Summers When Sport Came Home | Sporting Index
Summers When Sport Came Home
Baby-faced comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner captured the cultural zeitgeist when they teamed up with The Lightning Seeds to release “It’s Coming Home” in 1996. It coincided with England hosting their first major football tournament since winning the World Cup on home soil 30 years previously. This was a time of optimism, with Britpop sweeping the airwaves and New Labour promising to lead the country into a glorious new era. Football fans were convinced that Terry Venables’ men would end 30 years of hurt by winning Euro 96, and the nation united for an exhilarating summer of sport.
We all know how it ended. England reached the semi-finals and ended up in a penalty shootout against Germany. It went to sudden death and Gareth Southgate missed. He spent the ensuing months with a bag over his head in Pizza Hut adverts, and fans could only watch on glumly as the Germans beat the Czech Republic in the final. Yet “It’s Coming Home” stuck. It is now the de facto anthem of English football – Baddiel and Skinner are no longer baby-faced, but they still dominate the airwaves when there is a big summer tournament to look forward to.
This summer, Southgate should have led his England troops into Euro 2020. Games were set to take place across the continent, but Wembley was chosen to host the semi-finals and the final. Football should have been coming home once again. Instead we will have to wait for 2021 for a big summer sporting event to unite the nation, so we decided to look back on some famous occasions when sports that were invented in Britain came home for a big international tournament.
World Cup 1966
Alf Ramsey’s men became national icons when they led England to glory at the World Cup in 1966. The team is now legendary: Gordon Banks in goal, captain Bobby Moore partnering Jack Charlton at the heart of defence, Ray Wilson and George Cohen at full-back, Nobby Stiles anchoring the midfield, with Bobby Charlton, Martin Peters and Alan Ball given free rein to wreak havoc behind Roger Hunt and Geoff Hurst. Their feats are mythologised, and fans now look back fondly to this bygone era of triumph and buoyancy.
It was a more innocent time. The players earned modest salaries, and they travelled to games in beaten up cars. Fans could walk up to Wembley and buy a ticket on the night. Televisions were still black-and-white, and many families did not own a set. The nation was obsessed with Twiggy, the Beatles and Bob Dylan. Yet it was also a time of fear and apprehension, as many still remembered the horrors of World War Two, and the threat of nuclear disaster was pervasive as US-Soviet tensions simmered.
The public was initially lukewarm when it heard that the World Cup would take place on home soil for the first time, but everyone quickly perked up after the Three Lions topped a strong group featuring Uruguay, Mexico and France. Children flooded the streets to catch a glimpse of superstars like Pele and Eusebio, while many viewers were amazed by how well North Korea fared. Hurst banged in a late winner to hand England a 1-0 victory over Argentina in the quarter-finals, and football fever gripped the nation.
Tickets suddenly became like gold dust, and the streets were empty as fans gathered around televisions to watch their newfound heroes in action. Trepidation was palpable as England prepared to face Portugal, led by the tournament’s top scorer in Eusebio, but a brace from Bobby Charlton earned England a 2-1 victory. The nation came to a standstill as England locked horns with West Germany in the final, and the team put fans through the ringer.
The deadly Helmut Haller made it 1-0 to the West Germans on 12 minutes, only for Hurst to grab a quick equaliser. Peters thought he had won the game with a 78th minute strike, but Wolfgang Weber scored a late equaliser with just a minute left on the clock. It went into extra-time. Hurst collected a low cross from Ball, swivelled and fired into the underside of the bar. It bounced on the line, and Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst controversially awarded England the goal.
With a minute remaining of extra-time, fans started making their way onto the pitch to get the party started. West Germany streamed forward in a last-gasp effort to snatch an equaliser, but Moore gained possession and picked out the unmarked Hurst with a long ball. “And here comes Hurst,” said commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme. “He’s got… some people are on the pitch… they think it’s all over…” Hurst fired in to complete his hat-trick. “It is now!” roared Wolstenholme. “It’s four!”
Rugby World Cup 1991
The UK bathed in an Indian summer when the Rugby World Cup got underway at Twickenham on October 3, 1991. It was the second edition of the tournament and the Five Nations participants – England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and France, jointly hosted it. The inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987 had been deemed a success, and this was the first time it was seen as a major global sporting event. England were handed a ferociously difficult start, and they ended up losing 18-12 to the All Blacks at Twickenham.
However, they quickly bounced back. Jeremy Guscott crossed twice in a 36-6 rout of Italy in their second group game, and they thumped the United States 37-9 to reach the knockout stage. Scotland fared even better. They swept aside Japan, destroyed Zimbabwe and then beat Ireland 24-15 to top Pool 2 with maximum points. Ireland eased past Japan and Zimbabwe to finish second in the group and earn a quarter-final berth. However, things did not go so well for Wales, who lost 16-14 to Western Samoa in their opener. They rallied, beating Argentina in their second group game, but a heavy defeat to Australia saw them pack their bags.
Australia also vanquished Ireland 19-18 in a pulsating quarter-final clash, causing further heartbreak among the Home Nations. The mood in Scotland and England was a lot more upbeat. The Scots thrashed Western Samoa to earn a place in the last four, and England beat France 19-10. Fans partied in the streets, and the action shifted to Murrayfield. England and Scotland threw themselves into a fierce battle amid a torrential downpour, and England ultimately prevailed 9-6 in a tryless match.
The World Cup final was played at Twickenham, as England came face to face with the mighty Australian side. The Aussies had already hammered England in a Test match that year, but fans united to cheer on Guscott and co. It was a tense game. England dominated possession, but they struggled to find a breakthrough, and Tony Daly touched down for the only try of the game, helping Australia win 12-6.
Baddiel, Skinner and The Lightning Seeds provided the soundtrack to the summer as England hosted Euro 1996. Fans were convinced that football would finally be coming home, and the country erupted into an epic display of patriotism. England had failed to even qualify for the World Cup two years previously, but Terry Venables assembled a terrific team as the Three Lions sought to seize their first ever European Championship.
David Seaman represented a safe pair of hands in goal, while captain Tony Adams, Gareth Southgate, Stuart Pearce and a young Gary Neville formed a rock solid back four. The midfield was blessed with an abundance of quality, featuring Paul Gascoigne, David Platt and Darren Anderton, with Paul Ince in the holding role. Up front, Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham formed the sort of dynamic duo that could lead England to glory.
The Three Lions breezed through the group stage. Gazza scored a goal for the ages in a 2-0 victory over Scotland, followed by a notorious celebration. Then came one of the greatest performances in England’s history, as they mauled a strong Dutch team 4-1, with Shearer and Sheringham each grabbing a brace. Fans dared to dream that 30 years of hurt really would come to an end.
England faced a tricky quarter-final clash with Spain, but they scraped through on penalties after a number of controversial decisions from the officials. Shearer, Platt, Pearce and Gascoigne were all on target in a flawless shootout, and England marched on. Shearer fired them into an early lead against Germany in the semis, but Stefan Kuntz quickly restored parity. The game went into extra-time and then penalties. Once again Shearer, Platt, Pearce and Gascoigne were all on target, but the Germans were equally perfect.
Kuntz made it 5-4 to Germany, piling pressure on Sheringham to convert his spot-kick. He buried it, sending the shootout to sudden death. Andreas Möller stroked the ball past Seaman. Up stepped Southgate, but his penalty was saved and England crashed out, while an Oliver Bierhoff brace handed Germany a 2-1 victory in the final. Shearer won the Golden Boot, but it was scant consolation for crestfallen fans.
Olympic Games 2012
London became the first city to host the modern Olympic Games three times when it welcomed the world’s finest athlete in the summer of 2012. It required one of the biggest redevelopment events in British history, as the government invested almost £9 billion in revamping the city’s infrastructure and building a 490-acre Olympic Park on a former industrial site in Stratford.
An estimated global TV audience of 900 million viewers watched on as the Olympic Park hosted a spine-tingling opening ceremony. Director Danny Boyle’s love letter to Britain was widely hailed as a masterpiece, featuring cameos from the Queen, James Bond and David Beckham. Kenneth Branagh played Isambard Kingdom Brunel, while Rowan Atkinson provided light relief as Mr Bean. A concert featured artists selected to represent the four nations of the United Kingdom: Duran Duran, Stereophonics, Snow Patrol and Paolo Nutini.
Team GB’s arrival was greeted with a shower of confetti, and an outburst of national pride ensued. London shone in the global spotlight, and British athletes also enjoyed remarkable success on the track and field. Team GB ended up finishing third in the medal table, behind only the United States and China, having secured 29 gold medals, 17 silvers and 19 bronze medals. Superstars emerged, from Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah to Anthony Joshua and Victoria Pendleton. Usain Bolt stole the show, as was predicted but this was a time for the nation to come together and celebrate sporting excellence.
Tour de France 2014
The world’s most famous race made a rare stop in England back in 2014. Fans lined the streets of Yorkshire as superstars like Marcel Kittel, Vincenzo Nibali and Tony Martin raced through the county during the early stages of the race. Huge crowds greeted the pelaton at every turn, and the resplendent beauty of Yorkshire was on show for the world. “It was unbelievable at times,” said Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas. Going up Holme Moss I had goosebumps. It was amazing.”
The riders raced from Leeds to Harrogate, then from York to Sheffield. The action then shifted to Cambridge, and the final UK stage ended in London, before the tour crossed the English Channel for Le Touquet-Paris-Plage. It was a great occasion for Great Britain, but not for its riders. Brits won the Tour de France seven times in an eight-year period between 2012 and 2018, and 2014 was the only year in which a Brit did not secure victory. Bradley Wiggins won the general classification in 2012 and Chris Froome seized glory the following year. They were both absent in 2014, but Frome then won three on the bounce before Thomas took the yellow jacket in 2018.
Rugby World Cup 2015
Optimism abounded once again among British sports fans when England and Wales were chosen to host the Rugby World Cup in 2015. However, it proved to be an unmitigated disaster. England were among the tournament favourites in the sports spreads, but lost to Wales and Australia in Pool A and failed to reach the knockout stage of the tournament. No host nation had ever previously fallen at the group stage, compounding their humiliation. Stuart Lancaster was promptly sacked, ushering in a much more successful era under Eddie Jones.
Wales suffered a heartbreaking 23-19 defeat to the Springboks in the quarter-finals, courtesy of a late try from Fourie du Preez. Irish fans were in great spirits after their team beat France and Italy to top Pool D, but they were torn apart by Argentina in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. Argentina won that quarter-final clash 43-20 at Cardiff. Scotland also made it through to the last eight, but they suffered an agonising 35-34 defeat to eventual runners-up Australia. The less said about the 2015 World Cup, the better.
Cricket World Cup 2019
England were favourites in our sports odds on the 2019 Cricket World Cup after sitting top of the world rankings for several months. They boasted a phenomenal batting line-up featuring Jason Roy, Johnny Bairstow, captain Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler and Joe Root. Pace bowler Jofra Archer sparked tremendous excitement among fans after muscling his way into the squad alongside the likes of Adil Rashid and Chris Woakes. They also boasted the world’s finest all-rounder in Ben Stokes, so the nation expected them to deliver.
The tournament helped unite a country divided by Brexit, and it provided welcome respite amid a tumultuous political backdrop. England gave a few surprisingly underwhelming performances in the group stage, and at one point they were staring down the barrel of a humiliating early exit, but they ended up finishing third in the points table and clinching a semi-final berth. Excitement reached a fever pitch among fans as they prepared to take on Australia in the semi-finals. The fast-paced action and swashbuckling heroics of players like Stokes and Bairstow helped win over new fans to the sport, and the exhilaration was palpable at the tail end of the tournament.
Nothing unites a country like a villain to rail against, and Australia’s Steve Smith and David Warner fit the bill perfectly. The brilliant batsmen had only just returned to action following a long ban for their role in the ball tampering scandal of 2018, and fans gleefully booed them throughout the tournament. Warner and Smith thrived off the pressure and led their team into the semis, teeing up a scintillating showdown at Edgbaston. England were exceptional on the day. They reduced the Aussies to 14/3 in the seventh owner, but Smith led the fightback with 85 as they were eventually bowled out for 223. England made short work of that run chase, and an unbroken partnership of 79 between Root and Morgan saw them wrap up an eight-wicket victory.
The nation came to a standstill once again on 11 July, 2019, as England featured in their first World Cup final since 1992. They were the clear favourites, having destroyed opponents New Zealand in the pool stage, but the Black Caps did well to put up 241 runs. The Kiwi bowlers then set to work, making mincemeat out of England’s top order. The carnival atmosphere among England’s expectant fans fell to pieces as their team slumped to 86-4.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. England looked dead and buried when Stokes stepped into the fray, but he dragged them back into contention when he combined with Buttler for a century partnership. Hearts sank when Buttler was caught on 59, and England still required another 46 runs from 31 balls, but Stokes simply switched from calm and patient to bold and aggressive. He kept smashing runs while teammates crumbled around him. Trent Boult carried the ball over the boundary for a Stokes six before Archer was bowled, leaving England in need of 15 from the final over.
In an outrageous moment of fortune, Stokes’ diving bat was inadvertently struck by a throw, and it deflected over the boundary for four overthrows, making six runs in total. Stokes left the crease unbeaten on 84 and led his team to a score of 241, leaving the game tied. The match went to a Super Over. Stokes and Buttler combined for 15 runs, and New Zealand responded with 15 of their own. The teams could not be separated, but England were awarded victory as a result of their superior boundary count and Stokes became a national hero.
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