homecoming

Harry Kane 2021

Well tomorrow is the big day. It’s coming home. England are in an actual major final for the first time in my entire life, and with a (current) Tottenham player as captain no less. I find it hard to get excited, after a lifetime of (a) watching England and (b) being a Tottenham fan. But excited we are. That’s Harry Kane above, by the way, for those who don’t know. Also for those who don’t know, “it’s coming home” is what people in England say now when England do well at the football, and it’s taken the meaning of a hopeful “we’re gonna win it!” It’s a reference to the 1996 song by Baddiel and Skinner and the Lightning Seeds, “Three Lions”, which sings that as an opening refrain, “it’s coming home, it’s coming, football’s coming home”. Great song, I still have the original CD. Kind of a little overused in England the past few years. That line, “football’s coming home” was the tagline of the Euro 96 tournament, which was held in England. Why home? Because the sport originated in England. Now a lot of people are getting a bit uppity, oh no no it didn’t, football was invented thousands of years ago in this country or that culture, and all of that is probably true, they all had some sort of game that involved kicking a ball, though not always exclusively and . The sport that is played now and called “football” in England – “soccer” in America – however did originate in its modern form with its modern rules in Victorian England, and that is where the modern rules were first codified with the first ‘Football Association’ in 1863, which by the way is why people call it soccer. You might have heard posh types in Britain refer to Rugby as ‘Rugger’, well Association Football was shortened to ‘soccer’, a British – not American – term. Prior to this, there were a great number of different forms of the sport in England, such as the ‘Sheffield Rules’ or the ‘Cambridge Rules’. It was probably a bit like when you go to someone’s house and play Charades and they play the rules slightly different from you, and it can be problematic unless some great minds come together to form the Charades Association, or something. It was that form of the sport (football, not charades) that was exported around the world, and many great clubs and institutions were founded by expat Englishmen, such as AC Milan (note how they use the English name of the city); similarly, Genoa (not ‘Genova’) still go by their original name ‘Genoa Cricket and Football Club’ Basque team Athletic Bilbao has its origins in the shipyard workers who emigrated from various English ports; British emigrants kickstarted soccer in South America, and Brazilian team Corinthians was formed after the visit of amateur English side Corinthian FC. It’s not to say that the idea of playing sport on a field with a ball (or even calling it football) was inherently English, various other sports called football exist in other countries today, but those are different sports. They all have origins in the idea of sports with a ball but this particular one, Association Football, the one that is played with same rules worldwide, that one came out of England. Once it was out it went everywhere, and had many many different styles, but the FA rules were universal – sorry, not the ‘rules, I mean the Laws Of The Game. You have to call them that or referees get cross. FIFA was founded in Paris in 1904, replacing the FA as the global governing body of the sport but guaranteeing to only play games according to the FA’s Laws. The great tournaments of the game, they were not English in origin – the FIFA World Cup was organized by the Frenchman Jules Rimet (he of the “still gleaming” lyric in Three Lions) and held in Uruguay, and England refused to take part until 1950, when they were roundly beaten by the United States. UEFA, the European governing body, was founded in 1954 in Switzerland, and the great European tournaments followed – the European Cup (now the Champions League) in 1955, started by the French (ironically only one French team has ever won it, Marseille in 1993, and that was questionable given they were relegated for match-fixing that year), and of the course the European Championship itself, founded by UEFA with the trophy named after Frenchman Henri Delauney who had been having this idea for decades (he died before he could see it finally play). England have never won this tournament, never even been in the final. Or should I say, England’s Mens Team has never been in the final – the Womens Team has been to the final of the European Womens’ Championship twice.  But in this tournament England has never been to the final, until now. When England sing “it’s coming home” they aren’t referring to themselves as the founders of the competition, or as previous winners, they mean as the birthplace of the current sport, they aren’t saying “Football Including All Other Versions Of The Game Going Back Over Thousands Of Years In Different Unrelated Cultures Is Coming Home”, and they don’t have to actually point out “Association Football Is Coming Back To the Country Which First Codified the Laws Of The Game in 1863”; it doesn’t actually need pointing out. You don’t need to worry about football songs being literal. I don’t actually believe “Tottenham Are The Greatest Team The World Has Ever Seen”. Honestly, don’t worry about it. The song itself is self-deprecating in a typically English way, while also being hopeful, and saying we don’t need to always be so negative. It’s a much nicer song than some of the others that get sung by England fans, although as much as I like it and it makes me feel like it’s 1996 again, I hope another song comes along (not ‘Vindaloo’, I hated that one) that is just as good so people aren’t utterly sick of “It’s Coming Home” (I am sure many of you already are). It will probably come along in 2051, thirty years after our last trophy, which of course will be won tomorrow against Italy…

Ok, I’m not getting ahead of myself but I can still believe. We’ll see what happens. Italy haven’t won this trophy since 1968 but they’ve had a couple of World Cups since then. They don’t even call it football, they call it ‘Calcio’, and that name has origins in a sport that goes back centuries…don’t get me started on that story. But if it happens, if England win it… I will be running around Davis in my one England shirt singing “It’s Coming Home” at the top of my voice. Even in this 111 degree weather…  

       

“an ‘oops’ moment and then some”

Euro 2020 NED-CZE

I’m not drawing every game in the Euros or nothing, I just, well I like to draw and write things down. There were some bonkers games in the Round of Sixteen. France went out, half an hour after I had told my son that the game “had ‘Kylian Mbappe misses the decisive penalty’ written all over it”, congratulations Mystic Pete. The Dutch went out, after De Ligt batted the ball away with his big paw, and headline writers and tweeters scrambled to get the best ‘De Ligt based pun, having used every possible ‘Czech’ based pun already. (I wonder if any found a way to shoehorn “Red De Ligt District” in there somewhere? I hope not.) The Czechs had Holeš exposing holes in the Dutch defense (another low-hanging fruit for sub-editors everywhere). I’m not even going there with all the ‘Schick’ ones.  And then there was Sweden-Ukraine, where the Swedish player Danielson got a red card, and my own version of the many obvious Karate Kid based jokes was “Danielson whacks on, walks off” which I thought was alright. England-Germany, Harry Kane was apparently not running much, so was being called ‘Walking Kane’ which I thought was quite funny (I still love you Harry). Portugal-Belgium, glad Belgium won that, and when Hazard’s same-height little brother scored I yelled out “That’s what I’m Thorgan about!”, but then immediately thought I should have said “Lukaku’s Thorgan” because it sounds a bit like “Look Who’s Talkin'” but it didn’t really work. This always happens when international football tournaments are on, I have fun with all of the names. In this one I tried to make Star Wars Prequels connections with the players, you had General Grealish, Count Doku, Anakin SKyleWalker, Chancellor Pal-Palhinha, Bale Organa, Darth Mæhle, Jonas Windu, Ethan Amp-idala, and, um, the Marcus side of the Forss (not to mention De Ligt side). Plus many other probably better ones.     

Euro 2020 CRO-ESP 

deep-six ninety-six

Gareth Southgate 2021 copy2

Well, there’s no question now is there. It is definitely coming home. It may have to quarantine for ten days and take two tests but come on. England did it, they beat Germany in a knockout game, and it didn’t even have to go to penalties. Sure, not an entertaining game, but if you want entertainment go and watch Hamilton. Or Spain v Croatia, or France v Switzerland. Amazing and ridiculous games, no defending whatsoever. England haven’t let in a goal yet. Haven’t scored many either, but maybe this is how it comes home. Anyway I am not going to analyze the game or offer opinions on whether Kane wasn’t getting service or tired or whether this Germany isn’t as good (it’s better than circa 2000 Jens Jeremies era Germany) or home advantage or any of that. I don’t even really think it’s “coming home” (if “coming home” means England winning it, since “it” is the European Championship, which England has never ever been in the final of before, or “it” is the Henri Delaunay trophy, which is French). The semis and the final are at Wembley though, but first England have to play a quarter-final against Ukraine in Italy, specifically so people can sing “it’s coming Rome”. Whatever happens, England did beat Germany, at Wembley. Gareth Southgate beat Germany, at Wembley, in the Euros. So, just as I did an illustration of him in 1996 recently, here he is in 2021, a quarter of a century later, this time in celebration. nice tie, Gareth. No waistcoat this time. Here he is, burying 1996. And so I ask myself, can we all bury 1996 now? 96 is the new 66. England didn’t even win it in 96 but it’s become such a big thing, part of the folklore, and that song, that bloody song, yeah you know I’ll be getting the CD out if England make it through to the final. CD?! How old are you, grandad? Can we all bury 1996 now? Not just the Euros, but everything? 1996 was one of the Last Great Years, maybe even The last one. Nobody used a mobile phone. What a time that was, eh! People had to wait until you got home before you ignored their call. To call people when you were out you had to use a phone box, with ‘coins’, maybe with a ‘Phonecard’. Nobody used a mobile phone. A few people sure, the things existed, but you go to a football match or a gig or watch a building burn down, nobody had their phones out filming it, tweeting it, recording it in case they forgot. People had to just ‘remember’ their experiences. Nobody used the internet. The odd ‘tech geek’ perhaps, in England anyway. There was a guy we knew at college called Ruman who could get us ‘on the internet’ in the computer labs, he was the only person we knew who could get onto this magic place, but there was nothing on there back then anyway, and our college wouldn’t let us stay online for long before kicking us off. Social media? What the hell’s that? 1996, the Star Wars Special Editions hadn’t even come out. The old Tories were still going, pre-New Labour, John Major and co. Princess Diana was still alive and being hounded by the press, before they decided in the middle of the night a year later that she was actually the Princess of Hearts or something. 1996 Wembley isn’t even the same Wembley as 2021 Wembley, it’s just in the same bloody place. 1996, I was twenty and could stay up all night long, bouncing about to Pulp or Oasis or Rage Against The Machine, and often did; I ain’t twenty no more. London was amazing in 1996. I got my guitar that year, on Charing Cross Road, I still have it. I bought it while on my break from the chocolate shop I worked at. A piece of 1996 I have held on to. Soho was brilliant in 1996, not yet shite, but no longer quite as seedy as in the 70s and 80s. Still seedy enough though. The Hellfire Club on Oxford Street was the best place on Saturday nights, a place long gone now. Can we all bury 1996 now? I mean, the world of 1996 has been buried a very long time, and it ain’t ever coming back. Gareth just buried another bit. His penalty miss is now in the ground with all the CDs, VHS tapes, Phonecards, cash, music magazine with cassette tapes on the cover, Soho being cool, and all the other stuff we left behind. Is this about me missing London? Might be, most things are, I’ve been burying that for years. 

Getting out of the Groups

And so, if you are following Euro 2020 (held in 2021; don’t worry about it), today was the day the Group Stages finished. It was an exciting end; as the last games played out simultaneously to decide the last few spots, teams moving up and down their mini-group with each goal, the phrase “If It Stays Like This” played on repeat. Some very good games, some not quite so good ones, and of the 24 teams that started, 8 are now out. I remember in the last Euros I drew some of the games (see here), so I thought yeah why not, let’s draw some of the games. And write in the commentary as I hear it on the TV. I started with Italy v Switzerland, and drew five more, below. I’m not going to bother talking about the games, but here are the matches I drew. The best was probably Wales beating Turkey, but the Germany v Portugal game was pretty fun as well. England played Scotland, the ‘oldest international game’, and just like that first one in 1872 it ended 0-0. Though in that very first game, England played with seven forwards and Scotland with five, though none were able to score. Apparently the Copa America is going on as well right now, someone asked if I was watching that too. No, no I’m not, I may be historically obsessed with the Euros (see previous post) but after this past season, boy I’m overloaded with football. There needs to be a good break from football after this tournament. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy a few days off watching people in coloured shirts kicking a ball around, then this weekend it will start up again with the knockouts. England will play Germany next week in the ‘Southgate 96 Rematch’. I’m going to call it now – I am officially Writing Off Germany. At my Peril. I probably won’t draw that match. Probably…

Euro 2020 ITA-SUI  Euro 2020 TUR-WAL Euro 2020 DEN-BEL  Euro 2020 ENG-SCO  Euro 2020 HUN-FRA  Euro 2020 POR-GER

flags up

061121 euro 2020 opener

“Who’s going to win the Euros?” you ask. I don’t care. Despite all of this, despite the elaborate chart I have made, despite my collection of shirts, despite that massive long autobiographical post I made with digital illustrations of players past, despite getting up at 6am to watch Scotland lose to the Czechs, despite all the flag banners I have put up and the paper mosaic flags I have painstakingly made (they go back several tournaments), despite hunting in vain for this year’s Euro 2020 Panini album here in California and then finally just spending money ordering it online just to have it with all the others, despite all of this I don’t actually care who wins the bloody thing. I don’t care who wins the groups, I don’t even really care who wins the games themselves, although obviously I want England to win theirs (yet I will wear the Scotland shirt this Friday when they both play, my son will wear the England shirt), and it would be nice if England actually won the tournament, there’s been too many years of hurt. Perhaps instead of “Jules Rimet still gleaming” someone could sing about the “Henri Delauney”, to the tune of Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely”. But no, I don’t actually care. Several reasons, firstly I am exhausted from football. It’s been a long couple of years. Imagine how the players feel. Secondly, Spurs aren’t in it, so I always feel differently about international football. Thirdly, watching Christian Eriksen nearly die on the pitch live on TV on Saturday morning scared and horrified me a bit. I was actually in a hotel in San Francisco at the time, and just couldn’t believe it. I can’t really comprehend all the feelings I have about that incident, all I can say now is that I am so glad he lived and is, as much as we know, ok. Alive. I was going to draw him in Illustrator tonight but I’m still upset thinking about him on that pitch, surrounded by his team-mates, trying to bring him back. I have a soft spot for Denmark having spent a formative summer there at the end of my teens, but I love Eriksen. He spent a long time at Spurs, he could have left long before but didn’t, when he finally decided he needed a new challenge he went to Italy and won the Serie A title with Inter, and bloody good for him. He was long part of my favourite ever Spurs team (maybe equal to the Ossie/Hoddle/Waddle/Allen etc team) and he’s still on my son’s wall; that Tottenham team forms part of the bond I have with my son, so I have a lot of affection for Eriksen. That’s all I can say on that. It wouldn’t be fair to say it’s made me not care about the Euros, on the contrary it’s probably made me appreciate all the players who take part in it more, they are human beings doing what they love so we can watch them. I think I don’t care who will win because I just want it to be all good and worth it. It doesn’t really matter who wins. Though of course, tell me that when England are in a penalty shootout in the quarter finals and I am in the kitchen eating a packet of Pringles too nervous to watch. As I write all the teams have played once; I drew this during the first match, Italy vs Turkey. You’ll see from the note that we had a plumbing incident, that would be the toilet spewing out sewage, which I was hoping wasn’t a metaphor for international football. However it was a really good start from Italy, and despite my reservations about this multi-country tournament I absolutely love that many teams are playing in front of home crowds. After this bloody year, it feels really fantastic, especially watching Italy in Rome with Andrea Bocelli banging out ‘Nessun Dorma’ (though of course Pavarotti was better; I said to my wife that it was a bit like having Ringo sing ‘Imagine’). The best bit was the little remote control car that drove out onto the field with the match ball on top of it. Star of the show. “Is that a Volkswagen?” someone asked; I said “I think it’s a Nissan Dorma”. Sorry, it’s late and I just needed to get that joke out of the way. Italy looked good, they could be Dark Horses. There are lots of Dark Horses in this tournament aren’t there. Why do we say Dark Horses? I mean, horse racing usually takes place in the daytime and a Dark Horse would be easier to see. Maybe we should say Green Horses, they blend in with the grass. Or Invisible Horses. Anyway it’s been a good tournament so far, some great names, there’s this one guy called Varcheck everyone’s talking about (or it may be his wife, Varcheckova). I know, just getting those ones out of the way. I was pleased to see Sweden have a player called Danielson, it reminded me of the Karate Kid. This will be a long tournament, honestly. I don’t care who wins.

we need to talk about the euros

The UEFA European Championships start this Friday, aka “the Euros”. In years gone by I have drawn MS Paint images of the new kits and discussed those ahead of the tournament. I’m not saying I haven’t done that this year (I definitely have, just a few weeks ago, but then a few of the kits suddenly got changed and now I don’t want to. Besides, I am sick of football. I am. This has been a grind of a season, there has been too much of it, and now we have a tournament in an odd-numbered year, set in how many countries? During a pandemic that is simultaneously getting better and worse. Of course, I’ll love it when it starts. I might even cheer for England (though I got the Scotland shirt this time round). I made my wallchart (complete with pictures of players whoa re now going to miss it through injury), ordered a banner, and will put the usual paper mosaic flags on the wall, taking them down every time a country is eliminated. Who will win? England? Maybe Belgium? Probably France. I’m sick of football, but I love it too much. So I started drawing some classic footballers in Adobe Illustrator, one image from each of the tournaments, and so I thought I’d write a post about the Euros that have meant the most to me, that is, the ones between the ages of 12 and 28, after which I moved to America. It’s a story of my life, intertwined with the Euros, and paints as much a picture of me as it does the players I’ve drawn, so here goes. This will be a long, long post. It might be worth grabbing a cup of tea. We will kick off in 1988…

Euro Legends - MVB

EURO 88Orange Boom. The first European Championships that I can remember. I did know that France had apparently won something in 1984, because in World Cup 86 they talked about the 84 France team of Platini and Tigana, about how good the Belgians were, but it wasn’t on TV in England and literally nobody cared about it so it may as well have been a tennis tournament. When the Euros of 1988 came around, held in West Germany, we heard more about it, but still it was the European Championships, with only eight teams, hardly the World Cup. A bit like watching the European athletics championships when you’re only interested in the Olympics, but even less glamourous. Eight teams; this number didn’t change until 1996, but in 1988 there were far fewer countries in Europe than today, despite there being two Germanies. England were in it this time though, and so were Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland, and in 1988 that was a pretty big deal to our family, and it’s where my love of the Irish national team started. Around that time we were very much into our Irishness, going to the Irish Festival week in Southport twice a year, the sound of Brendan Shine and Philomena Begley playing out of our windows, and when Ireland actually beat England 1-0 in the Euros…well, that was celebrated quite wildly. I still have the shirt my mum brought me back from the London Irish Festival in Roundwood Park, Kilburn, a week later that says “These Boys Made History” with a photo of the team (a photo on a t-shirt! That technology was like sorcery to me in 1988) and the result on the other side. We were very much in Jackie’s Army ever since, and when Ireland play at a tournament with England, I’m always supporting them first, England second. Apart from that, there wasn’t a lot I paid attention to at Euro 88, which I still thought of as a fringe tournament (fringes and mullets, at least where Hoddle and Waddle were concerned). Until the final. We watched the final, the USSR with their CCCP emblazoned white shirts, and Holland, the greatest team who had never won anything (them and Hungary, as history books would tell me). The Dutch had those unusual orange shirts with the many gradients mixed up with chevrons, and Adidas classic now but not loved by the players at the time. They also had the three great Flying Dutchmen of Gullit, Rijkaard…and Marco Van Basten. I loved Marco Van Basten. I loved Ruud Gullit too, but while Gullit was a force of nature Van Basten was a ballet dancer with an assassin’s feet. His career ended very early through a long-term ankle injury (to this day, he cannot kick a ball without pain). In this final though, he produced the best volley I’d ever seen or would ever see. Watching it live was so exciting. Kids these days are fed a YouTube diet of classic goals, classic players, but in 1988 when I was twelve all I had was some old video of a few Spurs games and whatever the BBC wanted to show us, like Ricky Villa’s 81 twisty-turny Wembley winner, or that Ronnie Radford screamer over and over. Immediately after the final whistle, I was straight down the park with the other kids in the street, trying to do that Van Basten volley. It sounds like a massive cliche, but I remember it well. And I was so utterly useless as a player, to a fairly impressive level, but I really just wanted to hit the ball into the inside of the net as sweetly as Marco Van Basten. Well I say the side of the net, I mean against the wall of the boarded up brick toilet building that used to be in Watling Park next to the tennis courts, they’re gone now. I could never volley the ball like that in a million years. Or at least in 33 years, maybe I’ll try again today, maybe today. 

Euro Legends - PS92

EURO 92 – Danish Fairytales. By 1992 I was both taller and even more obsessed with football then ever. Rather than growing out of Panini football stickers with everyone else, I actually became a bit more avid collector, and with a small dinky little tournament like the European Championships that wasn’t too hard. I pored over that Euro 92 sticker book like it was the Bible, but it was better than the Bible, because it was shorter, substantially less confusing and had pictures of football players in it. I could write a whole book about my life and thoughts at the time of Euro 92 (same with Euro 96) but that would be longer, more confusing, and probably contain more pictures of kits than players. I was sixteen, the age at the edge of the world. I am pretty sure I watched every game; school was out, as it was by then for all sixteen year olds, so there was more free time. I would wander about, go to the library to read language books, listen to music, play guitar, see friends, draw, occasionally work as a waiter with my mum, go down Carnaby Street to the old Soccerscene football shirt shop, and obsess over football. My GCSEs were all done with, the final year of top-flight football before this new ‘Premier League’ started was over (I went to Lineker’s last game for Spurs at White Hart Lane), and the long, long summer beckoned. I remember going camping overnight with friends up in Stanmore, and even there I would bring my Euro 92 sticker album to read, when we weren’t firing air-guns at tin cans or trying to explode cans of beans on a camp fire. I would go regularly to a youth club at the Annunciation in Burnt Oak with my friend Terry, that’s where we would watch many of the games of Euro 92. The sticker album had all eight teams, plus two more, Denmark and Italy. They were the substitute teams, in case two of the qualified teams, CIS (formerly the USSR, kind of in the process of imploding) and Yugoslavia (on the verge of imploding) had to pull out. CIS managed to hold it together, though not with the beautifully insane kits they had in the sticker album (still a holy grail kit for me), but Yugoslavia started falling into chaos that year and were not able to take part. So, they called up Denmark, two weeks before the tournament. I was pretty disappointed, as Yugoslavia were the team that I was most looking forward to seeing, they really had the most amazing squad of players. Still, Denmark were always fun, and they did not disappoint. Their Hummel kit was like 1992 personified, baggy with unnecessary zigzags, carnivalesque stripes on the arms, and while Danish legend Michael Laudrup couldn’t play, his younger brother Brian became a real favourite. The star though was the red-nosed giant in goal, Peter Schmeichel, who wore a rainbow coloured kit that by the standards of the early 90s keeper kits was quite restrained. This was the last tournament before the backpass rule came into effect banning goalies from picking up passes from their own players, and Denmark milked every last ounce out of the old rule. This was the tournament that was Lineker’s farewell, but England, under the often maligned Graham Taylor, didn’t do so well and lost to the hosts Sweden, with Lineker being subbed off when England needed to score. Denmark though, they rode through on a big Viking boat shaped wave, and in the final they faced the old foes of Germany (playing as Germany for the first time since reunification), dispatching them with a John Jensen goal. “It’s like a fairy tale!” people said in the youth club while we watched. “It’s just like a fairy tale!” I hated that particular cliche even then; I hated most cliches, to the point of being a complete cliche myself. I couldn’t remember any fairy tales in which a ball kept getting passed back to a goalkeeper until the other team got bored and lost. Except the classic Jack and the Timewasting Back Pass. After this, if a goalie picked up a backpass he would give away a free kick, and the Age of Fairy Tales was ended. I was sixteen. Later that summer I went to Devon twice, first camping with that youth club, the second with my family; when we went to Cornwall for the second half of the trip, my parents were arguing so much that I ended up ditching them (I was sixteen, so already at the age I could just do that) and went to spend a few days with my old schoolfriend Kevin, who had moved to Devon. I also got my GCSE results – good in Art and German, not great in everything else, but enough to start A-Levels.  

Euro Legends - AS96

EURO 96 – Coming Home. The summer of 1996 was brilliant wasn’t it. You know it was. If you were in England, this was a great summer. The sun was out, and the Euros were being held right here, at home, football was coming home. For me, 1996 was one of those years that you feel your life turns on. I did my A-Levels from 92 to 94, and they didn’t go so well. By the time the World Cup USA 94 came around, I was done with school, done with it all, really. I loved the World Cup, but little else. By the time Euro 96 rolled around I was a different person, much more positive and upbeat, feeling fantastic. In the summer of 94 I decided that rather than go to a crap art college and paint badly until I got slightly better, I would go to a sixth form college and do a new set of A-Levels, including English, where I’d learn to write. Best decision I ever made. I made great friends, I was working part-time, I got into music again, I started exploring across Europe, the world was full of possibility. It was the height of Britpop, Blur and Oasis, Pulp, Elastica, Supergrass, er, Shed Seven. It was nearly the end of Tory Britain (until much later). In 1996 when I was at the end of my second A-Levels, excitement about the Euros was everywhere. This was a bigger tournament – sixteen teams instead of the previous eight – with exotic new teams like Croatia and their pizzeria-tablecloth shirts. At the time I was regularly going to the Hellfire Club and the Intrepid Fox in London, places full of leather-bound heavy metal rockers, among whom I was the only one wearing a football shirt, yet not being in any way out place; I also remember meeting up with friends at the Queens Head pub in Wood Green to watch a couple of games. What a tournament. Gazza’s goal v Scotland, with the dentist chair celebration. Most of all I remember working at Asda, in the coffee shop, on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons. I had a little handheld portable TV (honestly, with a huge aerial) that I would sneakily watch the games on while filling the dishwasher. There was a guy I worked with called Lee, Arsenal fan but we got on really well, and on the day of the England v Spain quarter final he had to work in the kitchen upstairs, so we couldn’t sneakily watch the game together. So we would be on the supermarket phone to each other, I would be updating him on things as they happened. This is before the age of mobile phones and instant text updates. The penalty shootout came, and well, we knew that was that. But England won it. I called him up, huge cheers down the phone. I do remember going out that night, to the Hellfire Club, and pogoing up and down until the early hours with my friend Andrea (I know I bruised a rib), because the next day my uncle and I went with Andrea to see the Sex Pistols homecoming concert at Finsbury Park. My hair was longer, curlier, the sun was hot, the crowds were sweaty, and there was a big cheer when we heard Coratia had equalized against Germany, followed by a big sigh when Germany scored a winner, meaning England would play them in the semis. But we were jumping up and down to the Buzzcocks, and Skunk Anansie, and Iggy Pop, and then the Pistols themselves. My uncle Billy had got me into the Sex Pistols when I was 13, and we had waited our whole lives to see this. That day is one of my best memories. Billy died in 2019. A few days later, the semi final. I remember watching it at home, but I don’t actually remember who with. My dad probably.  England wore the amazing grey away kit, designed to look good when worn with jeans; Alan Shearer, the best goalscorer in the country, scored first, and early. That illustration is of him celebrating. “It’s Coming Home, It’s Coming Home…” Germany scored soon after, Kuntz. (Sorry, that’s the player’s name).  England were so close to a winner, but it went to penalties. It always goes to penalties. I’m sure I was in the kitchen, unable to watch. I’m never able to watch. And…they lost, at Wembley, with the current England boss Gareth Southgate, fresh-faced and innocent back then, missing the decisive kick. I still feel that. That was the feeling of that amazing 1996 year turning into a different year. At the time, I was dating an Italian girl who lived near South Kensington but worked at one of those amusement arcades near Leicester Square. Since she worked so late (usually until about 11:30pm) I would often meet her after work and we would spend time going out to the various rock clubs in Soho until the early sunrise hours, Bar Italia before the night bus. On the night of the semi-final defeat I got the tube down to meet her, I wasn’t in a great mood, feeling a bit glum. Football does that to me. Anyway at about Euston or somewhere these four boozed up English lads got on my tube train and sat around me, clearly also unhappy with the score. They decided to start singing at me, I’m not sure why, I suspected they thought I was German (that has happened before), but in retrospect it was probably because they were just stupid. I wanted to say look lads, leave it yeah, I’m as pissed off as you about the footy, but I just tried to ignore them. They definitely sang songs about the war to me, again because they either thought I was German or that’s just what a lot of England football louts do. I’ve said before, I usually support Ireland, but if England are there with no Ireland, I’m all for England, but it’s always the hooligans, the xenophobic louts that ruin it. This was a summer of positivity, feelgood, forgetting the years of Ing-Er-Land No Surrender thuggishness that had too often spoilt the party, but here they were. We pulled into Leicester Square and I got up to leave while they still sang intimidating songs at me. As I turned my back one of them grabbed my backpack and gave it a heavy shove. I nearly fell onto the crowded platform. At that point the Burnt Oak side came out and I turned right back around at them, standing in the doorway facing them all off with a barrage of “yeah come on then, off the train now, all of ya, come on!” Plus a few choice words of Anglo-Saxon origin. They stayed where they were, stood on the train. I glared at them as the door closed. Apparently that works. I was a skinny wretch with crap eyesight, but you know how invincible you feel at 20; I also knew that if they had stepped off the train, I probably couldn’t have taken all four on at once, but I did know all the quickest shortcuts around the station if I needed a speedy getaway. It turns out there was violence that night after the game, in Trafalgar Square most notably, as people took out their frustrations about a football team losing a penalty shootout on, I don;t know, the pigeons? I can’t remember us going to any rock clubs that night, I think we just had consolation ice cream, but that’s how Euro 96 ended for me. Oh right yeah, Germany beat the Czechs in the final with a Golden Goal. I’m not drawing bloody Oliver Bierhoff.      

Euro Legends - Greece 04

EURO 2000 – A Figo For Thee. In the autumn of 1999, two years into my French and Drama degree at university, I went to the city of Charleroi in Belgium for my Year Abroad. That was a required part of the French degree, and it gave me the opportunity to improve my French, albeit with a Charleroi accent. Charleroi was a special place; I’m not saying it’s the worst city in Belgium, but that’s what other Belgians say to me. I like it, probably because others don’t. It was rainy, gloomy, industrial, worn down, but it was also the place where England would be playing two matches of Euro 2000, a tournament held jointly in Belgium and Holland, and where I lived was right across from the stadium. I could see into the Stade du Mambourg from my 13th floor bedroom window. It was great fun being in Belgium during this tournament. There were lots of nationalities living in Charleroi, so every time one fo them played you would get locals from that country riding their mopeds or cars around town honking their horns and waving their flags, it was just what they do. the biggest groups in Charleroi, which is an old mining town, were from Italy (mostly Sicily), and Turkey. When Italy won a game, it was a huge party. When Turkey beat Belgium, it was half a huge party. The staff in the bar where I used to drink and watch the games were so pissed off at losing to Turkey that they just took away the TV and closed the bar. He did something similar when Arsenal lost to Galatasaray a month earlier. So, I drank up my beer and went over to the Turkish kebab place Chez Raoul for some food to celebrate with my very happy Turkish friends. I used to get kebabs there all the time and they were always very friendly to me. I was 24, teaching English at the Universite de Travail, living on a diet of frites in sauce, mitraillettes de dinde (turkey kebabs), chocolate, and Belgian beer. I didn’t have a lot of friends, a few people I would sometimes meet up with, I’d watch football with my neighbours from Africa (in Euro 2000, my friends only supported the black players, even if they didn’t know the names – “le noir! le noir!” – with the exception of Paul Scholes, who they would cheer for in my honour, because he had red hair. Every time he would touch the ball, they would cheer “le roux! le roux!” On our floor, I was “le roux”, and I came back from Belgium speaking French with a bit of a Congolese accent. My favourite bar was La Cuve A Biere, a little place near where I lived, always warm and welcoming. In the colder months I would come in, my glasses would steam up, and by the time I got to the bar and wiped them clean there would already be a 25cl Maes beer waiting for me on the counter, and maybe a little bowl of spiced cheese. I watched England’s first game on their little TV. That one was played in Holland, where there was none of the typical England fan trouble, probably because of the calming effect of the local produce found in Holland. (Spoiler alert, Belgium is more famous for quite strong beer, so that calming effect was a little bit gone by the time they reached Charleroi). Anyway England were playing Portugal, and England were going to win. Scholes scored first – “le ROUX!” followed by the curly haired scouse wizard McManaman. And then Portugal came to life. The man of the moment was Luis Figo, a handsome man of a man, and that’s who I’ve drawn here. I know this was the tournament of France, of Trezeguet and Zidane, but for me the main man of Euro 2000 was Figo. What a man, look at him. “A Figo For Thee” ran a headline, quoting Shakespeare as you do, rather than “‘Ere Figo, ‘ere Figo, ‘ere Figo” or “Figo-ing Home…” etc. England lost 3-2, but that’s ok, they were playing Germany next in Charleroi. The England fans arrived in town the night before. As I said, every time a country played and won its fans would ride around town honking car horns, everyone got along, it was all good natured. Until England showed up and spoiled the party. A large bunch of lads, singing “With St George In My Heart Keep Me English” and “No Surrender To The IRA” (which wasn’t really going to be an issue in Charleroi). There had been a lot of talk before the tournament as to whether bars would be made to close up when England came into town to prevent drunken hooliganism (“la maladie anglaise” as it is known), but in Charleroi they just opened up stalls in the street selling beer. The locals were quite amused at the prospect of these English coming in. Having witnessed the chaos of the Charleroi carnival, they laughed in the face of drunken idiots. Well these ones on that Friday night up in Place Charles II decided that the French fans who were celebrating in their cars were doing it to wind up the English rather than celebrate their win. I was down there, I watched it all unfold (I had gone down with one of my Congolese neighbours, who was looking to sell some tickets for the game and needed me to translate). A few lads started to throw chairs at passing cars, then a few more threw beer, and the odd table. There were non-violent fans too of course, one man I spoke to was there with his young daughter and looked really disappointed. After a while I left them all to it and went home, not really wanting to be in a riot.

The riot as it turned out was the next day, before the match itself. I was actually getting out of town that morning to spend the day in the countryside with some friends, coming back later to watch the game with my neighbours. Charleroi was a little messy, but it was always a bit messy so nothing new there. England fans were poring into town in their droves, singing and cheering, and trying to start a fight with a couple of Germans who were just ignoring them. When I got off the train back into Charleroi later that day, the sight of thousands of English fans packing the town was quite jaw-dropping, and I wasn’t sure I’d make it home in time to see the game. So I went through the back streets and short cuts, I always know those. I was nervous – despite Charleroi’s (deserved) reputation in Belgium, I had never been nervous there, until I saw this quite volatile looking crowd. It was nearly kick-off time, so I found a little cafe I knew would be open (it was) and watched the first half in there. Next to me was an English bloke the size of a hill troll tattooed with all sorts of patriotic fun. Did I still look as German as I did in 96? I really didn’t want England to score while I was in there. At half-time I dashed uphill to where I lived, and watched the second half in the common room with my African neighbours. Shearer scored, and there were many celebrations. From me anyway, my neighbours didn’t care about this Shearer bloke. They told me that during the day while I was in the countryside, there was a big riot of England fans in the Place Charles II, much bigger than the night before. I believed it. This time the Belgian police had brought out their favourite weapon, the tank-mounted water cannon, knocking the chair throwing ing-er-landers all over the place. After the violent element had been routed, and England had won the game, the rest of the night was a massive party with all those who were left. I went into town with my neighbours, and ended up meeting a lot of fun England fans, and showed them all the places that were still open, mostly the typical old-man taverns of the sort that never actually closed in Charleroi, and the best frites, which of course are from Robert La Frite. Many were waiting up all night for the first train to the ferry in the morning. I made friends with a guy from the north who was an amateur boxer, and I helped him get his mobile phone back when it was half-inched by a couple of Tunisian lads (who we also made friends with; I still have a photo of me with these random people). It was probably the most fun I had in Belgium that whole year. By the time of the second match, my friend Jacki from the UK had come to visit; England lost to Romania and went out, it was a shame, but then I moved back to London and watched the rest of the tournament there; France won the final, a game I watched at an upscale pub in trendy Notting Hill, a million miles from the grimy soot-stained bricks of Charleroi.

Euro Legends - Greece 04

EURO 2004 – Hellas Raising. My wife is American; we met in 2002 (France), got engaged in 2003 (Italy), got married in 2004 (Las Vegas). 2004 was a year of wedding planning; 2005 was a year of moving-to-America planning. In 2004 we lived in Hornsey Lane, near Archway. As I look back on each chapter, at each Euros, my life is at a very different stage from the previous one. I’m not going to go to Euro 2008, but that was vastly different again – living in California, parent to a new baby, watching the games in Spanish. In 2004 though I was living the last years of my London life. I worked at a bookshop in Finchley, called the Finchley Bookshop. I worked downstairs in the office, trying to pay their invoices, and there were a lot of invoices. I remember before the Euros began, my wife’s office organized a sweepstake among their staff, and my wife had to pick a team randomly. She picked Greece. No chance of winning then. Spoiler alert, Greece did win. They did ‘a Denmark’, but it was better than a Denmark, because they had to beat more teams. They beat the hosts, Portugal, the favourites, twice. They beat the France of Zidane, 1-0. They beat the Czechs of Nedved, 1-0. It wasn’t pretty. The players weren’t fashionable. I think the fairly boring template adidas kit they wore didn’t help, it was unlike the fun outfits worn by the back-pass masters Denmark. They didn’t beat the perennial mechanical winning machine of Germany, but the golden hopefuls of Portugal, the team of the man, Figo, and the new young stepover star Cristiano Ronaldo. This illustration is of the winning goalscorer, Charisteas, a man so unfamous I cannot even remember his first name. My wife won twenty quid from that Greece win, lot of money back then. You could get eight pints for that much; be lucky to get three now, maybe four. While I remember watching the final and many of the other games at our small Crouch End studio flat, one of my main memories from that Euros was going to a packed pub in North Finchley on a hot Thursday afternoon with my friend Tel, and watching England beat the Swiss 3-0, and everyone falling in love with this young Scouse kid, Wayne Rooney. He was so brilliant back then, like he was made of electricity and freckles, lightning fast but made of meat, like a power chord in a milk bottle. If you think these metaphors are bad, I remember the newspaper headlines back then, all having some sort of pun on the ‘Roo’ part of his name. It’s strange, I find it hard to remember that well now, those few years living back in England before we came out here. Our Vegas wedding later that year was obviously the big event, and 2004 is one year where I don’t measure my life by the European football championships. I do remember my stag night out in Chalk Farm with all my best friends…well, I remember most of it. I started a masters degree in medieval English at King’s, so spent a lot more time down in the library in central London, reading medieval texts and journals about Anglo-Norman. We started the process for me to become a Permanent Resident ahead of actually moving out here, which we did a year later. By the time the next Euros came about in 2008 we were three years here, parents to a newborn baby, now a teenager with whom I watch the Euros and World Cups. He is just a year older than I was when I watched Van Basten’s volley in 1988. I’ll tell you as well, he’s a lot better at those than I was.

So Euro 2020 starts tomorrow, here in 2021, Italy v Turkey, in Rome. England play on Sunday, and Ireland aren’t in it so I can cheer for England (though I’ll be wearing the Scottish shirt as well). I hope it’s fun, I hope I’m not too sick of football after this year. I suspect that in twenty years when I write another post I’ll remember this one more for the life events around it, what with it being postponed from last year because of the, you know, historic global pandemic. I wonder what player I will draw? Phil Foden? Gareth Bale? Kylian Mbappe? Or a completely unexpected Charisteas type unknown, like Elif Elmas of North Macedonia?