FOR THE first time in his international career, Darren Anderton simply stopped mid-game and soaked it all up.
It’s June 18, 1996 – the summer sun is shining down on the old Wembley turf late into the evening as England face Holland in a tasty Euros group stage clash.
And with 60 minutes on the clock, the Three Lions are enjoying one of their greatest ever performances, against a side who practically cost them a place the World Cup three years previous.
“When you play for England, it is very pressurised and it’s about the job in hand and playing and winning,” said Anderton, who started the game as a right winger.
“But when you’re at Wembley, 4-0 up, under the lights, Football’s Coming Home is ringing around the stadium, 70-odd thousand singing it, you can actually just take it in.
“That’s my biggest memory, being on the pitch and having goose bumps, which is unheard of because you shouldn’t even be thinking about it.
“But we were able to because we had played so well. It really was incredible. It was like we were playing basketball for fun.
“It felt everything was right.”
Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham led the rout to send England into the quarters – a result that in Anderton’s eyes settled some unfinished business.
‘THEY ALMOST BECAME OUR BOGEY TEAM’
A 2-0 loss against the Dutch in a crucial World Cup qualifier in 1993 was painful, especially after some dodgy refereeing and controversial moments involving Ronald Koeman.
Koeman’s free-kick – which was allowed to be re-taken after a fluffed first attempt – gave them the lead before the then-Barcelona defender avoided giving away a penalty after cynical shirt-tug on David Platt.
“We felt there was a lot of history in it, with us not going to America in 1994 and the Koeman thing,” continued Anderton.
“For me it was my dream to go to a World Cup and it wasn’t to be. I remember getting fitted for a suit six months before in case I was selected.
“It all comes up and when you think back, they almost turned into a bit of a bogey team for us.”
But the managerial transition from Graham Taylor to Terry Venables two years previous went some way to changing the mood on and off the pitch, and that Holland demolition was another big step.
“It was the pinnacle of what Terry tried to achieve,” said Anderton.
“We had gone from being a long-ball side under Taylor to a proper international team playing in the manner we wanted to play under Terry. It was just so enjoyable.”
And according to the former Tottenham winger, the unprecedented scoreline was always a possibility against a side with more egos than they could manage.
He added: “They were such a good team but when you have good individuals, there are egos and in fighting and they had that in the team at that time.
“That conversation went on within our dressing room. Let’s get at them and let’s rattle them and hopefully instead of fighting to get back in it they may throw the towel in.”
It worked a treat – for 90 minutes Guus Hiddink’s side just couldn’t cope.
Anderton continued: “It was a dreadful time for the country not reaching the World Cup and it needed picking up and that night and that team suddenly did that. That was the start of something.
“That’s the game that everyone looks back to and everyone loves that team.
“Did that night ensure the feel good factor carried on for the next 10 years? Maybe.”
And now, 23 years on from the game that practically brought England back from the brink, Gareth Southgate looks to have managed a similar feat.
After a truly embarrassing exit to Iceland in the Last 16 at Euro 2016, Southgate led a new look and newly-loveable England outfit to the semi-finals of the World Cup last summer.
Much like in 1996, the Three Lions fell at the semis on their road to recovery – but a look at the bigger picture shows this is just the beginning.
And now, in their first competitive meeting with Holland since that Euro triumph in the Nations League finals, Anderton believes they will be two nations to watch over the next decade.
“When you think about it, Holland and England have had very similar paths to recent success,” explains Anderton.
“The Dutch have come from not being in tournaments to now having a young and talented team who will challenge England for the next 10 years.
“I can see England being like that as well after a huge struggle in major tournaments.
“There is so much attacking talent and class on the ball on both sides – and let’s not forget how close Ajax were to getting to the final of the Champions League.”
It’s an acid test for Southgate then, to prove his methods at international level are not just a flash in the pan against an up-and-coming international superpower.
But regardless of their Nations League progress, Anderton is convinced England are already on the road to bigger and better things.
“People are still on a high from last summer so whatever happens within the game, it’s more about how they play,” he admitted.
“People are actually looking forward to that game whereas a few years ago people weren’t, until Gareth changed it.
“Would it be great to go and beat the Dutch? Yeah of course. But it’s important the feel-good factor continues first.”
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