast’s timely 90s classic, ‘Walk Away’ in the aftermath.
Here is the story of England’s tournament…
England were drawn in a group containing Euro 88 champions Netherlands, rivals Scotland and Switzerland, who had reached the last 16 of the World Cup two years earlier.
However, much of the build-up to Euro 96 was dominated by England’s pre-tournament trip to Hong Kong, which did not start or end well.
The tone for the trip was set on the flight out, where some of the players took on regular liquid refreshments during the long journey.
After winning 3-0 against China in their final game of the tour, the squad enjoyed a night out which would be displayed all over the British tabloids the following day.
One newspaper at the time went with the headline: “Look at Gazza… a drunken oaf with no pride”, in response to the infamous dentist chair image where a number of drinks were poured into Gascoigne’s mouth.
There was even damage caused to England’s plane on the way home. It was certainly not the best look.
The press, the English public and the FA were understandably not happy, and there was talk of certain players, Gascoigne in particular, being omitted from the final squad.
Terry Venables faced up to the media and stood by his players. As Tony Adams put it bluntly, ‘If one of us goes home, we all go home’.
By the time the opening game against Switzerland game came around, it was almost a relief for England.
For all the hype of the opening match of a home tournament and all the off-the-field antics, the Switzerland game was a damp squib.
Shearer, who had gone 12 internationals without scoring, justified Venables’ faith in him by firing England in front in the first half.
England were sloppy in the second half and they slept-walked into a Switzerland equaliser as Kubilay Turkyilmaz slotted home a late penalty following a handball from Pearce.
Heading into the Scotland game, England were under an incredible amount of pressure. They had not played well against Switzerland and the hangover from the Far East was still not out of the newspapers.
Gascoigne, in particular, was below par against Switzerland and even went to Venables’ room the night before facing Scotland to find out if he was being dropped.
Venables, the great man manager that he was, laughed off the suggestion and reminded Gascoigne of his importance to the team.
There’s no doubt that England were brighter in the first 45 minutes against Scotland, but they couldn’t find a way past a defence marshalled by Premier League title winner Colin Hendry.
In Venables, England had a manager who was ahead of his time, certainly in English football.
He changed the formation of his team from match to match during Euro 96, and would often tinker with the shape during matches.
Scotland’s three-man midfield of Stuart McCall, John Collins and Gary McAllister were having too much of the ball for Venables’ liking, and at half-time he opted to replace a defender in Pearce with 22-year-old Liverpool midfielder Jamie Redknapp.
The extra man in midfield meant that Gareth Southgate joined Gary Neville and Tony Adams in a back-three.
It was a bold move from Venables, but the tactical switch paid off as Neville’s searching cross was turned in by Shearer eight minutes after the restart.
Scotland galvanised themselves though and after Gordon Durie saw his header saved by David Seaman, the Rangers frontman was brought down in the area by Adams and Craig Brown’s side had the chance to equalise with 12 minutes remaining.
McAllister saw his spot-kick saved by Seaman and within a minute England’s victory was sealed in emphatic fashion.
Gascoigne latched onto a volleyed pass from Anderton, flicked the ball over Hendry’s head with his left foot and rifled a right-footed volley past Andy Goram in the Scotland goal.
Out came the dentist chair celebration, tabloids were issuing public apologies to Gascoigne and all was forgiven.
‘Three Lions’ was played after the game and maybe, just maybe, football was coming home.
England fans barely had time to digest the brilliance of Gascoigne when Netherlands arrived at Wembley three days later.
Marco van Basten had scored a hat-trick to knock England out of Euro 88 in the group stage, Graham Taylor’s England had lost a crucial World Cup qualifier in Rotterdam in the last meeting between the two nations, and England had never beaten the Netherlands in a competitive match.
So there were certainly a lot of nerves ahead of the game at Wembley as the increasingly familiar and joyous sound of Ian Broudie’s voice was played out on the stadium tannoy.
The Dutch side possessed quality throughout with the likes of Ronald de Boer, Clarence Seedorf and Dennis Bergkamp to call upon.
Yet as talented as they were, it was not a happy camp, with Ajax playmaker Edgar Davids sent home following some inappropriate comments he made to manager Guus Hiddink.
England needed a point to progress to the quarter-finals after three successive group stage exits at the European Championship.
What followed was one of England’s greatest ever performances, with a raucous Wembley starting to believe that 30 years of hurt was approaching its conclusion.
Shearer was on the scoresheet for the third game in a row to give England a half-time lead, this time from the penalty spot after Danny Blind clumsily tripped Paul Ince in the 23rd minute.
Any suggestion that England would attempt to sit on their lead was blown away in 10 second-half minutes.
Gascoigne’s corner was headed in by Sheringham in the 51st minute, with the Tottenham striker then turning provider five minutes later as Shearer finished off a sensational team goal to net his fourth of the tournament.
When Sheringham scored his second and England’s fourth just after the hour, England were in dreamland.
Patrick Kluivert pulled one back for the Netherlands with 12 minutes to go, a goal which turned out to be much more than mere consolation.
With Scotland beating Switzerland 1-0, the Netherlands would progress at the expense of the Scots courtesy of scoring more goals across their three group games.
As for England, it was a near perfect performance and they were through to the last eight to face Spain.
The quarter-final itself was a relatively cagey affair as neither England nor Spain could find a goal after 120 minutes of football.
England faced a penalty shootout for only the second time in tournament football.
The England penalties debacle was only just gathering pace at this point. The pain of Saint-Etienne, Lisbon, Gelsenkirchen, Kiev and of course Wembley was yet to be felt, for now.
Yet their previous shootout had been one of the most painful experiences for English football fans, as England were beaten on penalties by West Germany in the semi-finals of Italia 90.
One of the players to miss a spot-kick that day was Stuart Pearce, so when the Nottingham Forest left-back, affectionately nicknamed ‘Psycho’, stepped up, the possibility of another failure from 12 yards was not worth considering.
He struck the ball with all the pain, torture and frustration that he had experienced on that night in Turin. Pearce had his redemption.
The only thing more emphatic than his strike was his celebration. The undoubted relief was etched on his face as he screamed at the England fans.
The result of the shootout seemed inevitable after Pearce’s penalty, and when Seaman saved from Miguel Angel Nadal, England had secured their place in the last four against old foes Germany.
One of the greatest parts of the semi-final happened before kick-off, as a deafening rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’, was belted out.
The singer of the anthem even missed his cue at the start, with the lyrics roared out by the likes of Ince, Pearce, Southgate, Shearer, Adams and over 75,000 supporters inside Wembley.
It was a sight to behold and the euphoria hadn’t stopped by the time Shearer headed England into a third minute lead.
But Stefan Kuntz equalised for Berti Vogts’ side and it was 1-1 after 16 minutes. It was a breath-taking start to the game.
Ince and Gascoigne were producing particularly fierce midfield displays, with the latter spurred on by the tears and heartbreak in Turin six years earlier.
The game was end-to-end with Sheringham having an effort cleared off the line, Shearer narrowly heading wide from a Steve McManaman cross and Thomas Helmer curling just over with a left-footed effort.
It was on to extra-time and one of the most fascinating and dramatic 15 minutes of football ever seen at the great stadium.
It was the first time that the new Golden Goal rule was applied at the European Championship, leaving the tantalising prospect of an England goal bringing an early end to the additional 30 minutes.
And how close they came.
When David Platt threaded a ball through to McManaman on the right side of the penalty area, and England winner seemed inevitable with Anderton unmarked in the centre of the goal.
But McManaman’s cross was slightly behind Anderton and the Tottenham winger’s effort from six yards rebounded off the post and into the hands of Germany ‘keeper Andreas Kopke.
The camera panned to a frustrated Venables who had his head in his hands, but there was further agony minutes later.
A sublime clipped ball from Sheringham out to Shearer was volleyed across the box, and an advancing Gascoigne was millimetres away from getting the vital touch at the far post.
Germany had their chances too and even had a goal ruled out for a push from a corner, but somehow the teams were still level after 120 minutes.
The tension was unbelievable but you wouldn’t have thought it after watching the first 10 penalties.
Shearer, Platt, Pearce, Gascoigne and Sheringham converted their spot-kicks with aplomb but Germany scored five equally impressive penalties of their own.
The quality was incredible but the shootout then moved on to sudden death and the players who weren’t selected to take one of the first five.
Up stepped Southgate to take England’s sixth and it was a tame effort which was comfortably saved by Kopke. It was the defining moment of the summer after four weeks of celebration.
A heart-broken Southgate trudged back to the half-way line where he was consoled by Pearce, who had been in the same situation six years earlier.
Andreas Moller stepped up to fire home the winning spot-kick for Germany and England were out.
It was cruel end for a side that had given the country so much. For the likes of Gascoigne, Pearce and Platt, it would also turn out to be their final tournament for England.
Germany went on to beat Czech Republic in the final, but it was this semi-final that felt like the real final.