The Sunday Telegraph
Ahead of England’s first Euro 20 match, James Brown hopes this tournament can lift the nation’s spirits the same way
At the final whistle of England v Holland at Wembley in Euro 96, I just stood and stared at the scoreboard and read it again and again. England 4 Holland 1. England 4 Holland 1. All around me young men were going absolutely crazy, leaping up and down, spilling drinks, grabbing strangers, laughing and grinning, It had been like this every time the strikers – Shearer and Sheringham, in their crisp white with blue trim Umbro shirts – had scored each of their respective pairs of goals. Total euphoria and disbelief. It was the first time England had scored four goals in a major tournament for 30 years, since 1966, at this same old Wembley Stadium to win the World Cup Final. No one had such stats to hand in the crowd – all we knew was England didn’t do this, smash the truly great footballing nations. We hadn’t even qualified for the World Cup in America two years before, we’d been atrocious at Euro 92, only Gazza, Platt and Pearce were left of the great Italia 90 team. Holland had made the consecutive finals of the first two Words Cups I watched in ‘74 and ‘78, Johan Cruyff was the best European player of my childhood, and yet here we were riding high, a lovely sunny day in a lovely sunny summer of a lovely sunny year, halfway through a decade where many of us were having the times of our lives.
Football, comedy, music, TV were all enjoying an exciting lease of life, as if there was a rush to have as much uch fun as feasibly possible ible before the century ended.
I was the editor of f Loaded, a magazine that encapsulated psulated the decade, just weeks before the start of Euro 96. We’d been voted Magazine of the Year by the publishing lishing industry for the second year running, were selling hundreds of thousands of what was the first ever ver mass market lifestyle magazine gazine for men. Unlike the formulaic mulaic topless ‘hand bra’ mags (with women covering their eir chests on
every cover) that followed us, we mainly put people of the moment, our heroes and men who made us laugh, front and centre: Gazza, Oasis, Will Carling, Prince Naseem, Jimmy White, Vic and Bob, Chris Tarrant – comedian Jenny Eclair guest edited a women’s issue and put Sean Bean on the cover. Either side of Euro 96 we had Frank Skinner and David Baddiel, from Fantasy Football League, and Homer and Bart Simpson drawn by series’ creator, Matt Groening, as cover stars.
At the photo shoot for the Skinner and Baddiel cover, Frank walked into the studio, slipped a cassette into a ghetto blaster and said: “We’ve recorded a song with Ian Brodie of the Lightning Seeds.” No one knew about it, it wasn’t the going to be the subject of the interview. He closed his eyes and moved round the room singing along and the rest of us realised it was really good.
Lightning Seeds songs were frequently used on highlights packages on MOTD but this was new, especially written material: “It’s coming home, its coming home.” The lyrics reminded us how bad it had been in the past but insisted that England fans should still have hope. No one had ever focused on the Three Lions on the England crest before. The song became the anthem of the tournament – like the weather and the talent on the pitch, it helped sweep everyone along. The players loved it too: they had to drag Gazza off the coach before games because he always wanted to listen to it one more time.
For once, the TV presenters, comedians, radio DJs and footballers we interviewed felt just like the guys who wrote and read our magazine. From Zoe Ball and Chris Evans to Father Ted and Trainspotting, confidence seemed to be in the air.
Just before the tournament I met England manager Terry Venables in the loos at his club, Scribes West in Kensington. A guy said, “Terry this is James, he edits Loaded, do you know it?” He laughed. “Of course I do, I can’t get my players to put it down when I’m doing team talks.” I’d sent 30 of the latest issue out to their HQ at Burnham Beeches.
In Finsbury Park during the tournament I was on stage DJing for the Sex Pistols when I saw the Nottingham Forest goalkeeper, Mark Crossley, and England heroes Stuart Pearce and Gareth Southgate. We got them up onto the stage to introduce the Pistols where I introduced the England players with the line, “Who says there are no more heroes…” They were wilder times back then: footballers would pick your Walkman up mid-interview while you were in the bathroom and record filthy jokes, radio DJs would phone in sick after being up all night in Ibiza.
There were so many great moments from that summer – Gazza’s mesmerising lob over Scotland’s Colin Hendry before volleying the ball into the back of the net ignited England’s tournament, and it was Gazza’s outstretched leg that just missed an open goal that would have seen us beat the Germans in the semi. In the stand, I was in line with the ball when it crossed that empty goalmouth. The goal against Scotland was celebrated in the same drunken style as the dentist’s chair, that they’d been captured in on the front of the tabloids who were hounding the team for bad news. Only this time it was water bottles not alcohol squirted into Gazza’s mouth as he lay on the pitch in jubilation. The players lifted the fans, and the atmosphere lifted the players. As midfielder Paul Ince said this week: “The song, the weather, Gazza’s goal, the dentist’s chair. It encapsulated everything the country is about. It wasn’t just football fans it was everybody. It changed everybody’s mindset. What we did somehow brought the whole country together.”
As England’s first Euro 20 game kicks off this afternoon, we’ll be hoping the tournament can lift us in the same way. In these difficult times, the country has rarely been so divided. Hopefully someone will emerge as a new footballing hero – maybe Manchester City starlet Phil Foden, who last week dyed his hair platinum blonde just like Gazza did 25 years ago. They’re big boots and roots to fill. A nation expects.