The Fiver | Let’s just pretend it’s 1996 | Football


The grand ballroom of the Landmark hotel is a “beautiful and elegant” space, according to its website, providing “an extensive area catering for up to a maximum of 750 guests for a cocktail reception”. But there were no cocktails in the grand ballroom on the afternoon of 25 June 1996, just a throng of hacks looking ahead to the following evening, and a German talking about making people cry.

Today we are casting our minds back to 26 June 1996, because leaving them here isn’t much fun. It’s not the perfect choice of destination days – for a start, at Fiver o’clock on that day the second half of the ineffably dull France 0-0 Czech Republic Euro 96 semi-final was about to get under way, and little about that game was fun either. The Fiver was at Old Trafford to see it, and remembers it as a unique combination of stress, anxiety and overwhelming tedium. It was a game attended almost entirely by people who would have preferred to be at Wembley for a different one, people doomed to spend the vast majority of its tiresome duration calculating when was the best time to leave it while guaranteeing both that they could be in front of a screen in time to watch the next one and convince themselves that they had not completely wasted the money they had very obviously completely wasted on their ticket for this one.

For younger readers struggling to picture the mass sprint for the exits when Reynald Pedros missed the 11th penalty of a shootout that wasn’t much more interesting than the match that preceded it, imagine if it was announced that our current viral issues had been solved and McDonald’s was going to reopen in five minutes. There were people everywhere, sprinting to their cars or on to public transport, flouting all rules of the road and consideration for pedestrian etiquette, determined to reach their destination in the smallest possible timeframe and damn the consequences.

But 24 hours earlier, no one was thinking of this. It was the day before England v Germany, and nothing else mattered. The German team visited Wembley for a training session watched by spoon-bending psychic Uri Geller. “I am yards from the German team. I am psyching them out,” he declared. “I have never felt a sensation like it. All I keep thinking is that football has come home.”

Asked about his team’s chances, England’s midfield guv’nor Paul Ince snarled optimistically. “The world is frightened of us,” he roared. “We’ve put England back on the map as far as international football is concerned, and made people scared of us again. That’s good for the nation. They’ve got good players who can cause you problems, but we’re confident we can win. It would be nice to win a semi-final for once, especially against the Germans.”

Meanwhile, back at the Landmark, the Germany coach, Berti Vogts, was asked if he would like to see lachrymose larrikin Paul Gascoigne, whose 1990 World Cup had ended in tears and tragedy at the semi-final stage, weeping once again. “Definitely,” he said. “We will be doing our best to make sure that happens.” Reader, we could tell you what happened, but a) you already know, and b) we’re pretending none of us do.


Join Rob Smyth at 6.30pm for buildup to and then a retro minute-by-minute report of England v Germany in the Euro 96 semi-final.


“Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives” – a tweet that we can all agree on from Mike Ashley-owned Newcastle United.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove had this to say about another Mike Ashley-owned company: “Sports Direct thought it would be appropriate for their stores to be open in order to help people get exercise equipment. We made it clear that was wrong and that the stores should not be open.”


It’s your man David Squires on … Premier League managers under lockdown. We suspect Wayne Coyle will like it.


Zing! Illustration: David Squires/The Guardian


“Re the English Game: in the haze of hermitage I forgot that some sport was available in the form of a Netflix series (thanks Mr Folkes for the reminder). I am pleased to see a completely accurate telling of the story of football, which as we all know was a sh!te game until the Scots intervened” – Matt Richman.

“Unbelievable!! Just saw a replay of the 1970 FA Cup final with Chelsea and Nasty Leeds and saw TWO, yes, TWO toilet paper rolls being carelessly tossed on to the pitch!! My wife had to stop me from reaching out and grabbing them!” – Tim Allen.

“I had thought with football stopped The Fiver too would follow suit, but I see you’re still at it. May I suggest that instead of a prizeless letter dump, you invite Fiver readers to submit their own versions of the column? That might keep the old nag on the gallop and as I’ve assumed all along that you aren’t paid for your efforts in fairness to yourselves you could maintain the prizeless status” – Hanford Woods.

“‘Age of the Image’ BBC4 9pm, ‘Still Alice’ Film4 2am, ‘Going Going Gone’ BBC4 2am and ‘The Book of Polyamory’ BBC R4 8pm” – Tony Crawford (still diligently doing Tonight’s TV Highlights for us).

Send your letters to [email protected]. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Hanford Woods.


It’s another nostalgia-fest as Max and the pod squad revisit the Hand of God.

Football Weekly

Football Weekly: The Hand of God revisited


Big Sports Day has been postponed till 2021.

Ronald Koeman reckons there will be no international football until at least September.

Gillingham chief suit Paul Scally wants Premier League clubs to dig deep and find £50m to help save clubs in League One and League Two. “I think it’s D-day for the industry, a time of reckoning for football,” said Scally.

Aston Villa goalkeeper Pepe Reina is self-isolating after becoming ill last week. “Last week it was my turn to go through the bug,” he said. “We are very privileged people. We have a big house, with a garden. I think of the people who live in a 70-metres-squared apartment with two children and for me they are people who are showing a lot of strength.”

Raheem Sterling has admitted he still loves Liverpool despite the fresh and funky nature of his move to Manchester City five years ago. “Would I ever go back to Liverpool? To be honest with you, I love Liverpool,” he cheered on Instachat. “Don’t get it twisted, they are always in my heart, do you know what I mean?”

Raheem Sterling

Liverpool’s biggest fan, left. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

And Harry Kane has almost got himself fit again. Oh Harry! “I’m not too far away, I’d normally hope to be back with the team in two or three weeks. I’m at a good stage,” he cheered from a room somewhere in north London.


Louise Taylor sings the praises of Canada v England at the 2015 Women’s World Cup for the latest in our My Favourite Game series.

Lucy Bronze celebrates after bagging the winner for England against Canada in 2015.

Lucy Bronze celebrates after bagging the winner for England against Canada in 2015. Photograph: Andy Clark/AFP via Getty Images

In our latest rummage in the archives we came across Weird Uncle Fiver’s VHS collection Rob Smyth’s Joy of Six on great one-on-one finishes.

Ewan Murray says fitba needs a clear plan to handle the coronavirus crisis and quell squabbling.

Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!

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