Gazza, Shearer, Baddiel and Skinner: the Sheffield Wednesday man at the very centre of Euro 96
Alan Smith will watch the European Championships from his sofa, beside his son and business partner Paul with a knowing smile, his mind flickering from time to time to where he sat before.
The best pal pair, who now run a physiotherapists in Rotherham having acted as physio for Sheffield Wednesday for nearly 15 years combined, have both seen the inside of football dugouts at the highest level.
But Alan, now 72, saw them during what was probably the most iconic tournaments in English football history.
Brought in on a full-time contract by Terry Venables in 1994, while balancing the Wednesday gig in the regular season, Alan Smith had one of the best seats in the house for the England-based European Championships in 1996.
“It was magnificent,” Smith told The Star on a tournament that saw Venables’ Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne-inspired side reach the semi-finals.
“Everybody was in it together and the whole feeling was one of brothers. From the coach driver to the kit man to us as staff, everybody was part of that team. Terry cultivated that atmosphere.
“It really is the greatest honour you can possibly receive in football, to represent your country in a major tournament. Those lads who have been selected by Gareth, it's the highlight of their career, no doubt about it. Huge honour.
“Without any shadow of a doubt it was the best six or eight weeks of my career; because of the football, because of the support, because of the quality of the people.”
The tournament build-up was shrouded in controversy after when on a pre-tournament trip to Hong Kong the side, most notably ‘Gazza’, were splashed over the front pages for their part in a local drinking game known as the dentist’s chair, whereby revellers would be leant back in a seat and have liquor poured into their mouths.
What followed was a Venables-led siege mentality against the press that saw them break off the shackles of pressure that had blighted England sides at major tournaments before and since.
The iconic celebration of Gazza’s wonderstrike in a win against Scotland, which poked fun at the controversy, was dreamt up by the players in Smith’s treatment room.
“We didn't read the newspapers, simple as that,” Smith remembered. “Newspapers weren't even allowed in the hotel.
“That was good management. You don't want pressure and you don't want to be reading about this, that and the other. You want to be concentrating on your job.
“Gascoigne was marvellous, the best midfielder in the world. He was a great lad to have around the squad, full of laughs but more importantly, hard work. It was a great combination.
“He was such a pleasant lad and a joy to have around. He was always messing around, but first and foremost he was a great player on the pitch.
“The goal against Scotland was utterly amazing. I had a good view, sat next door but one to Terry. I could see everything; the passing, the movement. How he saw where Colin Hendry was is beyond me. It was a moment of genius, there's no better way to describe it. Absolutely world class.”
England’s record in that tournament is well-known. A disappointing opening draw with Switzerland was followed by the adrenaline rush that was the Scotland win. And then a 4-1 win over Holland, one of the favourites for the tournament, in what is often described as the best-ever performance by an England team.
A penalty win over Spain set up a hot evening semi-final clash with old foes West Germany, of course, in which England were so cruelly beaten on penalties after a series of near-misses denied them a ‘golden goal’.
Images of Gazza’s desperate lunge to connect with an Alan Shearer cross are shown as the perfect vignette of English football agony to this day.
“That was another top class performance,” Smith remembered with a sense of quiet melancholy. “Darren Anderton hit the post and the ball bounced straight into the keepers' hands, then there was the situation where Paul never got a foot to that cross. It was so, so close. Incredibly close.
“It was such a shame, but you can't take anything away from the people who were involved. It was a great effort from everybody concerned.”
The poor player that missed the penalty that evening of course? Gareth Southgate. How he would love to fully exorcise those demons 25 years on as England manager.
With such a talented group of players at his disposal, Smith suggested, he has every chance.
When the Smith family turns on the television for England’s clash against Croatia on Sunday, the senior man my well allow himself to drift off for a moment or two back to the old Wembley, to that seat next door-but-one to Venables, to Gazza, to Shearer and an experience of a lifetime shared with an entire nation.
There’s a song by a couple of comedians and an indie band that brings it all back in an instant, of course.
He said: “Football's Coming Home was being sung throughout the country, not just at Wembley. It gripped the nation, didn't it?
“We had a total sense of what was going on and it was the highlight of my career. For me and those lads being involved with that squad in that tournament, particularly with it being in England, it was the pinnacle of any career.
“It's that honour of representing your country in your own country; it's the ultimate. It was absolutely incredible.”