Euro 96 Relived: like experiencing a painful summer crush all over again | Television & radio

Never has a wild experiment made me feel such vivid emotions. Because that’s exactly what Euro 96 Relived (ITV4/ITV Hub, near constantly) is: a gamble, a stab in the dark, TV as guesswork. The plan, on paper, seems ludicrous: just full re-airings of old games? Bob Wilson as host, old ITV logo, 4:3 aspect ratio, everything? Not even modern analysis from the players who played, just VHS-quality repeats? That’s your plan, ITV? And then I clenched my fists at a goal Alan Shearer scored a lifetime ago and: nope, I’m fully on board. Remembering things is amazing.

It is a curious viewing experience, this. Firstly: when do you ever watch an entire 90-minute football match when the score has been resolved? In a frenetic era of experiencing football as a sort of constantly-on, around-the-world, goals-and-assists megamix thing, watching a whole game when you know the result is, in itself, a detached experience. Then throw in the fact that you know how this all ends – and, for an England fan, it ends badly – and it’s fair to say watching this is bittersweet: a roar of hope, a punch of reality. It’s a little like remembering a heady crush you were utterly obsessed with but never got to kiss: just one endless summer, pangs of longing stretched taut against a perfect blue sky, ending in a chest-crushing misery you never emotionally bounced back from. Only Gareth Southgate is there.

But Euro 96 Relived also taps into a curious strand of nostalgia that I don’t think has ever been engineered before: somewhere between deja vu and real time, the ability to go through the blow-by-blow motions of reliving a long-lost memory without fully experiencing it again. It starts with the curtain raiser against Switzerland. Some minor-key royal ambles around while 40,000 balloons are released into the sky above Wembley. Kevin Keegan and an unknighted Alex Ferguson exchange some actually quite tense banter. Commentators praise the English crowds for not booing during the Swiss national anthem, then talk about the news story about the England squad getting rowdy on a trip to Hong Kong. Further themes – old rivalries we don’t talk about any more, the one we used to have with Germany, another tiff with Spain – slowly unfurl as the tournament rolls on. The only time I feel patriotism at all is when England are competing at football tournaments, and also somehow now, locked in my house, watching repeats on ITV4.

It is rare-to-impossible to experience a treasured childhood memory with the long, grizzled hindsight of adulthood, but ITV4 has somehow managed it, and it will be nice to experience the predominant trauma of my early life – Germany winning on penalties – all over again. It will be interesting, too, to see where else TV can take “enthralling time-sensitive repeats” as a genre: Channel 4 could rerun a Big Brother series, or air TFI Friday and Big Breakfast repeats. ITV can dig out that Love Island series it made before it became blockbuster TV. It’s a cheap drug, granted, but if the alternative is watching people do weather reports from their own back gardens before throwing back to the dreadful, endless news, I’ll take nostalgia any day.

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