How I missed seeing Three Lions’ great game

VIEW FROM THE PRESSBOX: Twenty years ago, ADRIAN WARNER set off to cover a football press conference and found himself reporting on a terrorist atrocity

I never did get to see that brilliant Paul Gascoigne goal against Scotland live and as it happened at Euro 96.

A moment not to miss: Paul Gascoigne's team mates with their pre-arranged celebration for his goal against Scotland at Euro 96
A moment not to miss: Paul Gascoigne’s team mates with their pre-arranged celebration for his goal against Scotland at Euro 96

I did have a three-point plan for that sunny Saturday in June 20 years ago: a press conference on the outskirts of Manchester with the Germans in the morning, a couple of hours to write some pieces and then off to the pub with colleagues to watch the England game from Wembley.

But the IRA got in the way.

With two parts of my journalistic triathlon completed, the news desk rang me as I walked to my car at the German training camp.

A bomb had exploded in central Manchester and I was the only Reuters correspondent anywhere near it.

I spent the next few hours outside a hospital interviewing some of the 200 people injured in the biggest IRA blast in mainland Britain, before talking to the police and politicians and filing thousands of words back to Reuters’ London world news desk.

Gazza’s heroics at Wembley were nowhere to be seen by me.

There is a myth around in our industry today that my generation of journalists are not “multi-taskers”, and that we need to be replaced by “more flexible” youngsters. Editors forget that sports journalists of my age group covered Heysel, Hillsborough and the Atlanta Olympics bomb, turning from sports experts to news correspondents in a matter of minutes. Many of us have done television, radio and social media, too.

Our predecessors, too, showed themselves capable of turning their hand to hard news when assigned to a sports story: famously, John Rodda, of The Guardian, was the only English language reporter on the spot in Mexico City ahead of the 1968 Olympics when armed police began firing on a student demonstration. And it was Rodda and his Fleet Street sports reporting colleagues in Munich four years later who provided the on-the-spot coverage of the Black September terrorist attack on the athletes’ village.

The reason I am writing about Saturday June 15 1996 is because, for me, it was at the heart of one of the most emotional sporting events I have ever covered.

Agency reporters Adrian Warner, left, Mike Collett
Agency reporters Adrian Warner, left, and Mike Collett glimpsed at Wembley in the Shearer Euro 96 documentary, while David Baddiel and Frank Skinner join in with their England anthem

Euro 96 took reporters through an eclectic mix of feelings which came flooding back when I watched Alan Shearer’s BBC programme on the tournament the other night.

We experienced the huge expectation of fanatical England support and the repeated strains of Football’s Coming Home, the shock of the Manchester bomb and then the bitter disappointment of an England defeat on penalties.

As was to happen at the London 2012 Olympics, Britain did a great job in organising the tournament and filling the grounds. For once, England played some great football and went so close to reaching their first final since 1966.

England fans dared to dream of winning it. So did the English media. And, most importantly, Euro 96 passed the litmus test of great events: People who usually ignore sport were talking about it in their offices, schools and shopping centres everywhere.

But, for me, there was a moment in the first 15 minutes of that Wembley semi-final that I knew the Germans were going to spoil the party. Having been based in Germany for the previous eight years, I had got to know the German team well and had a good relationship with the manager Berti Vogts, who was a perfectionist with planning and preparation.

In the deafening atmosphere of Wembley that night, most teams would have lost their composure after the third-minute Shearer goal. But the Germans did not. There was no sign of panic despite the intense atmosphere. It was not long before Stefan Kuntz had equalised. Forget the penalty shoot-out. The Germans set the tone with that composed 10 minutes after the early goal. They were never going to lose, in my book.

It was a great night with the crowd singing the Three Lions anthem before the kick-off with comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel dancing in front of the press box. My most vivid memory of the build-up to the kick-off was the boxer Frank Bruno turning up in a bright white suit to sit in front of them in the VIP box.

I fear England will not stage a World Cup in my lifetime and I am too young to remember 1966.

So the memories of Euro 96 will just have to do as an experience of a major football tournament on home soil.

  • Adrian Warner is a past SJA Sports News Reporter of the Year who worked for Reuters, the Evening Standard and the BBC. He is now a part-time lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire in addition to his freelance reporting work
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