As I reluctantly head further into my 30's, I find myself reminiscing a lot more than is probably healthy. I find that these days most of the conversations I have with people my age start with the line "Do you remember when........" as we silently struggle with the fact that we are now what we would once have called "old".
It dawned on me just how old I now am when it was pointed out to me that the song "Three Lions" by Baddiel, Skinner and The Lightning Seeds was released 20 years ago. "Three Lions" is a 20 year old song. The soundtrack to my misspent teenage days is now older than the university students I look at and still somehow feel the same age as.
I'm not bitter though. I'm old enough remember 1996. I remember what a time it was to be young, what a time it was to be English. Whatever you think of the merits of bands such as Oasis, Blur, Supergrass Suede and, erm, Northern Uproar there can be no denying that for a teenage music fan 1996 was a very exciting time. The Beatles were back in the charts and even the Sex Pistols re-united to join in on the fun. There was a change on the political landscape too where a young, rock 'n' roll fan fronting a party for the working classes was a shoe in for Prime Minister. The 'Cool Britannia' ship was sailing and we were all welcome aboard.
Things were changing. People were slowly beginning to have hope. The greatest moments of our cultural history seemed to be happening all over again. We'd won our and one and only World Cup the last time we hosted a major football competition and now the game was coming home again. We'd produced the biggest band of all time in The Beatles and now we had Oasis who were set to break the States and reclaim England's crown in the music world. We had a Prime Minister in waiting who was going to do politically what The Sex Pistols did musically. Blair was one of us just like Rotten was. London was home to Alexander McQueen and Damien Hurst as the city became the swinging 60's once more. The lyrics to 'Three Lions' illustrate the mood of the country at that time better than Baddiel and Skinner could have ever realised. We had endured years of bleakness. Years of Tory rule. Years of mass unemployment. Years of our national team letting us down on the pitch and our fans off it. That was the past though and now the future was everything.
If there was one man who summed up the changing face of the country then it was England's mercurial midfielder Paul Gascoigne . Before the tournament began he was branded a "disgrace" for his behavior in a Hong Kong bar and was slammed by the media who believed he should be removed from the squad. Just two weeks later and "Gazza" was deemed a deity for his wonderful solo goal against Scotland. We were proud of him again because we were great again. Everything was going to be OK. England were back. As a team and as a nation.
Alas, like everything that harks back to the past with with little innovation, it all came crashing down around us before we really had chance to enjoy it. Oasis never did become the modern day Beatles and became just another much loved British band that most of America didn't care for. Tony Blair wasn't really the man of the people at all. In fact his 'New Labour' party were soon dismissed as merely Tories wearing red ties. London never did become the cool capital of the world and in 1999 protesters, disillusioned with Blair's 'afraid old World', clashed with police in the capital city in a movement against Capitalism.
And, of course, England didn't win the European Championship. Losing to Germany in the semi -final. On penalties. Again
Despite how everything turned out, 'Three Lions' still takes me back to that time of hope. The summer of 1996 holds great memories for a great many English people and "Three Lions" is still the most famous and most loved of all football songs. People remember, just like I do, how good it was to be English for a short, too short, time.