IT HAD been planned with a precision that would have done our German hosts proud.

In the days when the Euro finals had been and gone in a fortnight – before they allowed more qualifiers in than Eurovision – we’d got it completely covered.

A small gaggle of excitable 20-year-olds headed for Euro ’88 with an itinerary for glory.

Three group games against Republic of Ireland, Holland and Russia and then a triumphant second week watching England’s march to Munich for the final.

What could possibly go wrong?

The rush of documentaries in the build-up to this tournament have not included 1988 for one very good reason. England stunk the place out.

Played three, lost three – it was the most dismal performance imaginable.

Our bubble was burst in the first six minutes.

The Republic, playing for the first time in a tournament final, hoofed a long free-kick at an England defence missing Terry Butcher.

They predictably got in each other’s way and Ray Houghton headed in from the ensuing scramble. Route one and a goalmouth melee – European football at its most cutting edge.

Game two was memorable for two things, Marco Van Basten’s hat-trick for the delightful Dutch and the disgusting disturbances that followed well into the night.

Bobby Robson’s blunderers had booked their early ticket home but still put us through one more humiliation against Russia.

I don’t recall anything about that day thanks to the medicinal effects of Frankfurt beer other than there was another very early goal against and England were rubbish once more.

So that was how we ended up in the Soviet Union “away” end for their first-ever semi-final appearance against Italy four days later.

It had not been hard to get a ticket from a tout.

Don’t forget the Berlin Wall was still another 18 months from being knocked down.

Anyone from Eastern Europe was viewed with suspicion so the number of Russian fans permitted to travel was minimal.

Not that they lacked support that night.

They were backed by a wall of noise – 99 per cent of whom were wearing England shirts and waving Union Jacks. We clearly weren’t the only idiots who had booked to stay for the entire duration.

Stuttgart’s proximity to Italy meant an Azzuri invasion but it was Russia’s game with two second-half goals. How we all laughed and cheered loudly, conveniently forgetting that we were only in there on somebody else’s ticket.

We decided to sack off the final and instead drove to Amsterdam for the weekend, watching at first hand how Holland celebrated winning their first trophy. Remember that sublime volley from Van Basten?

The next day we joined hundreds and thousands of supporters lining the canals as the victorious team paraded the prize on an open-top barge.

Fair to say we got much closer to the silverware than England’s so-called finest.

It was all a long time ago. Even the Premier League had not been born then.

But seeing Russia and England preparing to lock horns again tonight, it stirs a distant memory – even if only an alcoholic hazy one.

Twenty eight years of hurt may not roll off the tongue like other numbers. But this feels personal for me and those many fellow sufferers who had already paid out to watch yet another defeat that did not matter anyway.

An utterly pointless Saturday afternoon in more ways than one.

Tonight is different – at least that’s what we will tell ourselves. The beauty of international tournaments is the expectation; reality, far more often than not, comes nowhere near.

Success for England is always relative and usually gauged around making the quarter-finals.

Quarter-finals has to be the bare minimum requirement for Roy Hodgson once again. Russia, Slovakia and Wales? Sounds like the “group of mild discomfort”, nothing worse.

But surely we should demand more than being among the best eight teams in Europe.

With the resources pumped into the Premier League, astronomical compared with those in the other competing countries, there should be no excuse for falling short so often.

There are the usual gripes about the make-up of the squad but it’s the age that gives me hope.

Could you ever imagine England heading into a tournament with the second youngest team of the lot?

That’s a brave step in the right direction after years of supposed “golden” generations and players picked simply on their reputations and showbiz appeal.

They are not a group bogged down by a history of disappointment; one accustomed to the “what ifs” and finger-pointing recriminations that follow every couple of years.

There seems a youthful joy about this side; a fearlessness you rarely expect from Three Lions on the shirt.

Once again a nation waits, hopes and dreams. After all, it’s only Russia …

C’mon Hodgson’s heroes – do it for the sufferers of ’88.