Euro 96: How life has changed in the UK in almost 25 years

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May 11, 2020
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    Liam Gallagher, Gareth Southgate, Ian Broudie, Frank Skinner and the Spice Girls

    The Spice Girls’ debut single Wannabe was released a week after the Euro 96 final

    This summer, we’re going back in time to Euro 96.

    It was 24 years ago – before some of you were even born. So how different was life in the UK back then?

    In a sense, it’s a rigged question, considering how much life has turned upside down in the last three months alone, never mind the last 24 years.

    For a start, there was actually a European Football Championship tournament to be played at all. And, even better, England were hosting, with Scotland along for the ride too.

    We’ll be watching it on TV this summer, as we wait to hear more about when it may be safe for domestic and international football to resume.

    There were many other differences too, though. We’ve gone through some of the major transformations below.

    The ‘chart football song’ was still a thing

    Ian Broudie, Frank Skinner, David Baddiel

    Football influencers in 1996

    When was the last time we had a good tournament song?

    1996 was a moment in British history where guitar music, football, terrace fashion and the glorification of lager seemed to meet at a cultural interface. As a shorthand, you might call it “Cool Britannia” and, basically, what it did was offer a pretext for men and women all over the country – from Aberdeen to Stevenage – to wear football shirts as fashion items and swagger about like Liam Gallagher.

    Out of that heady mix was born the England team’s official tournament song Three Lions, written and performed by Lightning Seeds frontman Ian Broudie together with comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner (for the unfamiliar, think of them as a pre-digital age Poet and Vuj).

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    ‘Cause I remember

    Three Lions on a shirt

    Jules Rimet still gleaming

    Thirty years of hurt

    Never stopped me dreaming

    Those words contain the anguished, battle-weary, optimistic hopes of a nation.

    Ultimately, we know how that story ended. Football didn’t come home. Or did it? Was it worth it for the craic? More on that later.

    Hardly anyone had a mobile and, if they did, it looked like this

    Motorola StarTAC 1996

    A snazzy piece of kit

    According to Statista, mobile phone ownership in the UK, as of 2017-18 was 95%. In the same study, the proportion for 1996 was 16%. Fewer people had mobile phones than didn’t. Take a minute. Lie down if you need to.

    For those breathing the rarefied air of cellular phone ownership, the choice du jour was not an Apple, or a Samsung, but one of these – a Motorola StarTAC, the first ever flip phone. Flip phones were great because, every time you got a call, you could whip it open with a little flourish that really helped underline just how important you were.

    According to the Guardian, this snazzy piece of kit cost only $1,000 (roughly £645 during Euro 96, what a bargain) – and 60 million of them were sold.

    Oh, it could send and receive text messages too.

    Google didn’t exist

    This was what a few other popular websites looked like in 1996.

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    Meanwhile, Google didn’t even exist. The search engine was invented two years later, in September 1998, by two Stanford University students, Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

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    So where did people go for their information in 1996? Were they all just very, very ignorant? No! Because as well as newspapers and books, people in the mid-90s had access to a search engine called InfoSeek, which was one of the most popular websites in 1996.

    People watched movies on these things


    A relic from a distant time?

    Back in 1996, films, much like music, were bought as actual, physical objects, which you could hold.

    The DVD was invented in 1995, later going on to knock the cumbersome VHS cassette off its perch as the most common way to play films.

    Also, before streaming, if you wanted to watch a film without owning it, you would probably go to a rental store like one of these.

    Blockbuster video store

    You used to have to go to one of these to rent a movie

    According to IMDB, the best movie releases of 1996 included Toy Story, Fargo, Trainspotting, Casino and Heat.

    One of the Brit-flick releases of 1996 was When Saturday Comes – which was probably as good a barometer of the mood of the nation at that point in history as any other.

    In it, Sean Bean plays Jimmy – a talented footballer who may be able to make it for his beloved Sheffield United, if only he can overcome his own heavy drinking.

    Sean Bean at a Sheffield United supporters' rally

    Sean Bean, seen here at a Sheffield United fans’ rally in 2007, got the chance to “play” for his club on the silver screen in 1996

    The number of stories about off-field drinking incidents involving the England squad before Euro 96 gives some idea as to the cultural influences that helped make that movie.

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    In the mid-90s, the influx of money into the Premier League also catalysed the rise of the playboy footballer, and it felt like you were just as likely to see an England star pictured stumbling out of a nightclub with a glamour model from the pages of Loaded magazine, as you were to see them on a training field.

    England went out on penalties again

    England celebrate a goal by Paul Gascoigne against Scotland at Euro 96

    The ‘dentist’s chair’ celebration mocked media coverage of some England players’ pre-tournament drunken escapades in Hong Kong

    Though Scotland failed to make it our of the group stage, it soon became apparent that England, playing all their games at Wembley, might actually do quite well after a slow start to the tournament.

    They even won a penalty shootout against Spain in the quarter-finals to set up a semi-final against old foe Germany, and people started to believe that football really would come home. Until penalties dawned.

    Gareth Southgate

    Gareth Southgate pre-redemption

    And two decades before Gareth Southgate became England’s great redeemer, he was England’s latest fall guy. The Aston Villa defender was the latest player to miss or have a penalty saved, resulting in England being eliminated from another tournament.

    What happened next was that he became mostly know for that incident and this Pizza Hut advert.

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    We’re thankful he got a chance to prove himself again.


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