Tribal Football

Exclusive: Why today's Euros cannot hope to match the success & stars of Euro 88

Exclusive: Why today's Euros cannot hope to match the success & stars of Euro 88
Exclusive: Why today's Euros cannot hope to match the success & stars of Euro 88
Exclusive: Why today's Euros cannot hope to match the success & stars of Euro 88LaLiga
There was Ireland’s sensational 1-0 win over England. There was Ronald Koeman wiping his behind with Olaf Thon’s shirt after the Dutch beat the Germans in the semifinal. And then of course there was the best goal ever scored in the final of an international tournament when Marco van Basten blasted the ball into Rinat Dasayev’s net. 

Euro 1988 was a beautiful tournament and it is little wonder that someone has thought of writing about it. That someone is Steven Scragg, who Tribalfootball caught up with for a talk about his book which goes by the name of “Euro 88 – the Football Purists’ European Championship”. 


“For me, Euro 88 falls within the sweetest spot imaginable. I'm a great believer in that we're all hardwired to the football of our youth when we're at our most impressionable. We have no duties, we're not working, we don't have bills to pay, we don't have complicated lives so we can just embrace these tournaments and these eras for what they were and we reenact the games out on the field or out in the street with our mates afterwards. We covet the shirts and even the match ball,”  Scragg offers as an answer to our question regarding that specific title.

“I was 14 in the summer of 1988 and it was the first European championship with full coverage on TV in Britain so I was able to watch it all unfold. It was just glorious; there wasn't a red card, there wasn't a game that went into extra time, there were no penalty shootouts. 

“It was a tournament where the coaches were Rinus Michels, it was Valeriy Lobanovsky, Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Piontek, Miguel Munoz, Bobby Robson and Jack Charlton. It was a magnificent brains trust of coaches and ideas and different ways of playing football with two of them being World Cup winning players,” Scragg continues before listing an admirable array of talent on the pitch as well.

“The Netherlands had van Basten Gullit, Rijkaard, the magnificent Soviet side had Belanov, Protasow, Zavarov, Italy had Maldini, Giannini, Ancelotti and the Germans offered Matthäus, Klinsmann, Völler. Then of course there was the English team with John Barnes, Glenn Hoddle, Lineker, Bryan Robson, Chris Waddle to list a few of the names.”


Broken leg costly for England

As Scragg rightly points out, England had a great squad of players, who nevertheless managed to exit the tournament with three defeats in the group which he puts down to timing in this particular instance.

“Bobby Robson led England into four qualifying campaigns across his eight years in charge of the England team, and there wasn't a more impressive qualifying campaign than the one they had for  Euro 1988. They were very pragmatic in the way they qualified for both the 1986 and 1990 World Cups but in 1988 they were very fluid, playing open attacking football.

“When England clinched qualification, the performance in Belgrade against Yugoslavia was ludicrous. They were 4-0 up within 18 minutes, in the decisive qualifier. I've rarely seen a better England performance, it was an incredible game but within a week of clinching qualification, they lost Terry Butcher to a broken leg and so much was resting defensively on whether Butcher was available.

“They start off against Ireland and if you play it 10 times, I think England probably win it eight times. They had so many chances but Pat Bonner was wonderful that day in goal for Ireland. Lineker hit the woodwork three times so on another day England win that game. Against the Dutch in the second group game at 1-1 in the second half they looked more likely to go on and win it until van Basten steps up so it was fine margins but in many respects you could suggest that they peaked too soon that November in Belgrade.”

Speaking of Ireland, as Scragg also points out, they had a magnificent collection of players while being managed by Jack Charlton who had a very pragmatic approach.

“You've got players like Ronnie Whelan, Ray Houghton, John Aldridge, Frank Stapleton and Kevin Sheedy in there, some wonderfully gifted footballers being asked to play this ‘meat and potato style of football’ that very nearly takes them to the semi-finals,” Scragg says of the Irish who missed out on the semifinal due to an 82th minute winner Wim Kieft.


Every game was massive

From the brink of elimination, the Netherlands went on to claim the title with arguably the best side in the history of the country. They did it at a tournament consisting of only eight nations compared to the 24 of today, which certainly wasn’t a downside according to  Scragg.

“An eight-team European Championship was basically two groups of death. The seven nations that qualified had to win their group to get there. There was no safety net. That tournament is probably the strongest European Championship ever, when you look at it, team for team. 

“You've got every European World Cup winning nation there. You had four previous winners of the Euros there, while France didn't qualify as reigning champions,” says Scragg, who believes the best squads from ’88 would come out on top compared to many of the teams in the Euros 2024.

“Was the side of ’88 better than the current Netherlands side? Without doubt. The Italy side of ’88 was far better than the current one. The Soviet Union had a wonderful side which beat the Dutch in the group stage of ’88. The West Germany of ‘88 versus the Germany of 2024 is one that probably remains to be seen.”

Scragg wouldn’t mind a return to the “good ol’ days” where every match counted at the Euros.

“There's no group of death today. You're not looking at a group thinking ‘wow’, there's two World Cup winners and two European Champions in that, this is going to be incredible. You’re playing 36 group games these days to eliminate eight teams and there tends not to be too many shocks from those eight teams that go out. I don't think anyone's particularly surprised to see Scotland and Albania exit the tournament. 

“I think football should have room for a tournament where it is simply just the best teams involved and where every game is massive. At the 1988 European Championship it was Spain versus Denmark and Italy versus West Germany as tournament openers. It was absolutely massive.”


- Steven Scragg’s “Euro 88 – The Football Purists’ European Championship” is out now on Pitch Publishing and can be purchased right here