BY JACK CORBISIERO-PETERS
May 26th provided football with an uncanny date to remember. It was the date that Jose Mourinho was appointed Manchester United manager, the date he first won the Champions League with FC Porto; the date that Sir Matt Busby died, the date that Manchester United famously won the treble. A date seemingly written in the stars.
You will perhaps be forgiven, though, for missing another anniversary of this date. I certainly forgot, until this weekend.
On May 26th 1996, England’s much-vaunted Euro ‘96 team laboured to a 1-0 win against the Golden Select XI – a Hong Kong invitational team comprising of a few experienced players flown in especially. The consequent placement of the dentist chair into English footballing folklore was but a few hours away.
So who were the Golden Select XI, and whatever happened to the players selected that day? Before looking at the contrasting paths of these team sheets, it’s perhaps best to take a trip down memory lane. All was not quite as we nostalgically remembered.
Ladism ruled the weekend and Hooch flowed freely. Booze Britain chanted ‘we don’t look back in anger’, then turned around to smash a kebab shop window. In the pubs, punters brayed – into the corner at a small TV screen – for Shearer and Gazza to be dropped.
Shearer, despite his prolific form for Blackburn Rovers, had not scored an international goal for over 20 months. Gazza’s lustre had worn thin, and his selection deemed a nostalgic luxury.
It was 40 years since England last won a major tournament, and the first time since then that England had hosted such a tournament. The notion of destiny being linked with dates called in Wembley’s heart, much like it wandered into Old Trafford on Mourinho’s appointment.
The England team’s form stuttered under pressure – with unconvincing wins against smaller opposition, and tepid draws against mediocre opponents. Venables abandoned his ‘Christmas Tree’ formation and reverted back to the failsafe 4-4-2. England arranged friendlies against China and the Golden Select XI to build up confidence, and take the team away from the pre-tournament glare of the media. The intended plans for Hong Kong could not have been more catastrophic.
On the morning of the 26th May, the whole nation nearly choked on their cornflakes as they saw England edge a win against the Golden Select XI – courtesy of a deflected Les Ferdinand header. The ensuing drunken team celebrations into the late hours of the Hong Kong nightlife were spread across a baying media. The ‘dentist chair’ photos with Gazza, Teddy Sheringham and Steve McManaman turned England fans’ familiar pessimism into anger.
Football was coming home, but not even the fawning studio audience on TGI Friday could be convinced that things could only get better. That is, until Gazza’s moment of genius against Scotland – both his goal and ‘dentist chair ‘celebration. That moment seemed to galvanise a nation – from the press to pubs; fans in the stands to living room sofas.
The nation was suddenly drunk on expectation, until the sobering experience of yet another German penalty shootout win. The Golden Select XI result became a very distant memory, and that night in Hong Kong seen in a much different light. England had temporarily fallen in love with their team – penalties, drunkenness and all – in a way probably not seen since.
Golden Select XI
Former England U21 goalkeeper who played predominately for Blackpool and Sunderland, before dropping down the leagues. Hesford famously scored the winning goal for Maidstone United against Hereford United, before moving to Hong Kong team Eastern. Hesford tragically died of a suspected heart-attack in 2014, at the age of 54.
The Bosnian played for FK Zjelznicar before fleeing the Yugoslavian Civil War to play in Hong Kong for Happy Valley. Bajkusa had a nomadic career, playing for Caen and several South East Asian teams. He latterly earned 4 international caps for Hong Kong.
The legendary Norwich and Everton centre-back won 12 caps for England. Watson helped Everton win the old First Division in his first season for the club in 1986-87, before captaining them to a famous FA Cup over Manchester United in 1995. Watson had one season as manager of Tranmere Rovers, before being sacked, and is now a youth team coach at Newcastle United.
Mick Duxbury (captain)
Right back Duxbury, played 299 games for Manchester United and earned 10 caps for England. Duxbury signed for Blackburn Rovers the following season, before being transferred to Bradford City and eventually Golden FC. According to Duxbury’s autobiography, the Neville brothers fought hard for their hero’s playing shirt at the end of the match. All of the other players tried to swap shirts with Shearer.
Tough tackling defender, Grainger moved to Hong Kong in 1986, earning several caps for the national team. Grainger has been managing non-league team Atherstone United since 2011, and in the same year donated his kidney to his daughter.
Former ‘Crazy Gang’ midfielder played 138 times for Wimbledon – missing their famous FA Cup in over Liverpool in 1988 because of a broken leg. Following an unsuccessful move to Carlisle, the midfielder then moved to play for Golden FC in Hong Kong. Fairweather pursued a career in the United States playing for New York Fever, Connecticut Wolves and Greek American. He is now head-coach for Sunderland Ladies in the FA WSL. Marlon van der Sander, Whilst van Basten was gracing the San Siro for the mighty AC Milan, this Dutch forward was the darling of Malaysian giants Terengannu FA. Van der Sander’s prolific fêtes caught the attention of Hong Kong team, South China, before a slightly somewhat nomadic career in the Hong Kong Leagues with Sun Hei SC, Sing Tao and HKFC.
Lee Fuk Wing
The only Honk Kong national to be selected in the starting line-up. The comically named midfielder, or ‘Foxy’ as he was known to his team-mates, was usually Hong Kong’s captain. However, Mick Duxbury was made captain for this match – Duxbury’s reputation and experience deemed key to defeating England’s team. Foxy is supposedly still playing football for HKFC, with Marlon van der Sander.
The nomadic Bosnian midfielder played for several clubs in the former Yugoslavia before moving to KFC Lommel and Kuala Lumpur FC in Belgium and Malaysia, respectively. Grabo then resumed his nomadic ways to play the remainder of his career for South China, Golden, Sing Tao, Instant-Dict and HKFC. Grabo earned 3 international caps for Hong Kong.
The Grenadian midfielder started off his career with Crystal Palace and Barnet – making no appearances. Roberts then embarked on a career with Golden and Eastern, in Hong Kong, before moving back to England to play for Harrow Borough in 1998. Otis is the uncle of Jason Roberts.
Lee Bullen’s career took an unusual path and trajectory. Bullen played as a striker in Scotland for Penicuik Athletic, Meadowbank Thistle, Stenhousemuir and Whitburn before moving to Australia for CYC Stanmore and Wollongong Wolves. Bullen played for several clubs in Hong Kong before a move back to Scotland for Dunfermline Athletic, as a centre-back. In 2004, Bullen transferred to Sheffield Wednesday – playing in all eleven positions. Bullen missed a one-on-one with Seaman against England – thus missing out on a chance for the Scot to place himself into the history books with the likes of Joe Gaetjens.
In between Seaman being lobbed by Nayim and Ronaldinho, the legendary goalkeeper protected the goal with aplomb for England. Seaman donned the worst ever goalkeeping kit for Euro ‘96. It would be enough to make Campos think twice, and would possibly provide the inspiration for Seaman’s gaudy ponytail in later years.
The ex-Valencia Assistant Manager was only 19 years old in this match, with 1 cap against China. Neville conceded a late penalty against Romania in Euro 2000; thus knocking England out of the group-stages. Neville went on to captain England for a match in which England fielded four different captains – the others being Michael Owen, Emil Heskey and Jamie Carragher.
The injury-prone defender was the bulwark of Kevin Keegan’s much-loved, swashbuckling Newcastle side. That season had seen Keegan implode with his famous ‘I would love it’ rant. Howey went on to join Kevin Keegan at Manchester City, with his last role in football as Head-Coach of East Durham College.
‘Mr Arsenal’ or ‘Donkey’, depending on whether you supported Arsenal or not, was a leading figure in the Euro ‘96 squad and gallantly lead the defensive line – captaining the England team to the semi-finals. Perhaps his most symbolic and bravest moment, though, came shortly after Euro ‘96, in September, when Tony Adams bravely held a press-conference outside of the Arsenal’s training ground to announce that he was an alcoholic.
The cast iron left-back finally buried the ghost of his Italia ‘90 penalty miss with a screaming penalty – and subsequent rousing celebration – against Spain in the quarter-final of Euro ‘96. Unfortunately, the Germans were to have their way again with another semi-final penalty shootout win. Glenn Hoddle convinced Pearce out of imminent retirement only to not select him for France ‘98. It took several years until the emergence of Ashley Cole to find another English left-back of international pedigree.
You can’t keep a good man down. Steve Stone had broken his leg three times for Nottingham Forest, before doggedly resurrecting his career to earn his first England cap. That season had seen Frank Clarke’s Nottingham First team reach the quarter-final of the UEFA Cup – famously knocking out Lyon along the way, with indie-prodigy Paul McGregor scoring the winner. Unfortunately for Steve Stone, his international career was curtailed with another serious leg injury the following season. This didn’t stop John Gregory signing him for Aston Villa at a cost of £5.5million.
The Arsenal midfielder had arguably seen his best years behind him – after a successful period in Italy with Bari, Juventus and Sampdoria. The unknown Arsene Wenger (of Grampus 8) would soon take over from Bruce Rioch shortly after Euro ‘96 – only for Platt to lose his central midfield berth to Vieira and Petit. Platt would go on to manage Sampdoria in 1998/99 – signing Danny Dichio and Lee Sharpe to revive the Italian side’s ailing fortunes. Platt’s most recent role in football was as manager of Indian Super League team, Pune City.
Paul Ince had been acrimoniously off-loaded by Alex Ferguson to Roy Hodgson’s Inter Milan for £7.5million – a huge transfer fee at the time. Ferguson had famously labelled ‘The Guvnor’ as a ‘Big Time Charley’. Ince would be replaced at United by the inexperienced Nicky Butt.
The ‘Spice Boys’ much maligned cream-coloured Armani suit, in the 1996 FA Cup Final, was soon followed by his infamous participation in ‘The Dentist Chair’ exploits that followed this match. The mazy dribbler was renowned for his assists, and famously nearly signed for Barcelona. However, Sir Bobby Robson intervened and advised Louis van Gaal to sign Rivaldo instead. McManaman would go on to win two Champions League trophies with Real Madrid.
Another participant in the infamous ‘Dentist Chair’ episode. Sheringham went on to Euro ‘96 to form the deadly SAS partnership with Shearer. Surprisingly though, despite being 30 years old, Sheringham had only amassed only 15 international caps by that point. Ashley Young has twice that amount at the same age.
‘Sir Les’ or ‘Grace Jones’ (as some of his team-mates called him) scored a fortuitous winner in this drab affair. Despite the prolific striker scoring an impressive 25 goals in 37 league starts for Newcastle, he still couldn’t dislodge Shearer from the starting line-up.