Euro 96: The 5 things that make Gazza’s iconic goal so legendary

Gazza's goal is one the most iconic moments in English football history - but what makes it so special?

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  1. The Narrative

English football has always loved its redemption stories. It doesn’t matter what you did to get yourself in that position: the redemption narrative wipe out your own ills and, if you’re lucky, exaggerates the mistakes of others.

And so, when Paul Gascoigne did his thing at Euro 96 – more on that later, though you already know what we’re on about – no one cared about the booking which brought those tears in 1990. No one cared about the reckless challenge in 1991 which hurt Gascoigne more than it damaged Gary Charles. No one cared about those antics on the China tour and the ‘dentist’s chair’ drinking game.

Some wondered what might have happened if Graham Taylor had trusted him more, but most just took the opportunity to enjoy the moment… just like Gazza was himself.

2. The stadium

There’s something about hosting an international football tournament which can elevate a team, but also apply extra pressure.

South Korea weren’t even supposed to get out of their group in 2002, but did. France were meant to win the Euro 2016 final, but didn’t. Pressure works in different ways for different teams, but it can even do so within one team.

England looked flat at times in their Euro 96 opener against Switzerland, getting at least one let-off before conceding a late penalty equaliser, and it looked as though the Scotland game was about to provide a big dose of déjà vu when Tony Adams slid in and caught Gordon Durie.

That’s the thing about a stadium like the old Wembley. When things are going great, it’s buzzing, but it can act as a real vector for tension.

In the half-second before Gary McAllister strikes the penalty the ‘ooh’s give way to an almost choreographed silence. And then, with one movement of a hand, David Seaman raises the roof.

Seconds later…

3. The touch

Without the energy handed to him by a roaring Wembley, Gascoigne might not have had the self-belief to try what he did to beat Colin Hendry.

He’s always had this sort of thing in his locker – there’s no doubting that – but to be capable of something and to try it at a major tournament against your country’s fiercest rivals are two very different things.

You might call it instinct, but even instinct can be supercharged by the circumstances. Lifting the ball over the head of a 6 foot plus centre-back isn’t something you need to do regularly, so you’re unlikely to be inclined to practice too hard, but a crowd full of the residual joy of that Seaman save a minute earlier can convince you it’s what you need to do.

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4. The finish

Sometimes you just know you have to hit a shot immediately. Taking a touch might lead to an ‘easier’ chance, sure, but it won’t look as good on camera. And that’s what really matters.

Sure, in another world Gascoigne takes the ball down, waits for Andy Goram to commit himself and then slides the ball into an unguarded net. But there’s also a world where he tries to do this and watches the ball spin away off his shin and roll into Goram’s waiting arms.

No one remembers the first touch if the second one isn’t a goal, and they remember it more if it’s a goal like this.

5. The celebration

“It kind of became a siege mentality; an ‘us against them’ situation,” recalled substitute keeper Ian Walker, referring to the press reaction to the incident in the Far East.

“And because a lot of the grief was aimed at Gazza, it was planned that if he scored, they would recreate the dentist chair.”

Some would say you’re at your most powerful when you’ve just scored a crucial goal, and there’s a sense Gascoigne could have got away with anything and everything back then.

Of course, England held on for the 2-0 win and made it all the way to the semi-finals.

Twenty-four years on, we remember that semi defeat, and we remember the quarter-final victory over Spain. But we really remember That Gazza Goal.

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