Book of the Week: When Football Came Home

With the A-League now in one of the longest off-seasons in world football, we explore the world of football books to let you know which paperbacks to pick-up to keep you entertained during the dry months.

By Russ Gibbs

When Football Came Home
By Michael Gibbons
Publisher: Pitch Publishing

When Football Came Home

1996 was a hell of a year in the United Kingdom. Lads mag Loaded was selling thousands of copies espousing new styles and bringing a new culture to towns and cities around the country. The music scene saw Britpop in its prime as Blur and Oasis went head to head in the charts, vying to win – and shape – the hearts and souls of a new generation. The summer seemed exponentially hot and alcopops, such as the ubiquitous Hooch (the alcoholic Lemonade version, not the American bootleg version) was de rigueur. Oh, and there was a football tournament.

Euro 96 was, arguably, one of the last great football tournaments. Sixteen nations arrived in England to the backdrop of Baddiel and Skinner’s ‘Football’s Coming Home’ which quickly became the soundtrack to the summer. It was also a cracking set of matches as England proceeded to reach the semi-finals, the nation riding on a wave of emotion that made pre-tournament, ahem, mishaps (such as the infamous dentist chair and the apparent trashing of an aeroplane by Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne) pale into insignificance.

Michael Gibbons brings this period vividly to life in a magnificent tribute to the competition. Not just a review of Euro 96 but a long-form cultural essay on just what it meant to be English as the country went football mad. Not since the halcyon days of 1966 had the country partied so hard.

All the drama is included in Gibbons’ review. England’s troubled build-up, the FA revealing that Terry Venables would be let go post-tournament and replaced by Glenn Hoddle no matter the results, to the drama of the win over Scotland when Gascoigne was outstanding. The 4-1 shellacking of the Netherlands, a dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Spain (England won on penalties – no, it’s true, I swear) was followed by the heartbreak of elimination by Germany in the semi-finals.

It’s not just England’s story though. The list of names that graced that tournament read like a who’s who of international greats. Jurgen Klinsmann of Germany, Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria), Peter Schmeichel (Denmark) and the great Davor Suker (Croatia) who scored a cracker against the Great Dane himself in one of the goals of the tournament. But it doesn’t end there, there’s Karel Poborsky (remember him?) chipping an outrageous goal against Portugal and the story of two-goal final hero Oliver Bierhoff.

All this is played out against the dramatic political situation that engulfed the nation, the aforementioned musical ‘war’ and stories of spying, race riots and even a terrorist attack.

Written in an amusing, easy to read style, Gibbons effortlessly guides the reader back in time to relive these memorable events and, to put into context, just what it meant to the people who lived it and the nation that dreamed of glory but, ultimately, were to come up short. Damn those pesky Germans. Cool Britannia indeed.

RATING: 5 / 5

Book Review: Five Stars

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