I still tremble when I think of England — not out of fear but pride and a belief there should be no limit to what we can achieve if the spirit is right.
My passion for all things associated with England came naturally as a youngster growing up in Essex after the Second World War.
It has never left me; as an observer, follower, fan, call it what you like; as player, coach and finally as national manager.
World Cup excitement is at fever pitch and England will be bidding for glory in Russia
If you do not feel that searing level of emotion days before a World Cup opener, it is simple — you shouldn’t be involved in representing the country. If you are not able to celebrate success or acknowledge defeat without welling up in tears, forget it.
If you cannot accept your responsibility to give your all for the cause then there should be no place for you. It’s how I wanted my England players to be and how I trust Gareth Southgate’s troops are responding to his teachings on the eve of battle.
I would not be so crass as to tell them how to do it — it is too late for that anyway — but I think it is worth recalling how it spun out for us when we were hosts of the 1996 European Championship.
We came desperately close to success in a major tournament and I was convinced we would win against the odds. We nearly did it but then ‘nearly’ is the English curse.
England came desperately close to success in a major tournament during Euro 1996
I was convinced we would win against the odds but we lost to Germany on penalties
Very few among the pundit fraternity seem to give Gareth’s squad a chance. Well, I do. The perceived wisdom accepts they have talent but are too young, too inexperienced and lacking in vital areas.
Even someone with the vast experience of Gary Lineker, a very respected voice, has suggested Gareth should use Russia to establish a team for Qatar in four years’ time. Using the finals of a World Cup as a launching pad, an upmarket finishing school for millionaire footballers? No, I don’t think so. It is an attitude that would not be acceptable on the ground when the country expects winners every time.
We have to be more than merely happy just to be a junior partner in Russia. England is there to be successful. No excuses. My team only got it together as a proper group after a contentious trip to China with the infamous Hong Kong ‘dentist chair’ incident and the spurious drama involving one or two players, Paul Gascoigne among them, on the flight home to the UK.
There was a defining moment in China — apart from my fury at the misbehaviour of a minority of my players — and it came earlier on the flight from Beijing to Hong Kong.
I suggested, I won’t say demanded, the players take over the business class seats from the travelling FA party of councillors. It was applauded by the players and I believe it was the start of what we called our ‘collective responsibility’.
It quickly kicked in as our mantra. On our return home, with the ‘scandals’ behind us, I was running a tight ship with my staff, the players, Graham Kelly — the outstanding FA chief executive who gave me every support and whose wisdom is a great loss to the game since he walked away from it all — plus David Davies who also worked closely with the players and myself as our confidante.
My team got it together after a trip to China with the infamous ‘dentist chair’ incident
Everybody was on our side, from the waiters to the coach drivers – it was about trust
The moment we arrived at our base at the Burnham Beeches hotel in the genteel Buckinghamshire countryside I sensed it would be as near to perfect as is possible. Everything was geared for us.
Everybody was on our side, from the waiters to the coach drivers. It was about trust between us. There would be no mavericks, no egos, no cliques, no wags, no booze, no agents, absolutely no outside interference. There would be no back-biting at any level on the field, on the bench or at the hotel.
We had excellent players like Les Ferdinand who knew he would only get a chance to come on as substitute in the most exceptional circumstances yet he and other players like him were totally supportive. There would be no football as in the past, so frivolous and fiddly — I would consider it outrageous to be show-boating in an England jersey.
There have been instances of players over the years who treated England appearances less seriously than his coach would want.
When it happens and it’s obvious you think, ‘He’s got it wrong, he seems to be using this as a personal stage’. It is wonderful to watch the marvellously talented mavericks in full flow, but their talent can be misplaced.
Matthew Le Tissier was omitted from in my Euro ’96 squad, a decision many disagreed with
I do not believe for a minute they were deliberately sabotaging the team’s chances though. There are many reasons for not selecting a player.
I did not use Matthew Le Tissier in my Euro ’96 squad and it was a decision quite a few disagreed with. My judgment was made not on what he could offer compared to others, but what I felt he could not.
There is no justification for criticising talent, unless that talent produces little or nothing for the team. These would be young men going about their business as professionals.
When we failed to make the final after the semi-final shootout defeat against Germany it was devastating. The hurt was so deep because I knew we were special. To me we had failed the people. Our supporters didn’t get the reward I wanted for them. I still lie awake now thinking about that. It still hurts.
Gareth’s squad are a relatively young group of players and are certainly lacking in big tournament experience but he has decided they are the very best available for this tournament and they should know that we back them.
Now they must respond to that support. This is not a dress rehearsal but the real thing.
Gareth Southgate’s squad is relatively young, but they must respond in Russia this summer
Terry Venables was speaking to Alex Montgomery