In Ms Sharrock’s last assembly of the summer term, she takes us back to 1996.
25 years ago.
Here are three things I think you might know from 1996:
1. Wannabe by the Spice Girls
2. Take That – 1996 was the year of their first break up
3. Euro 96 – the last time England made it to a semi final of the Euros where they were knocked out of the competition by Germany in penalties. Gareth Southgate, now the nation’s darling missed his penalty and the dream was over.
Why would you know about the 3rd? That bitter defeat – unless those of us who were alive and remember it, somewhat painfully it has to be said, did not keep banging on about it.
If you have any notion or indeed emotion associated with our Euro 96 defeat then it has been given to you by the adults in your life and possibly the huge amount of media attention that has been given to it in light of our next chance at glory – some 25 years on.
Well there is a saying that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it but as a historian I would strongly argue that is not true.
To my mind often our knowledge of history can in fact become self fulfilling and we find ourselves in a tractor beam of inevitability – those who dwell on history find it hard to resist repeating it.
Let me try to explain what I mean.
Those amongst us who remember with real emotion the disappointment of Italia 90, who cannot listen to Nessun Dorma without seeing images of Chris Waddle’s penalty sail over the cross bar, who then just six years later remember the pain of another penalty shoot out at the hands of Germany, more searing disappointment and what felt like injustice.
Or when Argentina did the same thing to us in 1998, the curse of penalties. Such was the weight of history that many of us watched our knock out road with Germany with significant trepidation and a hefty dose of pessimism – in fact I didn’t watch the first half at all. What a coward!
Even after that convincing win and despite outclassing Ukraine we chewed our nails until the second goal.
And on Wednesday – well I watched on Wednesday with a heady mix of pessimism and doubt – even as we equalised, outclassed and outplayed a formidable Denmark – at points I had to switch over for a moment calm – truly pathetic. And I suspect that many did the same – not some just from sheer excitement but many of us because we went into that match not believing – we expected disappointment, penalty decisions to go against not for us – 30 years of hurt goes the song.
For those of us old enough history has weighed us down and become a burden.
Yet for you – the eldest amongst you 18 – your experience has been England reaching two semi finals in two consecutive global comps and now a final – hopefully you watched the game expectant of victory.
Your experience of English football is of a team that have as much talent on the bench as off – who call on subs who can transform the game. You should be believers.
You will remember the Olympics 2012 and 2016, the cricket world cup victory of 2019.
You are a generation that expect England and Team GB to do you proud – you expect to win and why not? So you should – we are contenders.
So why do those of us with long memories try to drag you down with our angst?
In his letter to England Gareth Southgate said this….
“I am confident that young kids of today will grow up baffled by old attitudes and ways of thinking. For many of that younger generation, your notion of Englishness is quite different from my own. I understand that, too. I understand that on this island, we have a desire to protect our values and traditions — as we should — but that shouldn’t come at the expense of introspection and progress”.
How incredibly liberating, hopeful and free from his own angst
And Gareth Southgate and his squad of role models have given your generation a very different view of what it means to be English and the pride that one can find in both victory and defeat.
Whether our squad win or not they have acquitted themselves with pride – there is nothing to be ashamed of. We were contenders not chancers – I wrote this assembly before our game on Wednesday because I realised it did not matter if we won or lost – I was proud of English football and of our English team of footballers.
Of course Gareth Southgate has cause to remember euro 96 more than most – that missed penalty must have broken his heart at the time.
Just imagine if he had allowed that history to cloud his present, to inhibit his confidence or performance.
The media are so very keen to remind him of it – they keep asking is this a personal chance to settle demons? to finally put criticism to bed?
I don’t think so – I’m not saying he isn’t chuffed but I think if his own narrow needs had been his motivating force he would not have been such a selfless manager who has imbued his team with true team spirit.
Gone are the spoilt prima donnas – those on the bench every bit a part of the victory as those on the field.
He has achieved something truly remarkable because he has not allowed himself to be weighed down by history – either his own or the nation’s.
And he has done that for his players. Take Harry Kane – going into our match against German the naysayers and doubters were out claiming that Harry should be dropped because he hadn’t scored in a while.
How quick we are to damn, how fickle – not Gareth – he held his nerve and kept his faith.
This time last year I talked you about naysayers and doubters.
Down with them I say – rise above those who use the past to limit us, to restrict us.
Back to that letter to England the hope of the new generation.
You have shown us this year through your reaction to BLM, the climate crisis, the fallout from Everyone’s Invited that the world is, and can be, different, that history is not condemned to repeat itself.
The absolute best thing about my job is working with young people who are naturally optimistic, naturally resilient, naturally without prejudice, who haven’t made their minds up yet, who look at each situation fresh, who do not carry the weight of past performance, who look forward and not back.
Yes it has been a difficult year but does that really need to define us as we head into the new one?
Must we mire ourselves in gloom or could we take what we want from last year – those silver linings, those strengths we discovered in adversity and leave the rest behind – as Mrs OD put it post traumatic growth not stress.
Let us learn from history but not be berated or limited by it.
I hope I will watch the final on Sunday without the weight of history or pessimism but I doubt it.
I hope that you will watch the game with the belief that you should have – we have every chance and opportunity – there is no curse against us or lack of grit and desire to win. These young men will give it their all.
And as to our future – we’ve been in busy, reactive, resilient mode for too long now.
This summer allow yourself to dream again because if we do not we will be stuck in the same place, not moving forward, not discovering the magic.
So dream a little, play a lot and look optimistically to the future.
Of course here at our school there is much to look forward to – our juniors will join us on Town Walls, we will have new classrooms and outdoor spaces to enjoy, we will embark on a new academic year, dreaming big and looking optimistically to the future.