Memories of Italia ‘90, when Gazza cried and the penalty pain began

Terry Butcher consoles Paul Gascoigne after England lost to West Germany on penalties in their 1990 World Cup semi-final Picture: DEUTSCHE PRESS-AGENTUR

Terry Butcher consoles Paul Gascoigne after England lost to West Germany on penalties in their 1990 World Cup semi-final Picture: DEUTSCHE PRESS-AGENTUR


Love had the world in motion, the Berlin Wall had fallen, Norwich City had finished fourth in the old First Division and the Simpsons had never been screened on British television.

The last time England appeared in a World Cup semi-final - on July 4, 1990, I was 16 years old. I’ve waited 28 years for another.

I had memories (mainly of the sticker album and song, rather than the matches) of Spain ‘82, but Mexico ‘86 was the first World Cup I’d really embraced.

I begged my parents to let me stay up late to watch the quarter-final, only for Maradona’s cheating/genius to scotch England’s chances.

So, I was excited for Italia ’90. I’d put up the wallcharts. I’d helped send New Order’s song to number one, buying it on cassette in HMV, upstairs in Top Shop.

I’d kicked around the red, white and green mini footballs you got free with Coca-Cola and I’d played the awful Italia 1990 football game on my Amiga.

In between taking my GCSEs, I’d cheered as Cameroon’s Omam-Biyik’s header defeated reigning champions Argentina in the first game and been a bit alarmed by the wild eyes of free-scoring Italy striker Toto Schillaci.

I didn’t really understand what a sweeper was, but, as Bobby Robson seemed to think playing Mark Wright as one was a good idea, I did too.

England laboured through their group, drawing with Ireland and Holland. Only a header from Wright against Egypt took us to the knock-out stages.

David Platt’s last-gasp extra-time volley against Belgium remains one of my favourite England moments and Gary Lineker’s late penalties just about saw off Roger Milla and Cameroon in the quarter-final.

The semi-final. West Germany’s Andreas Brehme’s free kick spun off Paul Parker’s leg and past Peter Shilton. But when Gary Lineker equalised with 10 minutes to go, I was convinced that was it. We would reach the final.

We didn’t. Gazza got booked and cried. Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle missed their penalties. As it turned out, others would follow in their footsteps.

Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma had never sounded so sad. I didn’t bother watching the third place play-off against Italy.

But I figured in four years’ time we’d be back. We weren’t.

Today we are. And this time, more than any other time, I hope we’ll get it right.

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