It’s interesting how one’s firsthand experience of an event can differ so much from public opinion.
I have fond memories of listening to Genesis as a child, yet it turns out that Phil Collins was reviled in many quarters in his prime.
I used to giggle like a maniac at the hijinx of Micheal Crawford’s Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, yet watching the show as an adult, all I wanted to do was punch the irritating wanker.
Similarly, Italia 90 holds warm memories for me, yet history looks on the event as the footballing equivalent of Bob Geldof’s outward personality.
I’ve not rewatched the tournament in decades. It has gone down in football lore however as the least entertaining, most cynical, tedious incarnation of all time.
After watching Ireland reach the quarter finals without registering a single win and Argentina bunkering their way to a runners up spot, FIFA immediately introduced the backpass rule and started awarding 3 points for a win in the group stages.
In hindsight, having the best four third placed teams out of six four-team groups wasn’t exactly a recipe for attacking football either.
For me though, it was a magical tournament. Of course, this is almost entirely because for once England got quite far in it.
Credit for this rests squarely on the shoulders of New Order and to a lesser extent, John Barnes. Not only would Barnes rap form the cornerstone of David Moyes’ Man United game plans over two decades later, “World in Motion” was actually a half-decent song. As “Three Lions” would confirm six years later, such a tune is vital to raising the England fans and teams spirit sufficiently enough to reach a semifinal and heartbreakingly lose to eventual winners Germany on penalties.
Oh but how that performance let us dream. David Platt, Gary Lineker and of course Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne. The sight of the enigmatic star bursting into tears after receiving the yellow card that would rule him out of the potential final is iconic. He also happened to live up to his potential in the competition.
After a tedious group stage, England narrowly overcame the Mighty Belgians to set up a quarter final with shock outfit Cameroon. Spurred on by the heroics of aging Supersub Roger Milla, the African nation had distinguished themselves from other nations in Italy by attempting to actually score goals. And scored past England they did. Twice. At 2-1, a late England penalty forced extra time. In extra time, another England penalty avoided (slightly ironically) penalties. Milla and his flamboyant (for then… this was still the era where goals were celebrated with a firm, manly hug and a purely platonic French kiss) corner flag dance had been dispatched. They would go down in history as a great underdog. FIFA even awarded CAF an extra berth for future cups.
Next up were Germany. Andreas Brehmer scored via a deflection off the man frequently referred to by my brother as “the little man with the big kick” and by every other person on earth as Paul Parker. Lineker restored parity with a trademark dipping, curling 40 yards volley (or it may have been a poached goal in the box, I forget). In extra time Jurgen “look ref, I have been fouled in the box as evidenced by my tumbling to the floor” Klinsmann fluffed some chances. He would later make light of suggestions that he dived with a “diving” celebration, when he stepped firmly into his comfort zone by playing for Spurs in the pre-alleged-best-league-in-the-world Premier league.
The game is of course remembered for Gazza’s aforementioned tears and England once again being foiled by the cruel lottery of non-practicable completely random penalties, that other nations seem to do well in by aiming for the top corner and not letting Chris Waddle take one.
We were gutted. But we took Gazza to our hearts because he apparently gave a flying toss about playing for his country.
There was a third placed playoff and Germany beat Argentina in the final. But England had already moved on. We had finally shown our worth on the World Stage after years of underachievement. Just wait until USA ’94…