1990, Milla’s Tale and Gazza’s tears: World Cup memories (7)


Great World Cup, shame about the football. Those slightly contradictory statements sum up Pete Sixsmith‘s verdict on Italia 90. Other thoughts from 20 years ago – England Swings, or whoever wrote it should; a booked, weeping Paul Gascoigne and skybound England penalties. Pete’s priceless series marches on and we still have the United States, France, Japan/South Korea and Germany to visit …

This was the one!! Quite simply, Italia 90 was the best World Cup I can remember, even though some of the football was dismal. It had everything: fantastic stadiums, great drama, wonderful characters, and that sense of occasion that only Italians can bring to Calcio.

They spread the tournament over the whole country, building a futuristic stadium at Bari, a new one in Turin and improving the rest. My abiding memory of the stadiums is the wonderful Stadia Artemio Franchi in Florence, with its huge Mussolini inspired tower. Although a 30s structure it had a real aura about it. I loved to watch games from there – and it had a connection with Roker Park through David Bowie taking his Glass Spider tour there. Don’t suppose he came on stage and said “Hello Bologna”!!

It has to be said that much of the football really was dismal. Worried about rioting and hooliganism, FIFA consigned England to the island of Sardinia, where they were felt to be out of sight, out of mind. They played two dreary draws with Holland and Ireland before scraping home against Egypt. It was desperate stuff and England looked like a team going nowhere.

There had been some shocks. The World Champions Argentina had lost their opening game to Cameroon, whose star turn was 86-year-old Roger Milla, (pictured). A sign of changing times; eight years previously in Spain, he had been Roger Miller, but presumably he tired of being asked to sing King Of The Road and England Swings (possibly the most excruciating song of all time) and he went back to his African roots.

The real star of the tournament was Toto Schillaci, a relatively unknown Italian forward. With his bulging eyes and his knack of being in the right place at the right time, he became the face of Italia 90. Toto is a diminutive of Salvatore, but his eyes were so similar to those of the child Toto in the classic Italian film Cinema Paradiso, that I suspected that Schillaci was straight out of central casting.

Football wise, the tournament never really took off, but it was just a pleasure to watch the coolest people on the planet watching football. No beer bellies held in by T-shirts, no shaven heads and tattooed arms, rather men and women who instinctively knew how to dress, how to walk and how to be the centre of attention. It reminded me of Bishop Auckland Market Place on a Friday night.

There is a wonderful shot of the crowd at the semi final against Argentina. The director focuses on them as the game goes into a penalty shoot out, using a full moon as a backdrop. The facial expressions are priceless, particularly when Aldo Serena had his kick saved to enable the Argentinians to go through.

Meanwhile in Naples, England had staggered to a semi final against old pals, the FDR, having been outplayed by Cameroon and Belgium in the previous two rounds. Once again a nation (well most of it) was expectant and we had possibly the second most dramatic match in English football history. Lineker’s equaliser took it into extra time and then Gascoigne was booked, bringing on the tears which must still torment this most tormented of men.

I sat and watched this with my dad and we winced as first of all Pearce and then Waddle (“We’ll be okay, Dad, he’s a Sunderland fan”) blasted them into the Turin night sky.

The final was rubbish as well, with the Federal Republic scraping home against Argentina thanks to an Andreas Brehme penalty which spared us all extra time. For a certain breed of Englishmen an Argentina v Germany final was just too hideous to contemplate.

I did watch a fair bit of this tournament through an alcoholic fug. On one of the Saturdays, one Pete Horan and I decided to drink only the produce of the countries involved. Bottles of Peroni (Italy), Millers High Life (USA), Romanian Red and Yugoslav white, were easy to find. We passed on the Colombian nose candy on offer in several pubs in the area and searched in vain for bottles of Palm Wine from Cameroon. By the end of the day, we had no idea who had won any of the games, but we assured each other that we were “shimply the besht of matesh” as all good drunks do.

Memories: Nessun Bloody Dorma and the entire country going opera daft; Frank Rijkaard’s beautifully aimed gob at Rudi Voller’s curls; The Crisp Man telling Bobby Robson to get Gascoigne off; Roger Milla dancing with a corner flag; magnificent stadiums and a high regard for Italy that remains to this day.

Next: the worst World Cup I can remember as it is played in a country that does not know or care about the game – or at least it didn’t then

* With thanks to YasSseR & / deniro‘s Flickr pages for the Roger Milla shot

3 thoughts on “1990, Milla’s Tale and Gazza’s tears: World Cup memories (7)”

  1. Good piece, but gratifyingly for anyone who wants print journalism to survive, a pain to read between pages because in such a long article you sometime sneed to flick back for a previous reference to someone.

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