by Rob Shepherd
No-one knew it at the time. How could we ? I was there and didn’t spot that the road from Moldova would lead to Hollywood.
But in hindsight, on a bumpy pitch in a poverty stricken Eastern European backwater, English football – the global game even – would change forever.
In the immediate after glow of Euro ’96 England embarked not just on a new era but a new epoch.
David Beckham, who a few weeks earlier had hit the headlines as something special – something a bit different – scoring that career-defining wonder goal from the halfway line for Manchester United at Wimbledon, made his England debut.
At the time there was more fuss about Andy Hinchcliffe winning his first cap than Beckham winning his. Andy Who..?
But looking back this was the day when football morphed from a sport into showbiz, because this was the day when Becks Inc took to the world stage.
And just as it is in showbiz it wasn’t exactly an overnight success.
Indeed, Beckham’s contribution to a 3-0 win in England first World Cup qualifier for France ’98 was very low key.
But Beckham had that three Lions number 7 shirt on his back and, despite an early rocky road, in terms of time line this was the beginning of football becoming more about the brand than the ball, with Beckham the ring master.
Never remotely the best footballer of his or any other generation, Beckham would become the biggest commercial football icon globally, not to mention the wealthiest that soccer had ever seen.
To some he was and remains a hero, a role model, an all- time great; to others he became an anti-hero, the definition of the game selling it’s soul, even the death of football as former German international Uli Hoeness once described.
So it was in a country which at the time was still struggling to move on from Soviet Union rule that ironically became the launchpad of the Americanization of football; the day that Becks Inc as it would become launched a thousand sponsorships; or conversely the day the music died.
It is September 1996, the Spice Girls are at number one with Wannabe (Posh hadn’t met Becks yet), Will Smith is battling aliens in Independence Day and, in the wake Euro 96, England are embarking on a new era under Glenn Hoddle and playing 3-5-2. Click below to see the goals;
It was Nick Barmby rather than Beckham who set England on their way with the first goal, Paul Gascoigne hit the second and Alan Shearer the third.
It was all so easy – matter of fact even – and should be again this time with the real business coming next week against Ukraine.
That said you just can’t tell with England under Roy Hodgson, especially with a squad severely depleted because of injury.
But logic says a win of 3-0 (5/1 with William Hill) or 4-0 (6/1) at Wembley should be achieved.
Perhaps better value can be found with the goalscorer markets, where the in-form Rickie Lambert is 2/1 to score 2 or more.
Where Are They Now ?
Let’s take a look back at the team that started that day in Kishinev;
David Seaman The goalkeeper remained England’s first choice for many years to come, picking up 75 caps in all. He played all the way through to the World Cup finals in France, where England again suffered penalty heartbreak against Argentina and would go on to be first choice under Kevin Keegan at Euro 2000 and Sven Goran Eriksson at the 2002 World Cup. Now a goalkeeping coach at non-league Wembley FC.
Gary Neville Then a fresh-faced youngster breaking through for club and country, Neville went on to become a stalwart for England at right-back, playing at the 1998 World Cup, Euro 2000 and Euro 2004. He missed the 2002 World Cup due to a foot injury. He won 85 caps in total and every honour in the game with Manchester United. Now works as a pundit for Sky Sports.
Stuart Pearce With over 50 caps already to his name, Pearce had intended to retire after Euro 96 – where he had laid to rest the ghosts of his shoot-out miss in 1990 – but Hoddle persuaded him to continue. He played through the qualification campaign for France 98 but was not selected for the finals squad. Was looking after the next generation as England Under 21 coach until recently but some poor perfromances at the recent UEFA U21 Championships in Israel saw him replaced by Gareth Southgate.
Gareth Southgate After a busy summer in which he missed THAT penalty against Germany then starred in a Pizza Hut advert, Southgate was a regular fixture in the England side for another few years, playing at the France 98 finals. In all, he won 57 England caps and made over 500 league appearances. After retirement, he managed Middlesbrough and worked as a pundit for ITV after leaving his post as Head of Elite Development at the FA. Now the U21 manager.
Paul Ince An integral part of the England team at this time, having played superbly at Euro 96, Ince would go from hero to zero. His heroic, blood-stained performance in Rome secured England’s qualification for the finals, but he missed a crucial penalty in the shoot-out defeat to Argentina. Played the last of his 53 England games at Euro 2000 but didn’t retire from club football until 2007, after which he became a manager, with mixed results.
Gary Pallister The game in Moldova turned out to be Pallister’s penultimate England cap and he was gradually squeezed out of the Manchester United side as well, eventually leaving Old Trafford for his first side Middlesbrough in 1998. Has worked since as a television pundit and in roles at Darlington FC.
David Beckham The match in Moldova was just the start for Becks, who went on to win 115 England caps, many as captain, and became arguably the most recognised footballer in the world (and the wealthiest). Won every major honour in club football and only recently retired after a spell at PSG, as well as being wheeled out as a well-known face when Britain wants to win something or someone wants to promote something.
Paul Gascoigne This campaign was the beginning of the end for Gazza, even though he had proved at Euro 96 that he retained much of his genius. Playing for Rangers at the time, Gascoigne featured in half of England’s qualifying campaign, before injuries and ill-discipline started to cast doubt on his first team place. In the end, he was left out of Hoddle’s squad for the finals and didn’t take it particularly well – wrecking his manager’s room.
Alan Shearer The top goalscorer at Euro 96, captain of England and the world’s most expensive player after joining Newcastle United, Shearer was truly at the peak of his powers. He went on to score five goals in the qualification campaign despite a number of injury setbacks and scored in the finals against Tunisia and Argentina. In all, he scored 30 times for England in 63 appearances and is now a mainstay on the Match of the Day sofa.
Nicky Barmby Scored the first goal of the Hoddle era in Moldova but was never able to hold down a regular starting place. In total, collected 23 caps for England and scored four goals spaced over seven years. Ended his career as player and manager for Hull City.
Andy Hinchcliffe Would have been optimistic of becoming an England regular after making his debut here but never made the grade winning just seven caps for England in all. Hinchcliffe who was playing for Everton at the time, continued a decent but unspectacular career and now does some TV and media work. But a coach would tell you his left foot delivery from open play and dead ball was every bit as pin point as Beckham’s – but he didn’t marry a pop ‘singer’…