For 53 years, England have been trying to win the European Championship. For 53 years, they’ve been sent packing and often in the most heart-breaking fashion.
The ongoing tournament is the 16th edition of the Euros. England didn’t enter the first one, so they’ve had 15 shots at glory.
On five occasions they failed to even qualify for the finals although admittedly in the early days that featured just four nations. In 2008, with 16 places, there was no excuse.
England were lacklustre against Scotland but sealed their Euro 2020 last-16 place when other results went in their favour over the following days
There certainly won’t be any historical pressure on manager Gareth Southgate in the last-16 because England’s record in knockout games at the European Championship is awful
So that’s nine previous appearances at the Euro finals. In four of those, England miserably crashed out after the group stage. That means five appearances in the knockout rounds.
Now here’s the truly shocking part. Just once – that’s once – in all that time have England managed to come through a knockout tie at the European Championship.
That was at Euro 96, on home turf at Wembley, when they scraped unconvincingly past Spain on penalties to set up that fateful semi-final against Germany.
Fair enough, back in 1968, they did defeat the Soviet Union 2-0 in a play-off to claim third place but that doesn’t really count as there was no next round to reach.
The dreadful omen ahead of England’s last-16 tie against old rivals Germany next week is that they almost always bottle it when the pressure of a one-off game is on them.
Any victory this time around, especially one inside 90 minutes, would represent a dramatic improvement on what has come before, the first little step towards ridding England of their bottlers’ reputation.
In their first finals appearance back in 1968, Alan Mullery saw red as England lost in the semis
England’s Euro record
1960 – Did not enter
1964 – Did not quality
1968 – Third place; lost to Yugoslavia in semi-finals
1972 – Did not quality
1976 – Did not qualify
1980 – Group stage
1984 – Did not qualify
1988 – Group stage
1992 – Group stage
1996 – Semi-finals; lost to Germany
2000 – Group stage
2004 – Quarter-finals; lost to Portugal
2008 – Did not qualify
2012 – Quarter-finals; lost to Italy
2016 – Last-16; lost to Iceland
Back in 1968, Sir Alf Ramsey’s team were aiming to add the European crown to their World Cup success of two years earlier as they headed to Italy for a four-team finals.
But preparations for the semi-final against Yugoslavia in Florence took a blow when Geoff Hurst and Nobby Stiles suffered injuries during a pre-tournament friendly with West Germany.
Accordingly, Ramsey took no chances with a five-man midfield and just Roger Hunt up front, leading to an attritional contest settled when Dragan Dzajic stole in behind Bobby Moore to fire home with just four minutes left.
There was still time for Alan Mullery to earn the unwanted distinction of being the first England player to be sent off – in the nation’s 424th international game – for retaliating to a bad tackle by Dobrivoje Trivic.
England had to settle for the consolation prize of third place after goals by Bobby Charlton and the fit-again Hurst saw off the Soviets in Rome three days later, with hosts Italy beating Yugoslavia in a replay to claim the trophy.
Alan Shearer fires over the bar with the goal gaping as England struggle to beat Spain in 1996
The Euros of 1980, 1988 and 1992 saw England home before their postcards, taking us to that bittersweet summer of 1996 when football very nearly came home.
After the heady group wins over Scotland and Holland, England’s quarter-final against Spain is often forgotten, or at least quickly glossed over, in narrating the story.
It proved hard toil for England as they struggled to break down a well-organised Spanish defence over 120 minutes. Terry Venables’ side could easily have lost.
Julio Salinas had what appeared a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed for offside in the first-half, while Javier Manjarin burst through but hesitated long enough for David Seaman to block.
There was glorious redemption for Stuart Pearce in the penalty shoot-out at Wembley
David Seaman makes the decisive save as England win their one and only Euro knockout tie
Down to penalties, it became a story of redemption for Stuart Pearce, who’d failed from the spot at Italia ’90 but made no mistake here. In fact, all four of England’s penalties went in and it remained until 2018 their only shoot-out success.
And though far from a memorable afternoon, England’s only knockout win at the Euros.
If Euro 96 had inspired a new generation of fans, the semi-final defeat to Germany four days after Spain reminded them football can be a cruel game.
The details remain etched in the memory of all England fans above a certain age. Alan Shearer’s early opener, Stefan Kuntz equalising, Paul Gascoigne a stud’s length away from winning it in extra time.
Gareth Southgate was the unlucky one as England’s dreams of winning Euro ’96 were dashed
Paul Gascoigne can’t hide his frustration after England squandered chances to beat Germany
Stuart Pearce consoles Southgate having known exactly what he was going through
We all know what happened next. All the penalties successfully converted until Gareth Southgate, rather uncertainly, stepped forward and was denied by Andreas Kopke.
England stunk out Euro 2000 but looked to be gathering valuable momentum in 2004 as they faced the hosts Portugal in the last eight.
They’d been powered by a teenage Wayne Rooney so inevitably he limped out with a broken metatarsal after 27 minutes.
By that time, England led thanks to Michael Owen’s early goal and they clung on grimly until Helder Postiga equalised seven minutes from the end.
Sven-Goran Eriksson’s team believed they’d won it in stoppage time when Sol Campbell bundled the ball home only for the referee to decide John Terry had impeded keeper Ricardo.
Rui Costa crashed a shot home off the crossbar to put Portugal ahead in extra time before Frank Lampard took the game to penalties.
There was to be yet more penalty shoot-out misery for England in the 2004 finals in Portugal
David Beckham consoles Darius Vassell after his penalty failure against Portugal in 2004
Beckham himself had skied England’s first penalty in a dramatic quarter-final in Lisbon
Penalties, again, and more heartache for England. David Beckham skied the first of their kicks but Rui Costa would miss too. In the end, Darius Vassell joined Pearce, Chris Waddle, Southgate and others in England’s missed penalty club.
It was frustrating at the time and remains so. The tournament duly opened up for underdogs Greece to stun everyone and lift the trophy.
2012 was a free hit for Roy Hodgson, drafted in to replace Fabio Capello just a month before the start of the tournament.
With zero expectations, England topped their group and proved incredibly resilient over 120 minutes in a Kiev quarter-final that Italy dominated.
Ashley Young is comforted after his penalty miss in England’s defeat to Italy at Euro 2012
Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon makes a save to deny Glen Johnson during the quarter-final
Of course it came down to penalties and of course England came off second best. Ashley Young and Ashley Cole the two unlucky ones.
By 2016 in France, English expectations had risen but lacklustre group stage performances hardly offered comfort.
Still, a last-16 tie against tournament debutants Iceland looked an absolute gift. But we should know by now in this horror story not to take anything for granted with England.
Despite Wayne Rooney’s early penalty, Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson condemned England to arguably the worst defeat in their long history.
So from this incredibly low bar, just a bit more English progress at Euro 2020 would be quite an achievement.
Wayne Rooney, Gary Cahill and Dele Alli reflect on England’s humiliating defeat to Iceland
Roy Hodgson’s England were humbled by underdogs Iceland in one of their worst-ever losses