Two Of Our Own


Another football related post. Yesterday, in our 1-0 defeat of reigning champions Manchester City, Harry Kane (above, right) scored the winning goal, which turned out to be his 200th goal in the Premier League, becoming only the third player in the Premier League to reach that milestone. More importantly, it was his 267th goal for Tottenham Hotspur, thereby becoming our highest ever goalscorer. The record he broke was that held by the great Jimmy Greaves, whose tally of 266 was, I always thought, impenetrable. Greavsie, above left, passed away last year and that’s when I made this little image of him. I also made one of Ian St. John, who also died, and was his long-term TV partner. As a kid in the 80s, the Greavsie of the telly and the Greavsie of the Spurs record books were two different people, I just would not believe they were the same guy. We loved Greavsie, he was this jolly bloke who made football on TV fun. Saint and Greavsie, the show the pair of them did, was genuinely hilarious, and Jimmy Greaves was this bubbly balding bloke with mischievous eyes and a bushy moustache, a cheeky chirpy Cockney chappie, cheerful and cheesy, while amiable Scot Ian St. John was his perfect foil, I wouldn’t say the Wise to Jimmy’s Morecambe, but Saint was very funny in his own right and they were a great double-act when talking footy, and Saint genuinely seemed to love Greavsie. We all did. (I loved Saint as well, and knew he was a Liverpool legend). When I would be shown pictures of this great star of Tottenham’s history – which in those days was less than twenty years before – I couldn’t believe it. this guy with short dark hair, thin serious face, no jolly ‘tache, and every time he got the ball he would race past people like they were not worthy of his time, before slotting the ball deftly into the goal, over and over again, for both Spurs and England (as well as Chelsea and AC Milan, from whom we bought him in 1961). It was injury that kept him from playing a role in the 66 World Cup Final, losing his place to a guy called Hurst who ended up doing quite well himself. After his time at Spurs ended he played for various clubs, and the drinking happened, and eventually he became the Greavsie I knew. He was a club legend though, one of the all-time greats, and even though he’s now only fifth on the all-time England charts, his goals per game ratio is one of the best, scoring 44 in 57 (current all-time best Wayne Rooney for example got 53 in 120, and long-term holder Bobby Charlton had 49 in 106; Greavsie was legendary). For Tottenham, that tally of 266 in 379 games seemed like something nobody would ever reach again. For one thing, even our legendary strikers tend not to stay for that long, or maybe wane a little. Clive Allen was the big striker when I was ten, eleven years old, scoring 49 in that one season, but even he didn’t keep that up and we ended up selling him to Bordeaux of all places (and bringing in Gary Lineker! Who scored a bunch before going to live in Japan). Great strikers like Keane and Defoe were never reaching Greavsie’s level, and when someone looked really good, a bigger team that was winning trophies would lure them away, your Berbatovs and your Bales. And then along came Harry Kane. Born in Walthamstow into a Spurs-loving family, he was actually on Arsenal’s books as a boy, but ended up coming through Tottenham’s youth teams before turning pro. He struggled at first to make that first team, spending time out on loan, and then being part of our Europa League campaigns, but not getting much of a shot in the Premier League. Until he did, and then he started scoring loads. He was branded a one-season wonder. He kept on scoring. He wasn’t a particularly fashionable name, but he kept on scoring. That Spurs team of around 2016, 2017, they were so bloody good, and he just kept on scoring. There was talk of other big clubs wanting him, but Spurs were not letting go. “He’s one of our own!” was the chant we would sing, being the local lad made good. He kept banging them in for England, but people were still all, “yeah but lots of them are penalties, they are against weak teams, blah blah”. He changed his game, dropped deeper, starting getting almost as many assists as goals, something ignored by people I would speak to who would always be “he just wants the goals for himself”. His price tag was so high that if anyone wanted him, they would probably need to build as a second new stadium to pay for it. He nearly did get to leave, when Man City wanted to snatch him away, but in the end he stayed, and set his sights on that Greavsie record, and maybe finally getting us a trophy. Well, we have no trophy, but Kane has finally reached the magic Greaves line, and whatever happens now, he’s a club legend for all time. Alan Shearer is perhaps Newcastle’s greatest ever name, with zero silverware to show for it (he did win the league with Blackburn, but kids would believe that now about as much as kids in the 80s would believe that Jimmy Greaves off the TV was some sort of amazing goal machine). Maybe now Kane has done this, if we don’t get a trophy this year, and  after his world Cup disappointments with England, maybe Kane will be given his leave to go and pick up a free medal at Bayern or PSG or dare I say it Man United, but it wouldn’t mean as much. Or maybe he will stay, and see us to the promised land? As Greavsie would say, football is a funny old game. Either way, Harry Kane, we salute you, the all-new Greatest Of All Time*. You deserve it.

(*though I still love Ossie Ardiles best)


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…  


Happy 4th of July the 4th

Alexei Lalas copy

Yes, I know it’s Coming Home, and Southgate is a genius, and yes I did do a Kane illustration, but today is the birthday of my adopted country (actually I think it adopted me, although since I’m still a permanent resident I am really just fostered). 7/4 happens on July the 4th over here, unlike in Britain where people celebrate American Independence on April the 7th, along with all the old dad jokes like that. To celebrate, here is perhaps my favourite American football player (ok, my favorite American soccer franchiser) Alexi Lalas, wearing my favorite USMNT soccer jersey (see, I can speak American), the 1994 away kit. Along with the amazing red and white wavy stripe home kit, this was my favourite kit from the 1994 World Cup, USA 94. It is an all time epic. As a proper redhead myself I loved Lalas’s amazing barnet, and the King Tut-esque beard, and I actually did copy the beard a few years later (without the moustache) (it was the 1990s), though my attempts at the hair did not go too well. See my hair is curly, a bit like Lalas’s, not ring-curls but uncontrollable waves. I knew blokes with long hair who could just wave it around like an extra appendage, especially when dancing. Anyway my hair just grew upwards, like straight up. So that didn’t work. Lalas is a bit taller than me though, so maybe gravity works differently on his head, I don’t know. He’s often on TV these days doing punditry, no longer long haired and long bearded, but still with a bit of personality. So happy birthday United States, thanks for giving us Lalas and the greatest World Cup shirt in history. 

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. 

walk away, walk away, walk away

Southgate 96 copy

And so, the rematch is on. Sure, England have played Germany loads of times since 1996. Euro 2000 for example, when an England in red beat a Germany in dark green in Charleroi, the city I lived in at the time. In October 2000 in the last ever game at the old Wembley stadium, the historic old toilet with the twin towers, Germany beat Keegan’s England causing Keegan to quit in sadness. And of course who can forget the 2001 5-1 mauling of Germany in Munich by the exciting young England of Owen and Beckham. And then there’s the 4-1 whopping of England all in red by the Germans at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, that was a hard one to take. But for me, that semi-final in 96 was the one. Bigger than 1990, the World Cup semi in which Waddle launched the ball into low-earth orbit, because that was held in Italy, and was about Gazza’s tears. 1996 was at home. England wore grey. It was a brilliant summer in London, and it all came crashing down in a penalty shootout. Ah well. Young Gareth Southgate missed the decisive kick for England before Andreas Möller beat Seaman and celebrated by strutting, and the BBC played Casts’s “Walkaway” over the end credits, a song which I’ve always felt should be called “Walk Away”, but always makes me relive the sheer crestfallen emotion of that moment. I can’t do those penalty shootouts you know, I can’t watch them. I end up in the kitchen. But next Tuesday morning (for me, living in California) England will play Germany in a European knockout game, once again at Wembley (the newer one with the big metal arch), once again with Southgate involved, this time as manager. I know I have Written Off The Germans (At My Peril), but no, no no no, this will end in penalties again, and I will be in the kitchen. We can hope. I had to do a quick digital drawing of Southgate, 1996, right after the penalty miss. He looks like he’s being taken hostage. In a way I suppose he was, nobody wants to be chained to the memory of penalty miss in a major semi-final on their record, which is why Stuart Pearce looked like he was expelling demons after his penalty against Spain in 96. Southgate you could say expelled his by managing England to the penalty shootout win against Colombia in 2018, but really the arc of history, the ninety-six narrative has all been heading here, to a game against Germany at Wembley in what is effectively another home Euros for England. It is, as they keep telling us, coming home. 

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?