As an indie kid of the 90s with a full range of lumberjack shirts and floppy hats to match, I remember the very moment I discovered the music of Oasis.
It’s 1994 and Jo Wiley is playing second fiddle to cider enthusiast Steve Lamacq on Radio One’s ‘Evening Session’. Out of the blue a song comes on that makes me put down the SNES controller and listen. A guitar riff I’ve heard a million times before grabs my attention under the guise of being something new. Then Liam’s vocal kicks in and each drawn out syllable seals my fate. I now have to know who this is, where I can get their album and plot how best to start dropping their name among my friends to appear ‘cool’.
Fast-forward to a first run through of ‘Definitely Maybe’ and gloriously, every song is an anthem full of the same guitar and snarling vocals that had made me fall in love. In a bedroom in deepest Huddersfield, one teenager is pretty convinced he has found his generation’s Beatles. From this moment surely every single album will just keep getting better and better and better and better…
From there on, my love affair with Oasis gave way to a series of crashing disappointments. It wasn’t that they never managed to recapture that original brilliance, it was that every so often there would be one song on an album that would remind you of the real greatness that lay within. It was a tantalising glimpse of the genius hidden in and amongst a sea of identikit riffs and familiar vocals.
In short it fired the hope that next time they would be great again. Just around the corner lay another Definitely Maybe if only they could just find it.
Now what’s the point of this tortured and overlong metaphor in the context of my favourite ever goal?
Quite simply, over the course of my life that’s what watching England has become. I first fell in love with football during Italia’90. England were achingly average through the group (baring some signs of real quality in the goalless draw with Holland) but then spectacularly dramatic – Platt’s last minute goal, a quarterfinal against Cameroon that saw them ahead, behind, and then ahead again, and of course the semi-final heartbreak when they had undoubtedly produced their best football of the tournament.
To put it another way, my first experience watching my country play football was magnificent, emotional, dramatic and spellbinding. Since then? Like Oasis it has been a series of nearlys and not quites punctuated by moments that remind you there’s always the chance greatness lay within.
Which brings us to the 15th June 1996, Wembley Stadium, England’s second game in Group A against Scotland.
England’s European Championship had started in atypical fashion with a dour opener against Switzerland. After another average 45 minutes in the first half they had sparked into life, the introduction of a pre-tight trousered Jamie Redknapp changing the game in midfield. Alan Shearer’s stooping header had given England a 1-0 lead and suddenly, they were playing football.
Cut to the 79th minute and a Scottish missed penalty later, England are looking to see out the game. Running from midfield barrel chested, blonde haired and bathed in sunshine, Gazza lifts a bouncing ball over a helpless and hapless Colin Hendry and steers in the volley. We have another brief glimpse of what lay beyond the curtain. We have another peak at the potential within the English game.
England then did what England do. Brilliant against the Dutch, poor against Spain, heroic against the Germans and another tournament gone by with only flashes of what might have been. Since then there have been more fleeting glimpses and more battles with Germany but ultimately, for all of Italia’90’s Definitely Maybe, the law of diminishing returns has taken hold and it feels more like Be Here Now.
The goal is not as beautiful as some, it’s not as technical as others. It didn’t spark a glorious tournament win and it’s not from the Greek third division in an effort to make myself look ‘cool’. It’s not fashionable to say you love watching your national side, even less so to defend them. They infuriate, anger, disappoint, and bore me in equal measure. But just occasionally a moment takes me back to the 10-year-old boy who watched them in awe at Italia’90.
There have been better goals since and the 4-1 win against the Dutch that followed was a far better performance. But Gascoigne’s goal was a moment that thrives in the ocean of England’s mediocrity. It is my favourite goal because not only did it make me remember, it made me hope. And as any football fan will tell you, it’s the hope that keeps us coming back week in and week out.